July 15, 2010

Finding a Balance in Philadelphia.

With deep focus and steady concentration Sam carefully planted his bare foot on the one inch wide strip of nylon webbing. It was stretched horizontal and taught between two trees 50ft apart and came to waist level. With a swift step he leaped up and was suspended on the line. The slackline, which resembles a tight rope but intentionally set loosely, flexed and swayed under his movements. His arms stretched out and moved like waves far out on the ocean.

The amusement turned balance sport called slacklining first appeared around campsites in the West when rock climbers began tinkering with old equipment. Walking on the thin line requires the core strength, focus and balance that is critical in rock climbing but this reincarnation more closely resembles a yoga routine because of its subtle nature and delicate movements. I learned quickly that the sport’s grace is deceiving but it fortunately boasts a quick learning curve. On this day his hair waved across his shoulder like leaves as he demonstrated what he called “basic” movements on the line. In the bustling park in an often overlooked corner of Philadelphia, Sam’s eyes gazed into focus as he walked along the line by slowly placing each foot. When he reached one tree he carefully but quickly spun and walked back to the middle of the line. It sagged under his weight and he threw a leg out to correct his balance. He appeared to be floating in a moment of tranquility rarely captured in the overcharged city.

A basic slackline setup which requires minimal gear and few knots can be assembled for $50 or less and is available in most outdoor specific shops. The method of rigging and supplies needed, however, varies greatly depending on preference but should include protection for the trees from which the slackline is suspended.

To increase the challenge a slackliner or “slacker” can incorporate yoga poses on the line thus creating unlimited possibilites. Long ago captured by this unique sport, I find that warm summer nights in Philadelphia are best spent in balance, reconnecting to the relaxed and finding new focus on a slackline.

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