String up a rope between two fixed objects, anything between a few centimeters to dozens of meters in the air and walk across it. Sounds impossible right? Well, while tightrope walking and slacklining are not super easy they are two extreme sports that are not impossible either.
Photo by: Noel Reynolds
Difference Between Tightrope and Slacklining
Both forms of the adventure sports include walking across a wire or rope that’s been tied between two fixed objects (like trees, canyon walls or buildings). The concept of then using balance and bravery to walk across the line is the same in both sports, however, as the names suggest tight rope walking involves walking across a rope pulled tight between the two fixed objects, while in slacklinging the rope or wire has a bit of slackness and looseness to it. In essence, tightrope walking involves walking across a rope that has tension to it and less give than the slacklining version. While, in slacklinging tension is given to the rope only when the walker’s body weight adds this tension to it.
In both sports, sometimes a balancing tool can be used to help provide some extra balance, other times the arms are just outstretched to provide balance. Both sports can be done just a few centimeters off the ground, or several meters off the ground. Sometimes the person doing the walking is fixed to the rope, so if they fall they don’t come crashing down, other times the sportsperson goes the extra distance and does it without a safety harness.
Sometimes, particularly if done part of a performance art like a circus, the tightrope walker could include props and objects, or perform jumps to increase the difficulty and the spectacle. Another version, which adds to the challenge is highlining or high wire, where the wire is place something more than about 5 or 6 meters in the air. Record breakers often aim for higher or longer walks.
Where Can I Try?
So how can you learn to walk across a tightrope or go slacklining? The key is to start by having great balance on fixed objects, like a curb or a low wall that you can practice walking along. Once you’ve mastered that you can move on to a tightrope or slackline that’s fixed very low, so even if you fall you’ll only be falling a few centimeters. To improve balance don’t look down – look straight ahead, and hold your arms out to the side. Use your mental powers to imagine yourself keeping balanced. In terms of getting a tightrope or slackline you can probably find them pretty easily online, or at a local sports or adventure sports store. To DIY check out this tutorial. As you get more and more confident and better at balancing, you can adjust your rope or wire to be higher and higher off the ground. You can also increase the challenge my affixing the rope to objects that are further and further apart.
Records and Feats of Tightrope Walking and Slacklining
Many records in this genre of extreme sport are performed during a so-called “sky walk.” This is when a rope is fixed between two tall buildings, across a gorge or waterfalls or between two other high structures.
Our favorite records and feats include:
- Charles Blondin who was among others to cross the Niagra Falls
- Jade Kindar-Martin and Didier Pasquette who crossed the River Thames
- Rudy Omankowski, Jr. record holder for skywalk distance
- Philippe Petit who walked between the World Trade Center towers in New York
- Eskil Rønningsbakken who walked between two hot air balloons – mid flight!
- Jay Cochrane who did the longest and highest blindfolded tightrope walk
- Nik Wallenda for the highest blindfolded tightrope walk and highest incline tightrope walk
“Jultagi” is the Korean tradition of tightrope walking (see the image above), it usually involves music and telling a story through the performance. It can include walking backward, leaping in the air, sitting and lying on the rope, and even pretending to fall. Watch an example here, it’s pretty incredible.
The circus is another spot where some of us might have seen tightrope acts performed, especially with props and even animals. Sometimes fire is involved, and sometimes instead of walking the tightrope artist will ride on over on a bike instead. Incredible! Check this out!
Other than aiming higher and longer, there are some other versions of slacklining that aim to increase the challenge; for example, windlining where you go slacklining in very windy conditions or slackline yoga.