Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Slacklining is harder than it looks. Popular among climbers and campers, it’s a lot like tightrope walking–only instead of a rigid line, you’re balancing on a piece of dynamic, bouncy nylon webbing pulled between two anchors, such as trees or telephone poles. It’s easy to set up but a challenge to pull off, but with a slew of women mastering it faster than you can say “that’s too hard,” there’s no reason not to try.
This pioneer of female slacklining is a tough balancing act to follow; photo courtesy Charles Yacoub
We caught up with Kenya’s Dominique Harrison, a slacklining pioneer, to chat slacking with elephants and challenging guys on the line:
How long did it take you to walk all the way across a slackline for the first time?
I think the first time I walked a 15-meter line was the fourth time I went to a session. I was so determined!
What’s the most difficult obstacle to overcome when learning, and what’s your advice for overcoming it?
Everyone will have different obstacles. When you’re trying to conquer something on the line, it really is about balance–not just of the body but of the mind. You really have to concentrate and relax at the same time.Photo courtesy Charles Yacoub
I’m a total beginner myself, so can you give me the rundown on what you need as far as equipment goes?
All you need is a slackline, including a pulley system that should come with the line, two trees or poles as anchor points, and some tree protection (I use bits of old cardboard). To start with, you’re probably best off with a short trickline (a line lower to the ground that you do tricks on as opposed to a highline, which is longer and, believe it not, higher, ha!). You can usually get them about 15 meters long, but if you set it up between two trees closer together, it’s easier and you can lengthen as your confidence increases. It’s also easier to start off barefoot, as you can feel the line better, but closed, tightly laced shoes work well too, especially when you start doing tricks.
Where’s the scariest place you’ve slacked?
The other day I was slacking here at home in Northern Kenya, and I didn’t realize until I took my line down that there was a large bull elephant watching me from about 12 meters away. That was fun. I love to slack over rivers or the sea, too. Oh, and I like to slack higher off the ground with a harness. It gives me a bit of an adrenaline pump.Photo courtesy Sophie Harrison
What do people ask you when they see you slacking?
I get a lot of “are you in the circus?” questions. My favorite is when someone (usually a guy) comes up and chats about how he has great balance and how it looks so easy, then has a go at it and crumbles as soon as he gets up. They usually swallow their pride and leave.
What goals have you set for yourself?
Right now I want to start doing some good trick combinations on the trickline, then take it from there. I also really want to try doing longer and higher lines because then I can do them in epic places.Photo courtesy Johnie Gall