VAIL-What was once considered a parlor trick by rock climbers was inducted into the pantheon of mountain sports at the Teva Mountain Games this year. The games' first hero is only 14.
Alex "The Machine" Mason from El Cerrito, Calif., won the first Gibbon Games International Competition on Sunday before of a tight, cheering crowd in Vail Village. He pulled off the victory by outperforming older competitors from around the world, including 21-year-old Michael Payton, who was the 2011 world champion in this sport.
"The comp was fantastic. It was the greatest comp ever. ...The altitude was refreshing, it lets me know I need to work harder." said Payton, who finished third in the competition.
In the semifinal round, Mason competed against 17-year-old Lukas "The Big Cheese" Huber, from Italy. Huber wowed the crowd with his quick, technically difficult tricks on the line. However, after several falls into the thick crash pad, he could not contend with the swagger that the Californian kid, who competed in blue-jeans in the high noon sun, brought to the competition.
Against Japan's Toru "Gappai" Osugi in the final round, Mason consistently completed one-handed cartwheels; 360 spins; and front flips, once landing on his back and launched himself upright to gasps and then cheers from the crowd.
Osugi, began his performance with a 20-foot heel-grabbing leap across the line, but after several failed flips, the winner was a foregone conclusion.
On the podium with Mason was Osugi, who earned second-place by default and Payton in third.
"It's a lot of fun," said Mason. "It's a really great experience."
What is slackline?
This discipline called "trick-lining," resembles what would be the lovechild of Olympic trampoline and power tumbling, who grew up listening to alternative rock.
"Slackers," such as Mason, performed the typical back flips, front flips, and 360 spins of alternative sports while balancing on the line. Slacklining also has its own tricks, such as "the lemur leap," when one jumps from one end of the line to another and "back bounce," where one fall on his or her back and is bounced back upright.
As a sport, slacklining is still in its toddler years. Domestic competitions were first organized in 2010; the first international competition was in 2008. Most of the crowd was comprised of slackline enthusiasts who could not buy one of these tightropes without being driven to the store by their mothers; it is an index of how popular this new sport is with a generation of athletes now coming of age.
"To have a young hero at this young of an age in the sport is phenomenal," vice president of sales at Gibbon Slacklines Emilio Torres said. It just shows that the sport can grow so much because he is getting older and young kids are embracing the sport. ...Some of these kids will be Alex in a couple of years."
How do you compete in slacklining?
• With competition slacklines, competitors have 55 feet of line with which to work. The center is naturally the most bouncy and less bouncy as one balances closer to the posts.
• There are four rounds of elimination-based competition where two athletes duel one another.
• A panel of judges evaluates each performance based on creativity, skill, and performance.
• Competitors perform tricks of strength, skill, and grace on a flat, three-inch wide line of climber's webbing line, four and a half feet off the ground.