A beginner’s guide to slacklines

Summer is just around the corner and it brings with it many outdoor activities that everyone enjoys. For those considering getting into slacklining the type of line a person buys can have a large influence on the type of slacklining they will be able to do. As with many sports, slacklining has several genres such as, long lines, high lines, trick lines, and primitive set ups.

For those just learning to slackline, becoming familiar with all the genres is important, even if they will not be partaking in them anytime soon. Long lines are classified as any line over 80 feet in length. These lines need a pulley system in order to tighten them. The cost of pulleys, a brake, a multiplyer, rope and webbing, can cost upwards of six hundred dollars depending on the quality of the equipment. High lines (often also long lines) are defined as any line sixty feet or higher above the ground. These lines require all the same equipment but also require line lockers, a harness for the slackliner, back up webbing, and other back up equipment. These systems can cost upwards of fifteen hundred dollars. Besides the initial cost, the equipment knowledge required to set up these lines and advanced skill level required to walk these lines makes these lines impossible for beginners.

The other types of slacklining are more cost efficient and easier for the beginner to learn on and to set up in a safe manner. A variety of beginner slacklines can be bought from companies like Gibbon, Slackstar, Singing Rock, and others. Normally these lines are 2 inches in width, use a ratchet system to tension the slack line and can range in length from 10 to 30 meters, though Gibbon sells some one inch lines, and other line varieties. Because of their easy setup and relative cheapness, ranging from about 50 to 140 dollars, these lines are the most conventional lines. Unfortunately, most of these lines, excluding some of Gibbon’s lines, cater too much to the beginner, and prevent progression once the slackliner is ready to move onto more advance slacklining.

The concerns slackliners have with these conventional entry level slacklines are threefold. First off, these lines are static, non-elastic, making the line difficult to perform tricks, excluding some yoga maneuvers. Additionally, the classic line does not behave like the webbing used in other advanced systems like highlines and longlines making the transition to more advanced slacking difficult. Furthermore, the heavy ratchet used to tighten the line dampens the line and gives the lines an awkward delayed wobble. This ratchet problem can be reduced in two ways. Either by further tensioning the line, but high tension in a static line makes the line almost immobile and frankly kind of boring, or by finding a tree wide enough that the ratchet is close to the tree or other anchor point, reducing the amount it can wobble.

The exception to static lines in two inch ratchet tension systems are the Gibbon jib and surf lines. These are made from an elastic material specifically for the user to perform tricks on. In fact recent developments in slackline elasticity created tricklining. Tricklining is a competitive sport where competitors are judged on amplitude, creativity, trick difficulty, and style.

The only difference between the jib line and the surf line are the length of the line and ratchet arm. The surf line is the longer of the two and has the longer ratchet arm. The length allows one to achieve larger bounce amplitude and the long arm allows one to tension the line to high levels, further adding to the bounce height the user may obtain. While these are not beginner lines, athletic and ambitious beginners should not rule out these lines. It is easy for a beginner to set them up between short distances and learn the basics before attempting their first tricks on these lines. The surf line, more expensive than the jib lines, is long enough, about 100 feet, to provide a beginner with a good introduction to long lining.

Other ratchet systems that should be considered by a beginner are the Gibbon flowline and tubeline. They behave like their 1-inch long and high line counterparts, but are easy and cheap to set up. Sometime these lines, as well as primitive setups, are criticized by beginners as hard to walk due to their thin width. This is kind of a misnomer. The difficulty in walking a slackline comes from an inability to keep one’s legs and body steady on the line and rarely from an inability to place one’s foot on the slackline itself.

The last slackline setup is called a primitive setup. Appropriately named, climbers created this setup in the early 1980’s. This setup, sometimes viewed as the purest form of slacklining, uses one inch (though sometimes 11/16 and 1/2 inch) webbing. The tensioning system is created with carabiners using a pulley with the line wrapped back through the pulley system such that the friction of one tensioned line on the other keeps the system from un-tensioning. This setup is still the cheapest one can buy. The only downfall with this system is that a friend is required to help tighten the system to an appropriate amount.

When a beginner is buying their first slackline it is often recommended that they first buy a primitive setup. This system allows them to familiarize themselves with some of the equipment and setup techniques that are used later on in long line and high line systems. Additionally, these lines have the same elastic qualities as long and highlines.

If nothing else is grasped from this article, then take some advice. The beginner slackliner should avoid static, two inch wide, ratchet tensioned systems, such as the Gibbon classic line. These lines, while they work well for a while, will be quickly outgrown by an avid slackliner. Instead the Gibbon surfline, especially if users want to get into tricklining, or a primitive set up, if one would rather get into long lining and high lining, is recommended. Now go out there and have fun slacklining.

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