The brand of rope is called ‘Good Vibes’ – ‘Buenos Vibras’ in Spanish. The rope, pulled tight and hung between two trees, has enough slack that it is dynamic, stretching and bouncing like a long and narrow trampoline. Over the course of the afternoon, the ropes multiply to five, hung at different heights, lengths and tensions in a criss-cross path among the trees. Just as the ropes multiply, so to do the number of people coming to the riverside park in Rosario, Argentina, to slackline.
What is slackline?
Slackline is a practice in balance that typically uses a nylon or polyester webbing tensioned between two anchor points, in this case trees. The modern day origins can be traced to a pair of rock climbers who started walking on loose chains and cables around Olympia, Washington USA. Inspired by a number of “high wire” artists who walked on steel cables up high in unique places, these rockclimbers took this practice to the Yosemite valley, giving birth to ‘highlining’.
Slackline arrived in Buenos Aires about ten years ago and spread across Argentina, says local slackline teacher and slacker Federico Cristóbal Alassia.
“Slackline started in Capital Federal in Buenos Aires, they just walked the line, then a guy from San Pedro city, near to Rosario just beside the Paraná River; this guy bought a line and they took it to San Pedro,” says Federico, “they started watching videos in which some people did some tricks and so they started doing tricks.”
When this guy from San Pedro came to Rosario to study with the line, Federico was introduced to him, and together they started the ‘Good Vibes’ movement in Rosario. Today, Federico, who runs a slackline school and has given birth to the Slackear movement in Rosario, tells me the guys are practicing trickline in the park, a form that involves pulling slackline tricks.
“Trickline is between two spots, not really far away, maybe 30 metres maximum, and a metre and a half from the floor on average. In trickline you can do a few tricks, twists, flips, acrobatic stuff that gives the sport a kind of extreme type,” says Federico.
The overall practice of slackline is distinct from tightrope walking in the sense that the line is not held completely rigidly and taught, and is generally flat instead of round. It is quickly becoming popular due to its simplicity, versatility, and it’s ability to be practiced in a number of environments. Aside from trickline, various forms of slackline include urbanlining, waterlining, highlining, slackline yoga, windlining, and longlining.
How do you start to slackline?
As my friend Rodrigo and I were among the first to arrive at the park, he is able to give me a basic run down on how to start to slackline.
Me: “So when you start, somebody sits on it?”
Rodrigo: “At the beginning someone sits on the line to make it easier.”
Me: “So it doesn’t wobble?”
Me: “And then do you put your leading foot up?”
Rodrigo: “You put your foot straight, parallel to the rope and then you need to breathe, take a deep breath, and you go up, and then when you’re up, you exhale. And then you start breathing but really… really quiet, really slow.”
Me: “Before you get on the rope?”
Rodrigo: “No, after. You [exhaling in] take air and then [steps up onto the rope, breathing deeply and slowly in and out]. It’s a logic to breathe. You’re walking. Focusing on you breathing makes it easier, like for a rule, every time you’re going down breathe out, and when you’re going up [breathes in].”
Me: “And focus on the point in front of you?”
Rodrigo: “Yeah… focus on the point. Arms always up. You have to flex the elbow, just with your elbow, like this [raises his arms above his head, arms bent and relaxed at the elbow], to give the balance. Because if you’re falling to one side, I’m moving to this side [with elbows swung the way he is falling, leans his body the other way to regain balance].”
Me: “So if you’re falling one way, you go the other way?”
Rodrigo: “Yeah, I move my body the other way.”
Me: “But your hands go the same way you are falling?”
Rodrigo: “Yeah. Also, your knee has to be all the time, like flexible. You know? Not straight. Like suspension.”
Me: “When you’re on the rope your knee has to be relaxed?”
Rodrigo: “Yeah, like suspension… and keep your wrists straight.”
How difficult is slackline?
Unfortunately, slackline is not as easy as it looks. It requires balance, focus, strength, breathing, and lots and lots of practice. The ones who make it look easy are the ones who are really, really good. Maybe they are without fear too, because, due to the tension and stretch in the line which creates a lot of bounce, you can fall really badly and really awkwardly. You have to be careful not to catch yourself on the rope as you fall, which can skew your body and leave you extremely vulnerable to injury. I’m talking from experience. Once, as I caught the rope as I was falling I hit the ground, hard. The guys who slackline regularly have the tendency to turn a fall into a backflip, so much so that I didn’t realise they were falling at first, as opposed to doing a trick.
