When I started, there wasn’t a very big slacklining scene in Brisbane. Heck, there wasn’t a slacklining scene at all. A handful of climbers had a webbing/carabiner setup that they pulled out on camping trip or as novelties at parties, but nobody actually called themselves a slackliner. I was introduced to the sport at an outdoor excursion to a local crag with the indoor climbing group I was a part of. It should suffice to say that I didn’t actually do any outdoor climbing that day.
I spent the next several years tinkering with various tensioning systems and backyard setups with climbing webbing and carabiners. In 2010 I invested in my first 50mm line with ratchet and haven’t looked back since.
While I’ve done my best to grow the slacklining community here in Brisbane, it is still very small. As a result, gear availability from local sources is very limited, and I’ve confined myself to tricklining. Having recently attained an Elephant Freak line, I’ve been pushing myself with butt-chest combinations and backflips.
While I have limited experience of it currently, I’m slowly accumulating my own longline rig, and am looking forward to pushing myself in this area of the sport over the coming months. Being a climber (or perhaps ex-climber), I’m also very keen to setup some highlines around the South-East Queensland area, though given the terrain and lack of mountain ranges nearby, the options here are somewhat limiting. I’ve recently set up my first highline at Brooyah State Forest, a relatively tame 15m line in the treetops. While the dangerous exit meant a full walk was not attempted, I certainly had some fun on the short line, busting some basic tricks and sparking a hunger for more epic projects!
For tricklining, I love the Elephant Freak. Setup is a breeze, and the independent anchors iron out many of the smaller problems I’ve had with similar lines with hitched anchor points. I also love the power retention I get while moving through butt-chest combinations on the flash line – all that energy comes straight back at you with barely any loss of momentum.
I have limited experience longlining, but watch this space for my views on the various types of longline materials available.
My flashiest trick to date has to be a standard backflip, though I’m equally proud of some of the butt-chest combinations I’ve been pulling off recently. The longest line I’ve walked to date has been 90m (295′).
My main project for the coming years is to greatly improve the slacklining community here in Brisbane. Slowly, people here are starting to see slacklining as more than just a novelty – something you can actually dedicate an afternoon to, and have a great time doing. Being involved with the climbing community here has helped start this movement, but I would very much like to reach further out, to the surfers, dancers, free runners, trickers, gymnasts and members of the general community.
As a part of this community building project, I would love to start teaching the art of slacklining to people, young and old – to share my love of this sport, and hopefully breed some champion Australian slackers.
As mentioned above, I am also very keen to start pushing the limits of longlining in Australia. With the current local availability of required equipment being so limited and expensive, very few people are involved with this area of the sport here. I am looking at breaking the current Australian record of 134m in the next couple of years (though with others starting to lookinto the activity, who’s to say whether this will still be the record when I walk it).
I’ve also recently started working on some new tricks – the front flip, butt-flip, back bounce and freefall (butt-bounce 360 to chest). I haven’t had much success yet (a few back bounces landed, but nothing consistent), but that’s just all the more motivation to get out on the line!
Where I see slacklining in 5 years
If the best slackliners today have only been slacklining for 5 years without any guidance other than youtube and vimeo, then who knows the limits of what could be done starting out with the right talent at a young age with appropriate guidance and coaching? It’s no secret that slacklining in Australia is a few years behind the rest of the world, but I believe we are about to ride the wave of enthusiasm for this great sport very shortly, and with such a great climate for slacklining all year round, a culture rich in sporting encouragement and outdoor activities, I see future champions from down under in the very near future indeed!
I view slacklining as a sport. I haven’t always thought of it this way, and I know I’m in the minority of Australians in that regard, but it’s my current view nonetheless. I would presume most of you reading this would consider yourself in the same boat – consider slacklining a sport – but if you compare your views and expectation of dedicated slackliners to dedicated members of other, similar sports, you may find yourself questioning why the culture surrounding slacklining is as it is.
Take gymnastics, for example. For the most part, gymnasts don’t attempt difficult aerial manoeuvres for the first time over grass in a park without proper guidance. Instead, they go to designated indoor facilities with appropriate protective matting, get professional supervision and use appropriate protective equipment. Foam pits are used where an activity is particularly dangerous or failure is particularly dangerous. Furthermore, physical conditioning and flexibility takes up a large part of any dedicated gymnasts training regime.
