Believe it or not, the art of balancing and walking along a rope has been around for a very long time. For example, in some parts of the world, ropes were used to cross gorges and deep rivers. More recently, people began to tighten these ropes, and later cables, and created “tightrope walking”. This was an incredibly popular style in the 19th and 20th century, and most likely paved the way to slacklining.
Most people will agree that modern slacklining began with now famous rock climber, Adam Grosowsky from Illinois, US. At only 16 years old, he became inspired by 19th century photographs depicting circus performers doing tricks, such as handstands, on a wire. After managing to convince a few local rock climbers to join him, they set about trying to recreate these tricks.
Only Adam Grosowsky ever successfully managed to pull of most of the stunts. This included the ability to do a handstand indefinitely on the line. Grosowsky and his friends used a 1 inch thick (2.5 cm) webbing to practise and perform their tricks on, as this was more dynamic and easier to balance on. From there, the sport developed great popularity among the West Coast rock climbing community in the United States.
Then in 1983, Adam Grosowsky along with Jeff Ellington, set up a high wire that was 55 feet (17 m) long and an astounding 2890 feet (880 m) high in the Yosemite mountains. Despite their determination to achieve this ambitious goal, neither of them managed to successfully cross the line.
However later that year, inspired by the efforts of Grosowsky and Ellington, two young men managed to complete the first ever ‘highline’ walk on nylon webbing, opposed to the traditional cable. This highline walk ever was done under a bridge in Pasadena, California, and spanned a mere 30 feet (9 m) long and 120 feet (35 m) high. After this, there was a long chain reaction of slackliners establishing higher and longer lines almost every year.
Through this, an extreme version of the sport developed, called “free soloing”. This essentially is highlining without a safety harness or rope to catch your fall. The world record for a free solo highline was set by Spencer Seabrooke in 2015.
Since 2008, Andy Lewis has been the world’s tricklining champion and is generally credited as being the best in the sport and modern day tricklining master. He has successfully promoted the sport and given it international recognition.
Since tricklining (and slacklining in general) is a relatively young sport, there is still much to be invented and standardized. For example, new tricks (and ways to score them) are still constantly being defined and redefined within the sport.
In 2011, the Balance Community Highline Festival in California was established, with the aim to promote the sport. Since then, there’s been a highlining festival every month which attracts highliners all across the US.
Recently the slacklining’s popularity has grown exponentially out of the US, with much support now coming from places in Europe, and developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa. There is a particularly strong slacklining culture in Latin America, which is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.