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What is Slacklining - a beginner’s guide - Ridestore Magazine

Slacklining is an exciting sport perfect for long summer nights and even chilly winter days. With little specialised equipment or storage space, slacklines can be taken and set up anywhere. 

So long as you’ve got two anchor points, a bit of balance, and a will to have fun, a slackline is a perfect way to inject a little fun into any situation. Whether you’re a progressing slackliner or a beginner just wanting to learn more, this guide has everything you need to go from slacking off to slacking with the best of them!

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What is slacklining?

what is slacklining

Depending on who you speak to, slacklining has been around for a long time or a really long time! While you can get specialised slacklines of varying widths, thicknesses, and elasticities, the original ones were repurposed ratchet straps. Someone must have looked at them and said, “Hey, I’ve got a crazy idea …” Although, isn’t that how all sports start?

Slacklining involves suspending a strap between two anchor points so it's elevated above the ground. The person intending to slackline will climb onto the strap and balance there. 

While this may not sound very difficult — or entertaining — it's quite the opposite. Slacklining requires plenty of skill and determination to stay up there and, of course, the ability to laugh at yourself. Beware, though, it’s not just your pride that’ll get bruised – your tailbone might, too!

A brief history of the sport

In slacklining circles, it’s pretty unanimously agreed that the sport developed in the 80s and was the brainchild of Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington. Two avid climbers and key members of the Yosemite National Park climbing scene, Grosowsky and Ellington had the idea to use climbing webbing as a tightrope to pass the time. The hobby quickly caught on and took hold – a fun diversion at the end of a long day climbing to boost spirits and ‌have a good time. 

With climbing being such a transient community, the sport naturally ‌spread as more slackliners crossed paths. However, it didn’t take off until 2006 in Europe, when the first ‘slacklining’ kit was sold, opening up the whole sport to non-climbers and the greater population. It quickly became a sensation, and as humans do, they innovated and experimented, pushing this new concept to its extremes.

Benefits of slacklining

benefits of slacklining

Slacklining, like any sport, is good exercise. It gets the heart going, the muscles working, and the endorphins pumping. However, slacklining’s major benefit is that it’s probably the best sport to practice for balance. 

A lot of athletes will slackline for this balancing benefit alone. If you can master the slackline, you’ll become a master balancer. You’ll have no trouble taking those skills to other areas, too. 

It’s also a great core workout and is perfect for engaging muscles that don’t normally get worked out. So if you think ‌your core could do with some more attention, you should definitely consider slacklining. And that’s not even talking about the mental benefits. Slacklining is sure to put a big smile on your face any time you do it.

How to get started

Well, before anything else, you want to get yourself a slackline. But we’ll circle back to that, as there are a few things you’ll need to be aware of before you surf the net for your line. 

The first truth of slacklining is that you will fall and probably not land on your feet when you do. While slacklines can be suspended just a foot or two off the ground, they can get away from you quickly, meaning you’re likely to tumble.

One easy way to mitigate serious falls is to waterline, where you stretch your slackline above water deep enough to cushion the fall. But not everyone has access to that. So instead, we recommend a crash mat or some leaves. If falling doesn’t sound appealing, then perhaps slacklining is best swapped for pickleball or cornhole!

What slackline to buy first

What slackline to buy first

There are a few different ‌slacklines you can buy. Let’s break them down by type and explain what each one is and how they differ from each other. While a beginner line should be your first stop, as you improve, specialising and buying a more nuanced line will probably be the way to go.

Types of slacklines and slacklining

While all slacklines operate under the same premise — a strap suspended between two anchor points upon which a person balances – there are different ‌slacklines to suit different styles. Let’s run through them below, so you have a clearer idea of what to try first.

Novice slackline

A novice slackline will usually be on the wider side of things to make learning easier. It will also have a stiffer torsional flex than some more advanced lines. This means it’s more reluctant to roll over on you and won’t dome ‌so easily. 

Novice lines will have a medium elasticity, too, making them more forgiving. All in all, these lines are designed to be accessible and offer a fantastic time to those just starting.

Longline

Longlines are standard slacklines that are more than 30m in length. The longer the line, the harder it is to walk. These lines will have less elasticity, so they’re easier to add tension and don’t get too springy during a walk.

Longline

Speedline

Speedlines are designed for speedlining: walking from one side to the other as quickly as possible. Therefore, these lines tend to have a lower elasticity rating, making them sturdier and less bouncy when walking fast.

Trickline

Tricklines offer a higher degree of elasticity and are rigged very taught to provide a trampoline-like response. This makes them perfect for bouncing, completing aerial maneuvers, and performing flips.

Rodeoline

A rodeoline is another type of springy line. However, it’s rigged higher than a normal slackline and with less tension, so it ‘sags’ in the middle, almost to the ground. Instead of walking, liners will swing the line from side to side, performing stunts and acrobatics.

Rodeoline

Highlining

Not for the faint of heart, highlining involves rigging the line across a chasm, gorge, or other deadly space high above the ground. Secured to the line by a safety line, highliners will attempt to make a crossing much like a tightrope walker. Like longlines, these slacklines have high tension and low elasticity for stability.

