College Media Story Idea: Student Slackliners Leading a ‘Balance Sport Revolution’

Slacklining, a pursuit centered on finding the perfect balance, has seemingly reached its tipping point among students.

The activity involves walking ever-so-carefully across shaky nylon webbing typically tied between two trees about a foot from the ground.  BBC News describes it as “the trampoline meets the tightrope.”  Separate enthusiasts consider it a mere hobby, a rock-climbing training technique, a form of “moving meditation” or a full-blown “balance sport revolution.”

In numerous spots nationwide, students have become the faces of this revolution. As a recent article in The Columbia Missourian at the University of Missouri noted, “College students have especially taken to slacklining because it is relatively inexpensive, can be set up almost anywhere and is extremely entertaining.”  Missouri students started the organization Slackline Mizzou this past spring.

University of Delaware senior Josh Martin, an active slackliner, sees the growth in similar student groups as inevitable on many campuses.  As he said to The UD Review last fall, “The Slacklining Club will be the love child of the Climbing Club and the Outing Club.”

The activity has become so popular at the University of Washington it is apparently posing a conservation risk to campus trees.  According to a front-page report in The Daily of the University of Washington, school maintenance workers are politely asking student slackliners to refrain from tying their nylon ropes to the trees because it chips the bark.

A university arborist told Daily reporter Sarah Schweppe, “Right underneath the bark is where the tree intakes all of its nutrients, so it could potentially girdle [strip the bark from] the tree.”

One potential stopgap to this girdling: wrapping cardboard, towels or other protective coating around the spots the ropes are tied to the trees.  Other suggestions include using larger trees that can better sustain the chafing and constant tugging and setting up artificial tree-less slacklines.

Regardless, the sport itself will continue, buoyed by the apparent benefits to its participants.  “Students gather daily, captivated by the difficulty and uniqueness of the sport, to meet new friends and test their stability while walking the suspended rope,” a Patriot Talon piece at the University of Texas at Tyler reported.  Separately, a student at Oregon State University told The Daily Barometer, “I really enjoy the feeling of mastering a skill.  When I am slacklining, especially on a high line, there is a moment of focus that is unparalleled in anything I have ever done.”

Amid this unparalleled Zen, student slackliners do recognize the whole set-up appears slightly outlandish to those not familiar with the practice or its purpose.  As University of Delaware senior Lauren Demicco, a slacklining enthusiast since high school, admits, “We look like we’re walking a tightrope, so [student passersby are] like, ‘Where’s the circus?’”

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