A hobby that’s more than just a balancing act

Kate Snyder and Kate Snyder

Jon Winiasz declared he will never be a tightrope walker. The circus wasn’t made for him. He prefers to slackline. Slackline is like tightrope walking, but the person balances on inch-wide tubular webbing instead of a steel wire. The tubing wobbles and sags under a person’s weight, but the movement allows more control. Winiasz doesn’t consider it a sport, and he doesn’t think anyone else does either. ‘I’ve never heard anything about anyone being sponsored to slackline,’ he said. But he thinks it’s a good hobby, and slacklining is huge in the climbing community. Climbing for sport developed primarily in Yosemite Valley during the 20th century, and slacklining originated among the sport climbers frequenting the valley, according to slackline.com. The climbers needed a way to spend their spare time after long days of scaling the valley. Winiasz was also introduced to slacklining through climbing. He works for the Outdoor Program on campus, and two years ago his advisor brought up slacklining. ‘No one could remotely walk on it,’ Winiasz said. Last year, they suddenly caught on. Winiasz and some other students, including his roommate, senior Brad Gannon, took it up while they worked at the University last summer. ‘It’s a great stress reliever,’ he said, ‘takes your focus off school.’ They slacklined almost every day that summer, and they tried as much as possible last fall until winter hit. When the snow melted, they started up again. It’s a portable activity. Winiasz carries his own 60-foot slackline in his backpack. All he needs is semi-nice weather. ‘As long as you’ve got two points to tie it to,’ Winiasz said. ‘I’ve always thought it would be cool to tie it between the Offenhauer towers.’ Winiasz generally uses two trees, keeping the line close to the ground. People have slacklined gorges with a 2,000 foot drop, Winiasz said, adding he hopes to walk across one himself someday. At those heights, balancers are attached to the slackline with beamers so they can’t fall. But at a few feet off the ground, it can still be dangerous. Especially when people try other tricks while balancing, like juggling or handstands. ‘You could twist an ankle. You could fall,’ Gannon said. ‘You could slam your crotch pretty hard.’ Gannon discovered the hobby at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming, a program teaching wilderness education, when he attended last year as a junior. Gannon would like to start a slackline club or organization on campus, but he’s graduating in May, so he said it would be great to just see it continue as a tradition at the University. Regardless of what happens on campus, though, he won’t give it up. Gannon plans on moving west after graduation. A slackline will be a permanent addition to his new home, and his future family will learn to love the hobby. ‘I won’t have a trampoline or anything,’ he said. ‘We’ll have a slackline set up in the backyard.’