Waterline

Waterlining is extremely fun and a great diversion on a hot day when you have access to a lake or river. Setting up the line over water, liners will walk from one end to the other, balance in the middle, try to do tricks, or even play gladiators with two people on the line. 

Whatever way you spin it, falling off is both a prize and punishment. Waterlining is definitely one of the most laughter-inspiring summer pastimes around.

Quick start guide

If you’re already sold and ready to get going, check out this quick start guide below to set your line up properly and get walking on it. What may look simple might turn out to be harder than you thought! But don’t worry; we’ll do our best to walk you through it.

quick start guide

Setting up the line

Depending on where you’re setting up your slackline, you may find either vertical or horizontal anchor points. A vertical anchor point might be a tree or boulder. In contrast, a horizontal might be a log, root, outcropping, or anything else. Depending on the direction of the anchor, you might need to fold and twist your line to keep it flat.

Here's a step-by-step for rigging the line:

Step 1

Pass the reinforced loop of the slackline around the first anchor and feed the ratchet end through the loop.

Step 2

If you’re using a tree, try to bring a towel or something similar to prevent the line from damaging the bark.

Step 3

Tighten the loop to the anchor point, ensuring the line is flat all the way around the anchor.

Step 4

Pinch the two edges of the line together where it passes through the loop, and twist it slightly so that the line, which comes out perpendicular to your anchor loop, comes out ‘flat’. This will keep it level while you slackline.

Step 5

Repeat the process on your second anchor, feed the middle part of the line through the ratchet to tighten it. Crank it down as much as you can!

Mounting the line

Mounting the line is fairly straightforward, but it can take some getting used to. If you’re right-footed, start by standing on the left-hand side of the line. With your arms out to your sides for balance, lift your right leg and place your bare foot on the line. Apply pressure until you feel it bear your weight, step up on your right leg and  then try to find some balance.

The line will likely wobble around. If it feels too loose, take a second to add more tension. A few clicks of the ratchet can make a big difference. 

Once it’s tight enough, just get used to stepping onto it. Go from the ground to balancing on one foot for a second or two and then back down until you get to know the feeling.

This is important, as jumping on with two feet right away usually results in a tumble! Instead, go at your own pace, and if you feel steady, get both feet up there and try to find calm in the line. Once you’re there, start walking!

Walking the line

Walking will require you to put one foot directly in front of the other. You want to walk in what feels like a natural stride. 

Bring your rear foot off the line first. Next, take it slowly to the side before placing it in front of your other foot. This shouldn’t be a fast or sudden movement, as this will destabilise you and the line.

Don’t look at your feet, either. Instead, look at the end of the line and feel it. Then, use your sense of balance to keep you up and your arms as counterweights. This should help with wobbling on the line and hopefully allow you to make some early progress. 

Falling off (the line)

Falling off (the line)

While it would be nice to think you’re never going to fall, chances are that you will. And while we’d always recommend slacklining with a crash mat, it’s not always possible. That’s why it’s important to remember a few things when getting started.

As you’re off the ground, you’ll fall with plenty of potential energy. It’s natural to throw your hands out to break a fall, but you’re more likely to break a wrist than anything else doing this. If you can get your leg or foot out to dampen the impact, that’s better. Your feet should be closer to the ground, so this is an optimal choice.

If you ‌get fully horizontal in the air, and can’t do this, then attempt to convert that downward energy into lateral energy by rolling when you land. The last thing you want to do is land hard with your arms out straight.

Tips for progressing

If you’re looking to progress, there are a few simple things you can do to make your slacklining a lot better. Here are our top three tips for improving quickly.

Practice your balance

Obvious, no? Practising your balance is a great way to get good at slacklining fast. This can be as simple as standing on one leg for an extended period‌, walking along a curb, or just slacklining a lot. Working on your balance is key to improving. The sooner you realise it’s a physical, mechanical thing rather than a mental thing, the faster you’ll progress. Feel your body and learn to balance rather than trying to overthink it.

Strengthen your core

Balance and core strength go hand in hand; a strong core will mean better balance. Crunches, Romanian Twists, and sit-ups are all good, easy core exercises that can be done at home. We also recommend planks and its variations for balance building, like one-footed and one-handed extensions, as well as V-sits.

Stay loose

The final tip we have is just to stay loose! It’s so easy to get tight and stressed on the line, but the best slackliners are having lots of fun out there and staying relaxed. Tight muscles aren’t responsive. As slacklining is such a reactive activity where you need to respond to the line’s feedback, staying loose is much more effective for staying up and on the line.

Wrapping up

Wrapping up

That’s it! Hopefully, you’ve learned a lot about slacklining, and you’re already cruising the net looking for your first kit. 

By now, you’ve got the knowledge and the know-how. You just need to put it into practice. Just remember, walk before you can run, stay safe, and choose your anchor points carefully! Otherwise, have fun out there.

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