Why then, is the culture surrounding slacklining so different? Sure, there may not be the user-base currently in Brisbane for designated indoor facilities, but how many slackliners do you see taking crash mats to their setups? Despite the risk injury, how many slackliners do you see wearing wrist guards, or boxes (groin protection)? How many slackliners do you see working on their core strength, or stretching out their hamstrings for that perfect pike jump, or working on their endurance for longer lines by doing anything other than walking longer lines? How many slackliners research a particular trick before attempting it, let alone seek professional advice?
Many people may say they think of slacklining as a sport, but almost all of these people fail to show the full respect such a statement demands. I was a laughing stock when I bought bouldering crash mats for something other than bouldering. I’m still one of the few people I know who wears wrist guards while tricklining. I don’t know of anybody else who bought a box before learning how to chest bounce. I will continue to work on my core strength and flexibility purely to improve my slacklining.
Given my limited experience longlining, I’m keen to learn as much as I can from others about this branch of the sport before diving into it, and will certainly seek expert instruction before I go about setting up any highlines. Whenever I hear of a more experienced trickliner than myself coming to town, I will do my utmost to seek them out and learn from them.
For those that wish to excel in the sport, I will push my students to practice outside of dedicated training sessions with me. Physical conditioning and flexibility will be a part of every training session for those beyond the most basic ability levels – slacklining will not be the only training for slacklining. Appropriate safety equipment will be used by all students, including wrist guards and (wear deemed necessary) crash mats. A suitable period of time will be dedicated to warming up and warming down to avoid injury. Irrational fear will be presented, and students encouraged to face that fear head on. Rational fear will be treated with respect however, and legitimately dangerous situations avoided.
I believe slacklining should always be fun, and that the moment training becomes a chore is the moment one should step back and consider their relationship with the sport. But I also believe one can get more fun out of slacklining by pushing one’s limits.
In order to achieve new heights without losing motivation and enjoyment, one must learn not only to accept failure as an inevitable consequence of striving for excellence, but to celebrate that failure, almost as much as one celebrates success. The old cliché that slacklining is a journey, not a destination, may sound awfully corny, but holds true nonetheless.
To better understand my coaching philosophy, the interested reader is encouraged to view the two very entertaining documentaries, The Swiss Machine, and Sketchy Andy.
The former documents some aspects of the life of extreme alpinist and climber, Ueli Steck, including speed ascents of Yosemite’s Nose route, and Alpinism’s most iconic route, the Eiger north face. After a potentially catastrophic fall in Yosemite, which resulted in minor injury, Steck is still positive: “On the bright side, I have done it now: I have taken the whipper.”
Throughout the documentary, the risks involved are never made light of. However, it is pointed out that these risks are necessary for progression and excellence in the sport, and this is something Steck is clearly passionate about. In Steck’s own words, “If you are going to do something, do it right.” As demonstrated, if that means spending a year training – running up and down mountain sides, going to the gym, watching your diet etc. – to break a speed record you already own, then so be it.
Contrast this with Sketchy Andy. As the name would imply, the history and dangerous antics of the world’s most publicly recognized slackliner, Andy Lewis, are presented baring a couple of examples, with a comical undertone. No convincing explanation is given for the abandonment of simple, well-accepted safety practices in highlining, nor for the total lack of respect for the proper training involved for safe BASE jumping. Clips of Lewis’s early “training” seem limited to trying hard and dangerous tricks with limited safety gear. Instead of condemnation from the film makers, these reckless actions are idolized and passed off as simply part of Lewis’s character.
Don’t get me wrong – I have an enormous amount of respect for the work Andy Lewis has done in the development of tricklining and promotion of the sport. If it was not for him, I am sure slacklining would be a much smaller sport even than it is now. Clips featuring him tricklining when nobody else was were a major influence in my own slacklining development, and I would not be as involved in the sport as much as I am now were it not for him.
Yet this documentary does not focus on this side of Andy Lewis. Instead, he is presented not facing his fears, but rather slapping danger in the face, for no reason other than a cheap laugh. I don’t know Andy Lewis personally, so you may think it’s not my place to worry about his safety, but “Superbowl slackliner dies in slacklining accident” is not a headline I wish to read and will greatly affect the sport I care so much about, yet is an inevitability if the kind of behaviour featured in this documentary is not curbed. I think it’s a shame that major slackline companies continue to sponsor and implicitly encourage-by-association such athletes’ behaviour destined to lead to completely preventable and unnecessary deaths.