Humans have been balancing on all sorts of things throughout the centuries, mainly on static cables, ropes or beams. In Yosemite Valley, Climbers spent their time on rest days balancing on chains in parking lots and the like. Slacklining emerged as an independent activity on stretchy webbing in the early 80ties from the climbing scene in Yosemite National Park. Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington were the first to come up with the idea of using their climbing gear to balance on and introduced slacklining to the climber’s camps in the valley. From there it slowly spread into other countries within the climbing scene, and eventually all over the world. The slackline trend really took off around 2006 in Europe with the introduction of simple slacklining kits for everyone to set up a slackline and practice.

What is slacklining?

Slacklining entails balancing on a 2.5 to 5 centimetre wide piece of webbing made from synthetic fibres, which is rigged between to fixed points, often trees. Slacklining is an independent sport with many variations and disciplines, championships and professional athletes.

Slacklines are also used as a balance training aid in competitive sports, as fitness equipment or in physiotherapy. The activity also has creative aspects, with a tradition in performances and shows and as a tool for enriching public spaces. Furthermore, it is gaining a foothold in school sports, tourism and as a recreational activity in the public’s free time, which is partly due to slackline parks.

A slackline set basically consists of a piece of webbing (not a rope), two tree slings and a tensioning system – if the slackline is to be rigged between two trees, the set should also include tree protectors.

How is it different from tightrope walking?

The name “Slackline” says it all, the line is not under a lot of tension. In contrast to steel cables, slackline webbing is able to stretch under load and behaves dynamically, the person on the line has to constantly seek balance on the line. Balancing poles are not normally used and don’t work well on Slacklines.

While tightrope walking has a long circus tradition, slacklining is a rather young activity. In principle all the tricks shown by performers on the steel cable are also possible on the slackline. As a result of the elastic properties of the webbing, there are also a variety of dynamic tricks that can be pulled off on a slackline. Other differences are that slacklines can be rigged with very little effort and require far less and lighter gear.

Philippe Petit at WTC (New York 1974, © Jim Moore)
Philippe Petit at WTC (New York 1974, © Jim Moore)