Furthermore, there is a certain rhythm and flow when watching people slackline in the park. There is a tranquility as you watch them practicing on the maze of lines, focusing on their breathing, balance and technique.
Then, when the really good ones, like Federico, fellow teacher Lucas Salvia, and a few others start busting moves out, you can clearly identify that they have their own style from years of practice. It’s amazing to behold as they unleash buddha sits, crossed leg knee drops, 180s and 360s, jump turns, as well as butt and chest bounces. There is so much attitude on show, so much technique, so much power, and so much rhythm and flow that slackline is some weird hybrid of dancing gymnastics. The problem is that you can’t really appreciate what you are watching until you try it for yourself.
“How often does a person, who doesn’t do it, need to do it well?” I ask Federico, after watching him nail some of these tricks.
“It is individual, you are going to improve it is about the person, but for sure you have to be constant. You are not going to do it from one day to the other,” says Federico.
“Everything in life, you have to invest time, you have to make an effort. Like a plant, it is coming from a seed, you have to give it water, pay attention, one day it is going to give you a flower and you can smoke it. All you give to the plant it comes back in happiness. It is simpler than we imagine. We complicate the things, the hard thing to do is to be simple.”
What you need to start to Slackline:
* 16 MTS YELLOW ROPE
* 1 WINCH ROPE
* 1 SLACK ANCHOR
* 1 LANYARD
* 2 CASES FOR TREE CARE AND ROPE
* A BACKPACK
The significance of slackline
“When we [Federico and the San Pedro pioneer] started, we took the sport not just as a sport but as a way to live, trying to transmit the techniques of equilibrium, focus, balance, and breathing to our lives… We have opened a school and the idea is to transmit this lifestyle to everybody who wants to learn (the Slackear movement was born after the opening of the school). It was so good for me, I adapted it so well to my life, I started to share it with the people,” says Federico.
Federico says that anyone can take the slackline as they want, as a sport, as a hobby, or just as a way to relax. However you take it, it is always an exercise in the value of persistence.
“Maybe you have a bad day and you fall, fall, and fall but it gives it you a positive lesson, because when you fail or do something wrong you learn, which is a positive thing you have to take from slackline to improve. When you have more resources, more technique, it becomes more attractive and you can really enjoy it because you can do many more things and you have a lot of fun.”
Future Good Vibes
“In Rosario, there are many people that start doing slackline, and we have already organised two tournaments,” says Federico.
While today we are relaxing in the park with the slackline, Federico says his ambition with tournaments is to not only to spread the sport but to also to spread and grow the positive aspects he has taken from slackline.
“It is a single sport, but we want to wake up the collective consciousness and to change it to teams versus teams for the next tournament. I want to change the modality – if we win, we win as a team. The pleasure is individual and you can have it by yourself, but the happiness is to share. To change the belief of when you are sharing of something you are losing your piece, to think you are giving something with your heart, giving energy, that is going to return to you,” says Federico.
Over the course of the weekend I see examples of this sharing and happiness Federico talks about. No one is possessive of the line, it’s not an ‘in crowd’. Everyone is welcome to get on and try. I see people of all ages, families, girlfriends and boyfriends, lone rangers, the coordinated and the uncoordinated all trying to slackline. What’s more, from the experienced regulars like Federico and Lucas to the intermediate and even the beginners, everyone makes an effort to help others learn, so that everyone learns and enjoys together.
Federico and Lucas will explain the idea or help their friends improve a certain technique or trick. They walk kids along the line as they lean on our shoulder. My friend Rodrigo showed me how to approach the slackline. Everyone shares and it is this collective attitude that, as Federico says, makes everyone have an even better time. It sounds hippy, but it’s true. The group is very approachable and it means the philosophy of slackline, to grow and share, is transmitted.
“Now we are going to an annual tournament on the 15th of November. I am thinking to spread the sport because it is a really young sport, and in the beginning there were only a couple of people but now there are many more people wanting to do slackline,” says Federico.