Monday, May 24, 2010

Slackline in a Nutshell

That is the first post which is a translation of the last article I wrote in my "Slackline Corner" section of GÓRY climbing magazine. It'll be published in the May issue. Down below you can find pictures of the original and English translation. Soon I'll translate and post the first three articles from US Highline Trip [trailer]. Enjoy!

Page 1

Page 2, [PHOTOS DESCRIPTION: "Surfing" - Jan Gałek/ photo by Jordan Tybon, "Longline" - 124 meters line on the Slackfest in Chemnitz 2008/photo by Uwe Glaubach, "Urban Highline" - Bernhard witz in Radolfzell Highline/photo by Marty Schmidt, "Tree-Highline" Jan Gałek on the "Walk the Line 3" festival/photo by Marty Schmidt, last picture: Faith Dickey on the "For Your Eyes Only" Highline (42m length and 150m height) OS-OW & FM, Greece, Meteora/photo by Jordan Tybon]

Text: Jan Gałek
Photos: Jordan Tybon

Title photo description:
Bernhard Witz on the "Heaven's Gate" Highline - OS & FM ascent with a 5 meter long leash, Meteora, Greece

"After the three-part report from the US trip it is time for the explanation. The US trip was specifically a highline trip, which is why it lacked the definitions I present in this article. I am hoping that earlier publications made this extreme version of slackline more clear to everyone. Right now it is time to start from the beginning and describe this fairly new discipline. I am sure that for some this will be a revision of the knowledge you already have, or maybe making order of some information you found before in our magazine, different publications or on the Internet. Let's make it clear - it's difficult to define slackline on two A4 pages. If you want to know more visit my blog on goryonline, where I'll add an expanded version of this article.

It is a sport and an art of balancing on 1" (25-26 mm) nylon webbing stretched between two anchor points.Webbing used in slacklining is stretchy and dynamic which allows one to do many different tricks on it. One uses only their body to maintain balance (NO helping devices such as a balancing pole). Many people mix up slacklining with tightrope walking but the only similarity for both activties is balance.

In the first slackline rigs only climbing gear was used. After some time the first companies appeared which were producing special slackline gear. The first slackline company, "Slackline Brothers Inc." was born in sunny California. In about 30 years the gear evolved a considerable degree. Nowadays besides the "original" 1 inch nylon webbing there is also polyester webbing in use. Not a long time ago a new super-strong and ultralight webbing made from "vectran" (material common to dyneema, but with a lower melting temperature) was produced (more). Another change is the width of the webbing. Besides traditional 1" webbing is webbing from 5/8" to 2" in width (2 inch webbing is a main product of the German company Gibbon, for example). In a circulation are also some "industrial" elements, such as shackles or spansets. It looks like slackline equipment is becoming more and more specialized, and slackline varieties are more independent from each other. Stronger and lighter gear enables people to push the limits.

Originally slackline came from USA. Today this 'sport' is about 30 years old. Rumour has it that the first slacklines were rigged between trees at Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley. At the beginning it was a rest-day activity for climbers. As time passed slackline became a separate discipline. Scott Balcom was one of the slackline pioneers. In his book "Walk the Line: The Art of Balance and the Craft of Slackline" you can find that the first people slacklining were Jeff Ellington and Adam Grosowsky, which the author of the book saw in 1983 during summer in Yosemite. Balcom was fascinated with what he saw. When he was leaving the Valley he made a promise to himself that he had to come back and walk a slackline stretched across the Lost Arrow Spire (Ellington and Grosowsky attempted the L.A.S. highline right after Balcom left). After one year of training including walking the first highline in a history, (in November 1983 around Thanksgiving - 2" webbing stretched between huge cement arches of the Pasedena Bridge, CA) Scott arrived to Yosemite ready to face the Lost Arrow Spire challenge. Unfortunately he did not cross the gap that year.

Photo from Scott Balcom's archive

After gear and training modifications, on the 13th of July 1985 Balcom walked the Lost Arrow Spire highline [video].

Photo from Scott Balcom's archive

During the next two decades it would be the highest highline on the world (880m height, 17m length). L.A.S. Highline is still today the biggest highline icon and has only 3 free-solo ascents: Darrin Carter (1995), Dean Potter (2000) [video] and Andy Lewis (2009) [video].

