Slacklining in Vail: Time to line up
May 25, 2012
VAIL, Colorado – Tightrope walking’s great-grandchild has been born, and like many of his generation, he’s a slacker.
And now he’s coming of age.
Slacklining – the act of balancing and doing tricks along a narrow, flexible piece of webbing typically anchored between two trees – originated in the climbing world and has now evolved from a backyard activity into a competitive sport. The pros call it “tricklining.”
And the organizers of the Teva Mountain Games here in Vail see it as a perfect addition to the annual summer comps. The first-ever Gibbon Games International Slackline Competition is scheduled to start Friday with single-elimination qualifying rounds judged on difficulty, creativity and performance. The finals will be held on Sunday.
Mike Payton, the current World Champion, is not only planning on attending – he’s planning on being blown away by the competition an event backed by the Vail Valley Foundation can bring.
“As the competitions progress and more people see them, we’re able to see bigger-budgeted events as well, and that’s what grows this sport,” says Payton. “Some of the best slackliners are in Venezuela, Brazil, Europe, Japan, and it’s really expensive to fly them all over … and after every competition, someone will come up with a new trick that nobody else can do. So with the addition of time and this budget and other countries coming into play, I think this is going to be the biggest competition we’ve ever seen.”
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Payton says the sport is evolving so quickly, he’s not sure how long he will be able to stay on top. A Slackline Federation was recently established, and world rankings based on federation-sanctioned events will follow. Payton attained his No. 1 status by winning the Slacklining Championships in Dayton, Ohio, last year, but the upcoming world rankings will only compile results from events held after the establishment of the Slacklining Federation.
“The tricklining has gotten so far out there, honestly I don’t expect to maintain my No. 1 status this year,” he says. “The movement I’m seeing some of these guys do, I’m training my butt off for these moves and I still can’t get them. Some of the people at (the Teva Mountain Games) are going to be outrageous.”
Pro slackliner Andy Lewis says opportunities for pro slackliners have blasted off in the last few years.
“My career has been a rocket, launched into a state of hyperdrive,” Lewis says. “I am just flying through the galaxy right now, and I have no idea where I should stop, or where I could go. I am getting offers from every part of the globe for every kind of slackline stunt you can imagine.”
Recently Lewis performed alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl halftime show, an event he described as a victory dance for the sport of slacklining.
“Over the past seven years I have devoted my life, body and mind to the sport,” he says. “The chance to do the Super Bowl, for me, felt like a gift from the slackline gods thanking me for all my hard work.”
Lewis is especially excited about the Teva Games.
“I am excited to see who shows up, the skill level of the competitors, and mostly to slackline with everyone,” he says. “It’s at events like these that everyone’s energy comes together and we invent new tricks and see things that have never been seen before.”
Michael Imhof of the Vail Valley Foundation, organizers of the Teva Mountain Games, says he was introduced to competitive slacklining at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City last summer.
“And now we’re pleased to be hosting one of the new sport’s biggest competitions right here in Vail,” he says. “Because it’s so accessible, dynamic and fun, slacklining is exploding in popularity right now.”
In addition to being accessible and dynamic, slacklining can also provide an intense workout, and is great in cross-training and rehab for a variety of sports.
Lewis says slacklining in a park is also a lot more fun than doing lunges in a gym.
“One of the most interesting things about the sport of slacklining is that even the easiest lines provide a substantial workout,” he says. “The focus and balance that is necessary to stay on the slackline, as well the fact that you have to keep your arms above your head for extended periods of time, provides quite a challenge.”
One mecca of the slacklining universe is Boulder. The sponsor of the slacklining competition at Teva, Gibbon Slacklines USA, is based there. The company sponsors Payton, Lewis and a number of other pro slackliners who travel the country and teach the sport. Gibbon Slacklines are now sold at more than 1,700 shops across the U.S. and the company holds smaller versions of the upcoming Gibbon Games all over North America.
Emilio Torres with Gibbon says the cash purse on the line at Teva could make the competition more intense than their other comps.
“It’s going to be fun to watch,” he says.
For more information about Gibbon slacklines or the sport of slacklining, visit http://www.gibbonslacklines.com/us.
Check out more on the Teva Mountain Games at http://www.tevamountaingames.com.