Slacklining Becoming Part of Lingo

The first look most of America got was when a wild-haired Andy Lewis wore a toga and bounced on a slackline while Madonna sang and danced.

Though most watchers of February’s Super Bowl halftime show may have been fixated on the sexy singer, slacklining made its mainstream debut and has been shooting sky-high ever since with the World Championships landing in Boston this weekend as part of the Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo at the Seaport World Trade Center.

That the adrenalin sport is linked to snow sports is not a fluke. Many young teenage X Game watchers, skateboarders and snowboarders were drawn to doing tricks on the narrow one- and two-inch wide nylon webbed lines that are affixed to two points and raised above the ground.

Though a tightrope is taut, a slackline is slack and allows for flips, twists and spins.

And falls.

“You have to have a willingness to get hurt, be determined,” says Melissa Bowe, 23, one of the country’s top slackliners. “I enjoy the mental challenge.”

Bowe is a former gymnast turned international slackline competitor. A Brown University graduate now living in Providence, R.I., she first became aware of slacklining as a student and 10 months later won her first international competition.

She’s competed in Germany and is the 2011 Queen of Slacklining, a title she earned after winning an online contest where athletes had to do a series of tricks over a period of time.

Now she sets the standard in the ongoing 2012 competition as athletes must mimic her tricks to advance.

“With gymnastics, I’m used to flipping front or twisting horizontally,” she said. “Now a lot of the tricks are misty flips and cork spins. I didn’t do those in gymnastics.”

Slacklining is moving from backyard barbecues to indoor rock gyms, schools and even ski areas.

With its roots linked to climbers in the 1970s who used to unveil the lines in Yosemite National Park, slackliners have a number of disciplines. Trickliners do tricks. Highliners and skyliners travel high in the sky while longliners walk lines of 150 feet or more. There are waterliners who traverse over water as well.

Bowe is a trickliner, but has tried to highline a couple of times including a stint some 60 feet high above a New York State gorge.

“That was high enough to make me nervous,” she said.

Then she tried it in Boulder, Colo. even higher.

“That didn’t go too well,” she said.

So Bowe sticks to tricks.

“Twists and flips are for me,” she said.

Slacklining’s been making the rounds this year as a demonstration sport on the adrenaline sport Dew Tour with stops in Ocean City, Md. and San Francisco. Slacklining comes to the mountains Dec. 13-16 during the Dew Tour’s Breckinridge, Colo., stop.

There, athletes will compete 55 inches above snow, outside.

“They’ll wear a different type of apparel because of the cold and snow, but they’ll be able to do the same types of tricks outdoors like they do in summer,” says Boston native Emilio Torres, vice president of sales and marketing for Gibbon Slacklines USA.

Torres says skiers like Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn use slacklines to cross-train as it enhances core strength and balance.

“The learning curve is a lot like snowboarding,” he said. “Learning to snowboard and slackline can be difficult but once your core understands the balance, you get much better very quickly.”

Beginner slacklines cost about $75 and can be tied between trees. Having padding underneath helps.

And they may be coming to a ski area near you—albeit in summer.

“A few of the bigger resorts in New England are interested,” said Torres. He mentioned Okemo, Killington and Sunapee.

But slackliners can set up a line almost anywhere. For Bowe, she enjoys slacklining in a park on a nice day.

“It’s really great,” she says. “People walk by, they chat with you, they ask you questions.”

Bowe also see the sport evolving rapidly, with tricks getting more intense.

However, there’s still a fairly quick rise to the top for some. Torres says many of the top slackliners have only been at it for a year or so.

“Slacklining in general has grown tremendously in the past year,” he said. “Having slacklining at the Super Bowl was incredible media exposure. It put us in the public eye.”

And has been bouncing along ever since.

Syndicated columnist Marty Basch can be reached through