If today is my last day alive, I want to be slacklining.

That is how much the sport means to me. Days pile upon one another, and mornings come with a heaviness. Opening my front door seems impractical and unnerving.

But after getting myself ready to slack, something shifts. The “impractical and unnerving” front door opens as quickly as a bag of Lay’s original chips on a Sunday night. Off into the comfort of nature, I jaunt.

Why Do I Slackline?

The snow crunches beneath my toes, and I hear the rattling of my giant yellow no-frills tote bag on my shoulder. Crisp, cool air surrounds me as I approach the park. Breath clouds around my head, and I am reminded once again of how little control I have. Someone comes along with their dog, glancing at me with interest. Their furry friend barks, and I give a quick smile and wave.

There is an innate spectacle when someone is slacklining. Few people know what the sport is or why someone would want to do it. When you start, it’s standing up and falling, over and over again.

A woman, Elizabeth McDonald sits on a slackline tied between two trees in a winter setting.
Finding balance. Photo by Elizabeth McDonald.

After learning to fall, slackliners start progressing to walking and falling. It’s as if each person is back at the stage of infanthood. Adult egos fear judgement. Imagine trying to learn how to walk if we cared what others thought and if our caregivers didn’t cheer. To me, it would be quite a feat. So, I cheer on anyone open to failing through falling. It is how we learn; critiques can come later. 

My next favourite aspect is what it teaches my body. The amount of gestures you can engage in knows no bounds (other than the laws of physics). The line thrusts my figure in movements that feel alien. Limbs flutter around as if they want to wobble away from me and across the park. My head screams that I am, in fact, about to die.

Learning to Fall is the Best Lesson of All

After nine months, I’ve come to one theory about my abilities when I try to send the line. There is a dichotomy of options while balancing on a piece of webbing: belief in myself, or lack thereof. The idea translates to my body within milliseconds. I take another step, or I fall. I breathe into discomfort and steady my balancing, or I fall. The option to plummet is always with me. And so is the opportunity to get back up.

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I don’t know how I could have handled the pandemic lifestyle if I did not find slacklining. I am finishing my undergrad degree and applying to grad school. I often see myself running a cost-benefit analysis on almost everything I do. Time is finite. My GPA, work, physically distanced friendships, and health all matter. Slacklining has provided me with an outlet to cope with the stress of life.

Despite the outlet, most days, I struggle. Honestly, if I rated my life like Olympic divers are on their performance, I would see fives across the board. I rush the approach. The rotations are too slow. I always splash my entry; (if you haven’t realized by now, niche sports and self-criticism are my jam). 

Safety First

This approach does not work with a slackline. Each movement must be fluid and approached with proper posture. My line from Balance Community requires time to set up and tension. I walk around the site to ensure there is nothing hazardous for me to fall on (including dog poo). My hands get cold as I fiddle with carbineers and line lockers.

If I fail to set up my line correctly, I could injure myself, or worse, die. I can’t stress this enough: if you start slacklining, find a community that can inform you on safe practices. I learned a decent amount on my own with youtube, websites, and a book by Hayley Ashburn called How to Slackline! But as the saying goes, there’s the theory, and then there’s practice. A post on Reddit’s r/slackline is always an excellent place to start asking for advice. You can reach out to London’s group.

Balance Community slackline equipment from left to right: 40 meters of 1in-wide slackline webbing, two tree slings, two tree protectors, four carabiners, one line locker, one shackle, one rigging ring.
Balance Community slackline equipment from left to right: 40 meters of 1in-wide slackline webbing, two tree slings, two tree protectors, four carabiners, one line locker, one shackle, one rigging ring. Photograph by Elizabeth McDonald.

I climb my anchor and step onto 1in wide webbing. My legs shake as I stare towards the horizon, looking for a focus point to rest my gaze. I gulp air into my lungs. I fill my chest with buoyancy and exhale slowly and smoothly. I make the out-breath longer than the in-breath. Focusing on my breathing tricks my body into engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.

As the breath steadies my mind, it also steadies my body.

The line begins to slow its sway under my shoes. I take a step after I connect back to my balance. I  breathe. I take another step. Repeat. I gulp air with pleasure in a year that often has me gasping for a reprieve.

Feature photo by Elizabeth McDonald.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hello! Thank you for this really interesting and useful article. I want to add one thing that helped me. A great tip that helped me greatly when starting, was that when you have one foot on the line and your other foot on the ground, press your inner thigh of your grounded foot into the line gently. This helps reduce the line wobbles and makes it easier to stand up on your front foot. It’s also easier to start out by standing up on the first third, or last third of the line and not the middle.

  2. Such a great article! I could visualize you doing the things you described!! Amazing, I see you mentioned dog poo, what about geese poo? Haha! I know they’re pretty common especially in Gibbons park..

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