Some say it's like tai chi on a tightrope. Maneuvering across a flat bouncy strip of nylon just a few feet off the ground, called slacklining, is the perfect duo of strength and focus. Once relegated to mountain climbers and thrill seekers, slacklining now has just about everyone wanting to try it.
Invented by a pair of American rock climbers in Olympia, Washington, back in the late 1970s, the sport has been growing in popularity ever since. It's long been a common sight on college campuses in the West Coast of the US, is wildly popular in parts of Europe, and is even becoming a leisurely past-time in Paris, with inhabitants stringing up slacklines while picnicking in the city's parks.
Part of what is driving the surge is the backing of the biggest manufacturer of slackline gear, Germany's Gibbons, which is heavily promoting the sport with demonstration tours in hotspots around the globe -- and now other companies like Merrell are doing the same. Plus the Los Angeles Times writes that younger customers are also driving the demand, thanks to exposure to slacklining videos on YouTube.
A slacklining kit, which usually starts at around $65, includes webbing and a tensioning device -- so all you need are two anchor points, most frequently trees, for setup. While slacklining is infinitely harder than it looks, experts say that it's about as risky as climbing a flight of stairs. The only real danger is to the trees, since the setup can damage bark.
In addition to gear, some companies, such as Rocky Mountain Slackline and TriSlacklining, are focused solely on courses and workshops on perfecting the art of slacklining and building up a sense of community.
This summer in Vail, Colorado, top "slackers" from around the globe competed for the sport's highest honor at the Slackline World Championships.