published Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Slacklining grows in popularity

UTC student Blake Stone walks on a slackline suspended between two trees on campus Friday afternoon. Slacklining has become increasingly popular with UTC students, particularly on a campus where trees are in close proximity.
UTC student Blake Stone walks on a slackline suspended between two trees on campus Friday afternoon. Slacklining has become increasingly popular with UTC students, particularly on a campus where trees are in close proximity.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

EVENT SCHEDULE

The Slackline Yoga and AcroBalance weekend features four events. Saturday sessions are for all skill levels. Sunday sessions require previous experience.

What: Slackline Fundamentals.

Who: All skill levels; no experience necessary.

When: 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Where: Tennessee Bouldering Authority, 3804 St. Elmo Ave.

Cost: $15 (pay at the door).

Website: www.TBAGym.com.


What: Intro to AcroBalance.

Who: All skill levels; no experience necessary but some basic yoga knowledge helpful.

When: 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: ClearSpring Yoga, 17 N. Market St.

Cost:: $15 (register online).

Website: www.clearspringyoga.com.


What: The Next Step in Slackline Yoga.

Who: Fundamental knowledge required.

When: 10 a.m.-noon Sunday.

Where: Tennessee Bouldering Authority, 3804 St. Elmo Ave.

Cost: $25 (pay at the door).

Website: www.TBAGym.com.


What: Intermediate AcroBalance.

Who: Some experience required.

When: 2-4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: ClearSpring Yoga, 17 N. Market St.

Cost: $25 (register online).

Website: www.clearspringyoga.com.

The first step to learning slacklining might be getting over a fear of falling.

"Especially if you're first starting, you probably won't be able to even stand on [the line]," said Blake Stone. "It takes a while to learn to balance. It's different than anything I've ever done."

Stone, a sophomore at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is among a growing number of people embracing the balance sport known as slacklining.

Slacklining was thrust into the public eye during the Super Bowl halftime show when Andy "Sketchy Andy" Lewis, a 25-year-old California native, performed a series of gravity-defying tricks on a bouncing line while Madonna sang and danced.

Slacklining involves a 1-inch tube of nylon webbing strung between two points on which one walks or sometimes performs tricks. It is different from tightrope walking in that the rope is not entirely taut. The activity has been compared to walking on a very narrow trampoline.

The less simple questions about slacklining are "how" and "why."

"I don't really know the point of it," said Stone. "I just think it's fun."

Slacklining, said Edward Yates, helps focus balance skills. A veteran of the sport, he got involved when his roommate set up a line at their house and, with no television to fill empty hours, he decided to give it a try.

"I was frustrated that I couldn't just do it immediately, but then I realized I was getting better extremely fast."

Seven years later, he is slacklining "pretty much professionally," he said.

Yates has walked slacklines over creeks and lakes and at high levels.

"Your life is literally on the line," he said.

Safety precautions, such as harnesses, are taken when the situation is precarious.

Slacklining is popular among rock climbers. Lydia Fogo, a Chattanooga Christian School student who works at Tennessee Bouldering Authority, said she's seen a number of her fellow climbing enthusiasts embrace slacklining.

"It's a really cool thing to pick up on," she said. "You can learn a lot and go really far."

But slacklining is not just limited to those who engage in other outdoor activities or balance sports.

Joseph Palermo, a history major at UTC, said his hobbies are mostly focused on academics, computers and video games, but a friend invited him to go slacklining a few weeks ago.

"I was bored and didn't have anything else to do," he said. "It looked fun to try. So I tried it, and I really liked it."

His first experience was a challenge. "I just kept getting on the line and falling off a second after."

Since then, he's gone slacklining on campus almost every day and has progressed quickly. "When I first started, I couldn't even get on the line, and now I'm walking from one end to the other."

Palermo said he has yet to have any particularly bad falls, a more fortunate fate than Blake Stone, who once took a cringe-worthy spill. He attempted to do a 180 -- a half turn -- on a neck-high line and slipped.

"I missed the line, and it went right in between my legs. It hurt really bad," he said. "That's probably the worst fall I've had."

This weekend, TBA will host Sam Salwei, owner of Yoga Slackers, who will teach a workshop on slackline yoga, a practice that is exactly as it sounds: Doing yoga on a slackline.

The extreme concentration required doesn't allow for a low-energy approach to a yoga practice and therefore can cut down on the time needed for a full workout.

"There's no way to cheat it on the line," Salwei said. "You have to be focused and completely in tune with the pose."

Salwei also will be teaching an Acrobalance class at ClearSpring Yoga -- combining yoga with acrobatics -- and a slackline fundamentals workshop at TBA.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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