Davis Hermes wins freestyle Highline World Championship
Laax, Switzerland event was the first slackline world championship ever
Sure, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin can claim world champion status, but did either win their sport’s first title?
On July 17, Vail’s Davis Hermes won the freestyle competition at the inaugural Highline World Championship in Laax, Switzerland. The 22-year-old Vail Christian grad threw down his signature “Holy Grail” trick in both the semifinal and final rounds, upsetting Spain’s David Palomo with a score of 108.75 to 97.83 in the title bout.
“It was a great performance for sure,” Hermes said of both his and Palomo’s routines.
Freestyle highlining is a discipline of slacklining in which flips and spins are performed on a highline — a slackline suspended high in the air — often across a canyon. Hermes has been involved in various elite domestic highline competitions, but this was his — and the sports’ — first international throw down.
“This was all the best athletes you could have brought from around the world,” Hermes said of the 31-athlete field who congregated at 2,252 meters of elevation in the Graubünden region.
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The competition consisted of a qualifier round on the first day to dwindle the 31-athlete field down to an eight-person bracket. Going into the event, Hermes said he was just hoping to make it out of the qualifier, where each competitor gets a running two-minute time slot to show their stuff.
Because the clock doesn’t stop, a fall not only means lost points, but lost time. Typically, athletes strive to perform their highest-percentage tricks as a result. Hermes decided to apply a “go big or go home,” mentality anyway, throwing massive tricks others weren’t willing to risk doing. It set the stage for the next two days: the American would be a force to be reckoned with.
It should be noted that the slacklining scouting report lacks a Pro Football Focus, data-driven style of analysis; it mainly consists of scrolling through Instagram. While appetizing for the eyes, there are shortcomings.
“You don’t know if someone is posting something they tried a million times in a row and finally got it on video or got it first try,” Hermes said of the struggling of gauging his competition.
“So, the best you can do is say, ‘OK, this person can do this trick and I know how hard this is or I don’t because it’s something I haven’t tried yet.’ You can only tell so much from online versus actually seeing someone in person because you’re missing the consistency value.”
Despite the “very tight competition,” present in Switzerland, Hermes was confident he’d get out of the qualifier.
“After that it was just do the best you can do,” he said.
In the quarterfinals, he scored 81.75 points, dispatching the Swiss athlete, Richard Schuppisser (57.36) with ease. He met fellow American Ian Eisenberg next, scoring 101 points to Eisenberg’s 71.7 to win the semifinal. In those early rounds, he landed the first ever double flips-to-feet in competition.
Waiting for him in the final was his Slackhouse teammate, David Palomo, the No. 1 ranked athlete from the qualifier (Hermes was No. 2).
“My second goal was to compete against David,” Hermes said of his initiatives coming in. “He’s notoriously the best. If you ask anyone who is the best, that’s the answer.”
Hermes admitted that he “didn’t care about winning at that point,” but when Palomo had two early uncharacteristic falls in his final, the door was open.
“That’s when the thought came like, ‘oh my gosh, this could actually go my way,'” Hermes said.
The budding Vail star laid down a string of combos in his final, including a backflip ‘Almighty’ to double front ‘Yoda’ and a front ‘Almighty’ to a double-back ‘Yoda.’
“Those two combos alone are super huge,” he said, noting that the Almighty is a hands free rotation around the rope.
“I landed pretty much everything. I was super stoked with my performance — I did the best I could do.”
After the two-minute round, the finals included a best trick, where both Palomo and Hermes received five attempts to land their gnarliest stuff. Palomo nailed his trick, but Hermes’ successful ‘Holy Grail’ — on his first try — sealed the deal. In the 30 minutes between the competition and awards, Hermes enjoyed a special moment of reflection few in sport are fortunate enough to cherish.
“I’m very hard on myself generally, which I think helps me push myself to the limits of my sport,” he said.
“But that was one of the few moments in life where I was truly proud of myself and happy with my performance.”
The slackline life
Hermes, who came to the sport 10 years ago, decided to coincide his maiden trip to Europe around the Laax event after receiving his invitation in May.
“There’s tons of highlines out here that are definitely bucket-list items for me,” he said.
He’s currently hanging — sort of literally — in the Canary Islands with Palomo. In the small slackline community, training together and “feeding off of each other’s style, energy and ideas” is central to the young sports’ progression.
“It is still such a young sport that it’s definitely in a really creative period,” Hermes explained.
“If you’re at a high level in the sport, you have the opportunity to invent new tricks and movements.”
One of those movements is his patented ‘Holy Grail,’ a double flip around the line in which the first is a no-hands ‘Almighty’ flip and the second is a traditional ‘Yoda’ roll, the rite-of-passage-trick for every up and coming elite. During the ‘Almighty,’ Hermes has to secure himself to the slackline by squeezing his feet — one on top and the other on the bottom — together around the line. The rotational speed carried into the next move is what makes the trick so difficult.
“It’s a very explosive landing,” he said of the first half of the move. “When you have a trick with that much rotation, force and energy put into the movement, it’s very, very challenging to land.”
The inspiration for the trick, which, since its 2021 debut has only been repeated by two other athletes, came from Hermes Boulder-based training partner, Justin Wagers.
“He had the idea and had been trying it for almost a year and kind of put it aside just because he thought it was too difficult,” Hermes explained.
With his big feet-to-feet bounces and high-amplitude approach, Hermes said, “the trick kind of fit my style.” It also fits his dichotomous philosophy on the sport.
“Slacklining requires me to stay relaxed and present even in situations in which that seems to be the least viable option,” he stated about himself.
“This “forced meditation” is what drew me to highlining. In highlining, both ones’ physical and mental limits are tested. I see slacklining as a great analogy to life: stay relaxed and try your hardest.”
Though some of the financial burden came out of Hermes’ own pocket for this year’s trip, when the next championship rolls around, that might not be the case.
“With the title, you are instantly more official for lack of a better term,” he said in regard to sponsors. Thanks to the tightly-connected, “very loving and welcoming” slackline community, Hermes can form his current Europe itinerary around other elites who are established, mostly via social media.
“It’s a small enough sport and it’s pretty well known who is competing at a high level and taking it seriously,” he explained.
Hermes has been working to garner more official sponsorships this entire year.
“My dream for a long time now is to make this — the slacklining life — work,” he said.
“I don’t know if that’ll be completely through competition or if it will be through coaching, putting media together – or a little bit of all of it. So I’m just starting to dip my toes and see where I can find success in that.”
When asked to expound upon what “the slacklining life means,” Hermes defined it this way: “Train hard and enjoy how awesome life is and how cool and unique the experiences you can make out of it is. Just enjoy it, be happy, share with your friends and share cool experiences with them.”
Hermes will travel to Italy for a competition and highline festival in a few weeks, and he expects to enjoy his second season as a ski patrol at Vail in the winter. Even though his title was the first, a feat which could immortalize him forever, he is nowhere near resting on his laurels.
“Right after the end it was definitely more motivation to keep going. This is only the beginning,” he said.
“There’s plenty more of the slacklife to experience and I’m very excited for what it holds in the future.”