Kinds of Slackline
You can divide slackline into categories because of the types of gear, length, height or even amount of tension on the line. There is no official system. The slackline categories written here are used by the majority of the slackline community but that does not mean by everyone. The three basic kinds of slackline are: SLACKLINE (different names: "lowline", "trickline"), LONGLINE and HIGHLINE.

Slackline - I already wrote the main definition earlier in this article. This is webbing tensioned close to the ground ("lowline" - fall is relatively safe). In use is also the name trickline - it is a short slackline, which is a great way to practice tricks. It depends on preference how much tension is on the line - personally I think for jumps and dynamics tricks tighter webbing is better and for static tricks and surfing I prefer a looser one.

Longline - basically it is just a long slackline. Of course a lot of people would ask what is "long?" There is no official border separating a slackline from longline. For the beginner 30m webbing would be considered a longline, and for the more experienced person that could be trickline. For a long time the 100m mark was unreachable. Damian Cooksey was the first to break this distance [video]. Rigging longlines requires special gear, rigging experience, knowledge and a lot of imagination (breaking the webbing under big tension could be really dangerous!).

Highline - it is a slackline stretched between two anchors up high. In this case it is also hard to give any official numbers. If falling off the line has death potential and you therefore must use a leash, then it could be defined as a highline. You can also divide highline to a couple groups. Because of the location we have: urban highline (in a city/urban environment), tree-highline (highline between trees) which is actually a great preparation for the "real" highline, and of course highline in the rocks or mountains.
In the highline groups you can also define a midline - which is a slackline stretched high. Although a fall from this kind of slackline would have some serious consequences you probably would not die. Whether it is a highline or a midline is subjective (the same subjectivity as the difference between a free-solo ascent and highball boulder problem).

On the highline you can also use multiple types of protection:
- harness + leash,
- swami-belt (piece of webbing or a cord tied tightly around your waist) + leash tied at the back (taking a fall in it could be painful or damage some body parts),
- belt-loop swami - you tie your leash around your waist (quite serious fall consequences),
- extra long leash - usually a highline leash is about 2 meters long. Something 2 or 3 times longer can increase your adrenaline rush. It is just another good mental training method, before free-solo ascent.
- free-solo - I don't think I need to explain this one.

Not a long time ago Dean Potter walked a highline in Moab (UT) using only a parachute for protection [video]. So, than we have the next term - B.A.S.E.lining.
What is next? Deep Water Solo Highline (DWS Highline)? Who knows ...?

OS - on-sight (first try),
FM (full-man) - both directions ascent,
OW (one-way) or HM (half-man) - one-way ascent,
OS & FM - walking the line both directions on the first try,
FA - first ascent of the line (opening of the new project).

- longest highline - 85 meters (Mischi Aschaber) [video],
- longest "classic" highline - 67 meters (Jerry Miszewski - 2 lines [FM] [video], Faith Dickey [OW], Damian Czermak [OW], Jan Gałek [FM]),
- longest longline - 217m (Mischi Aschaber),
- highest highline* - 1000m - north Eiger Wall - "Mushroom" Highline (Bernhard Witz and Johannes Olszewski),
- highest free-solo - Bernhard Witz - "Mushroom" Highline [video],
- longest free-solo** - 30 meters, "Taft Point" Highline, Yosemite (Dean Potter) [video] [article].

Slackline has come a long way. Nowadays there are far more people with the "incurable slackline disease." The slackline community is not short of new outstanding talents. Similar to climbing we have rapid changes in each new generation. Limits are being pushed further and higher. In Europe and United States there are many different slackline festivals. I will write info about them on my blog as well. This year we should have a couple nice meetings in Poland too.

"Those who pushed the limits... will eventually find them".
Scott Balcom

I have two questions in my head: if slackline parallels climbing, is it slowly approaching it's limit? Or will we ever reach that point? Time will show..."

* - in the article I made a mistake - sorry about that! The highest highline was rigged and walked by the guys from and Mischi Aschaber in Norway (1100m height) [video],
** - The longest free-solo by Dean Potter was walked on Amsteel-Blue which is round rope and not flat webbing. Personally I still consider it as the longest free-solo and think it was bad-ass.


  1. I'm not sure how many monkeys are there in Belfast but I'm sure there are some out their in the wood works. Come out come out, don't be shy now. slackline

  2. Check out these odd lots on heat weldable webbing