It’s easy to assume the circus has come to town when you spot a group of students taking turns teetering across what can only be described as a tightrope tethered between two trees on Old Main lawn, but when it comes to writing them off as another campus oddity, Dear Old State’s resident slackliners ask that you cut them some slack.
“Everybody should come out and try it,” says junior Nick Nader, one of the university’s many, though often overlooked, slacklining fanatics.
When it comes to choosing extra-curriculars that keep you grounded, slacklining probably isn’t your obvious first choice, but according to Nader, slacklining might be just the game-changer you need.
“Anyone that likes to do anything athletic can do it. It’s not demanding at all, you just have to give it a chance.”
Most slackliners fall in love with the sport after dabbling in rock-climbing, but for people looking to take a walk on the wild-side without falling over the edge, slacklining comes in all shapes and sizes.
“Competitive slacklining is where these guys go over 1,000 foot cliffs,” says Nader. “Kind of like Nik Wallenda – the guy that walked across the Grand Canyon.”
What most students practice at Penn State – where the canyons aren’t quite as grand – Nader refers to as urban-lining, a version of slacklining that will guarantee you’ll remain in one piece even if you happen to take a wrong step.
“You can set it up over pools, over water, over anything,” says Nader, pointing out that landing in water can be a lot more forgiving when you’re just starting out. “You can do more tricks without it being dangerous.”
Sure, walking a few feet off the ground definitely earns you some serious points as a thrill-seeker, but what’s the real draw for students who can’t get enough of the slackline-life?
Practicing balance, says Nader. “I know that sounds weird, but not a lot of people have good balance, and not a lot of people recognize how crucial that can be to doing activities besides this.”
At its most basic, Nader advises walking on the line like you would “taking a drunk-test.” Bare feet can also give you better grip, and by increasing the width of your slack (the ‘technical’ term for the line), you can help steady your balance.
Whether you’re making your first strides on the line or taking a seat suspended in the air (“It’s a lot harder than it sounds,” says Nader), slacklining is a challenge worth a student’s time and money.
“You can set it up anywhere and it’s really cheap,” says Nader, pointing out that the recent commercialization of slacklining has created equipment that’s less expensive and easier to set up than ever before.
“All you have to do is just throw it around a tree and crank it,” says Nader. “They make it really easy. You can do it with only one person.”
But just because you can set up your line solo doesn’t mean you have to slackline alone. Nader suggests seeking out the Penn State Outing club or the other various rock-climbing groups on campus, but if you’re simply looking to dip your toes in the water before diving in, stopping to chat with students setting up their lines around campus is your best bet.
“They’re all very friendly,” says Nader. “You can just walk up to them and ask, ‘Hey can I try your slackline?’ and they’ll say, ‘Absolutely!’”
With that in mind, stay calm and slack on, Staters.