I have read that modern circus tight rope started in Kazakhstan at least two thousand years ago. Other cultures have had slack rope and tight rope traditions that go back quite a ways. The Yosemite rock climbers tradition of slack chain goes back to the sixties or seventies and is said to have been inspired by an old circus tight rope walker who lived in Colorado. But few took chain walking seriously. The earliest modern slackline, (tubular nylon webbing) that I know about was walked by Adam Growsowski and Jeff Ellington.
I was in Yosemite in 1983 and I saw these guys walking slackline. They were both very good by today’s standards. Adam had taught Jeff and I don’t know but I think Adam started it a few years before that. In 1983 they could juggle clubs while each standing on their own slackline and pass the clubs back and forth. They walked short lines but they weren’t 1″, it was 3/4″ tubular nylon (light gauge just like half inch tubular). Adam could surf really well and he was very solid all around. He could also do a handstand, although from starting on the ground.
I saw all this and I was sold that this was the sh!t. My friend Chris Carpenter had been with me on that trip and we went home and started slacklining. Later that year we walked what is believed to be the first high slackline under a bridge in Pasadena, CA. Adam and Jeff had tried to walk the Lost Arrow Spire that summer (’83) on a cable but had not succeeded. I decided then and there that I wanted to try it. I threaded two lengths of super tape inside a piece of 1″. I attempted the walk in ‘84 but failed. I came back in ‘85 and walked the Lost Arrow Spire on July 13.
Darrin Carter had climbed the Lost Arrow Spire for my 1984 attempt and watched as I repeatedly tried and failed to cross the line culminating in a leash fall that had me flying through the sky by my tether. This was the scariest moment of my life, but it also planted a seed with Darrin, (someone who I’d grown up with). Chongo (who had taught Darrin, Chris and me to climb a few years earlier) also slacklined back then but took a little longer to get serious. Back then, Darrin did not like to slackline because he had very strong arms and did not trust his feet. Never the less, in 1993 Darrin became the second to walk the spire. Chongo walked it in ‘94 and in ‘95 I went back for my tenth anniversary and all three of us walked it.
At that time there still weren’t very many people who walked slackline but Darrin had spent the last few years honing his skills and he broke out. Not only walking the spire but walking back and forth so many times that I was able to shoot video from three different angles. Later that year Darrin did the first leash-less walk of the Spire. (Yikes!!)
Although one does not have to highline to slackline and highline is a very small part of my overall slackline experience it seems to spark peoples imagination more than walking close to the ground.
Still slackline was very fringe until master rock climber Dean Potter came along and did the fourth crossing of the spire.
Me and my friends weren’t great climbers but everyone wanted to be like Dean.
Now slackline is spreading to other sport communities such as surfers, skier/snow boarders, rowers and martial artists.
Maybe you will help write the next chapter in the slackline saga.