A balancing act

Danielle Toth

Students practice slacklining to train for rock climbing

Betsy Biggs, senior computer information systems major, works on her balance by slacklining behind Taylor Hall. Biggs says that slacklining is practiced by many rock climbers because it can be practiced anywhere and helps reinforce basic rock climbing sk

Credit: Steve Schirra

Students wait in line to try their hand (and feet) at slacklining. The new hobby, which develops your balance, is quickly catching on across campus.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Mark Bartholet is nervous as he attempts surfing for his first time.

But Bartholet is not surfing an ocean wave.

He is surfing a 1-inch thick stretch of nylon webbing that is suspended about 3 feet off the ground. The line sways back and forth as he tries to balance in the center, resembling a surfer riding an ocean wave.

Bartholet is practicing slacklining, a hobby that many athletes use to train their balance, focus and coordination. Participants balance on a line stretched between two stationary objects and often perform tricks to test their equilibrium. The line can vary in length, width or height depending on preference.

“Slacklining is a lot of fun,” said Bartholet, senior integrated mathematics major who has been slacklining for about month. “It helps with my balance, and it’s a neat thing to do that’s not so physical. I’m lazy, so when I can do physical things and be lazy about them, I’m happy.”

A group of about five students usually practice slacklining near Blanket Hill every Friday. The group has changed members throughout the years but has generally been practicing there for about three years, said junior nursing major Adam Taylor, who has been slacklining for about a year.

“It’s just a fun time,” Taylor said. “It’s not that serious, and it keeps our mind off school for a while.”

Slacklining is mainly used by rock climbers, but it also is practiced by snowboarders, skiers and gymnasts. All members of the Blanket Hill group are rock climbers who work or practice at the climbing wall in the Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

“It would seem like mountain climbing is all about muscle or strength, but it’s really about balance,” Bartholet said. “While climbing, if there’s a slight adjustment in the distribution of your weight, you can fall. Slacklining trains you to have a better control of balance.”

But there are other benefits besides practicing balance.

“It develops your footwork,” said senior geology major Steve Woodward, who has been slacklining for about two years. “It also helps you mentally because it develops your focus.”

Slacklining is called a sport in some sources, but Ben Bradley, manager of Kendall Cliffs Climbing Gym in Peninsula, disagreed.

“It’s more of a hobby right now,” said Bradley, who has been climbing for eight years. “It’s just like climbing. First it was just a hobby, and now it’s a sport. I’m sure it will probably progress into a sport in the future.”

To set up their slackline, the group stretches the line between two trees, but a line can be stretched between any two objects that are secure, Bartholet said. The line is secured with climbing carabiners, metal clips that climbers run ropes through. The line should be tight enough so it does not hit the ground when stepped upon.

There are many tricks that slackliners try to do, including turning, jumping, sitting, kneeling or walking backward while on the line. So far, the slackliners of Blanket Hill have only attempted surfing.

“None of us are that good yet,” Bartholet laughs. “I can go about halfway and walk back and forth. It gets easier though. It got easier for me even on my first day.”

The group welcomes anyone interested in slacklining. They usually meet between noon and 3 p.m. Fridays near the trees around Blanket Hill. Anyone interested is encouraged to drop by to watch or participate.

The group tries to solicit people walking to and from classes to participate.

“It takes some convincing, but we help them out,” he said. “If it’s your first time, we’re not going to let anything happen to you. We’re there to hold you up.”

There is little risk of injury while the group slacklines because they are not far from the ground, Woodward said. However, the group spots each other and assists beginners.

“Focus on a solid object,” Bartholet said. “And don’t look down at your feet. That’s the key to balance. Just have fun. It’s all about enjoying yourself and having fun.”

Bradley agreed slacklining is not very dangerous.

“Just keep an eye on your landing zone,” he said. “Make sure it is clear of sticks or other objects so you don’t roll ankle or something.”

Slacklining is all about having fun, Taylor said. Many members of the group are just as inexperienced, so no one will criticize you or laugh at you, he said.

“If you see us out there, come,” Taylor said. “We’re friendly. We’re usually out there every Friday.”

Contact assistant features editor Danielle Toth at [email protected].