old article: Slacklining

Slacklining

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HANGING OUT - Joseph Orefice performs a slack line trick with his flip-flops where he removes them and then puts them back on without falling off the line.

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HANG 10- Ben Wasserman (Right) slack-lines with a partner on the mall Tuesday afternoon.


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Cut me some slack
After a long day of classes, some students have found a new way to slack off

Posted: 4/13/06
You know those people on the mall who do that crazy thing where they walk on a rope from one tree to another? Well, they're not tightrope walkers. The term for what they're doing is "slack-lining" and it is as fun and difficult as it looks.

"Slack-lining, in it's most basic essence is like tightrope walking," says Josh Firmin, one of UMaine's slack-liners. "It involves balancing on a piece of one inch tubular nylon webbing strung out between two fixed objects. In our case, we do it only a few feet above the ground, but there are places where the line is suspended hundreds of feet in the air.

"Although the balancing skill required may seem tightrope-esque, there the similarities end. Unlike tightrope walking, where the rope is stretched very tight, the nylon webbing is very dynamic and stretches. This small factor makes the act of balancing nearly impossible. You want to move one way, but the line wants to go the other. It bounces and swings, basically taking you along for the ride, or fall."

And many people do fall. But that doesn't stop any of the slack-liners from getting up and trying again. "First of all, [slack-lining] is fun," says Chris Persico. "It also helps my balance. Slacking on the mall is also a way for me to meet new people. I think it's awesome when some random people come up and ask to give it a try."

Most of the onlookers at the mall are intrigued by the slack-liners. "I'd like to try it," said Jamie Livingstone, who was lounging on the mall while studying, "but it looks scary."

The community of mall slackers is a welcoming and friendly group. Most are into rock climbing and work at MaineBound. They encourage new people and praise the experienced ones as well, in addition to offering one another some friendly competition while slacking.

"It is fun to slack with others because then you are constantly pushing one another to do increasingly difficult moves," says Josh Fermin.

Surfing is one move that is difficult. It is when you purposefully move the slack-line back and forth and try to stay on. One particularly impressive move performed by Joe Orefice is the "flip-flop" trick. Orefice gets on the line in his flip-flops, takes one off, setting it on the ground with his toe, then takes the other off, setting that on the ground with his toe. Then, while remaining on the slack line on one leg, he bends his knee and with his free leg puts his flip flop back on. He then does it with the other foot. Everyone watches with bated breath, hoping he can do it, wondering how bad the fall will be if he doesn't. He executes the trick perfectly.

Cat Holmberg was the ambassador for my first attempt at slacking. As I came upon the crowd for this story, she was attempting - and succeeding - at slacking in spike-heeled sandals. Wow.

"It's like riding a bicycle," she explained, as I squatted over the slack line before pushing up on my leg to walk the line. "You just need to find your center of balance."

As I leaned on the shoulders of Holmberg to my right and Persico to my left, I pushed up into the air on the line, concentrated on a spot on the tree in front of me and found my balance. Walking the line proved to be far more difficult.

"The minute you put your foot on the line and try to stand up, you realize how unstable it is and how much skill is really involved," says Matt Swartz, who has been slacking for two years. "I have taken a few gnarly falls and have seen some pretty brutal ones too. I suppose you could say it's a little scary at first."

Perhaps more than a "little scary" for some, but the fun factor more than makes up for it.

"When I'm on the line, all the troubles of the day, whether it's a crumby grade on a paper, or the three-hour lab you have to go, they all seem to melt away," says Josh Fermin.

One thing particularly ironic about the term "slacking" for those who slack-line on the mall is that it actually turns into slacking in classes for several slackers. It's like the Land of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey; it totally sucks you in. Once you're out there, bare foot and playing in the gorgeous weather, who wants to go inside and sit in a classroom?

Chris Persico freely admitted to missing class in favor of slack-lining, which was the case on my day with the slack-liners.

"I do find that Tuesday from 12:30 on is a good time [to slack-line]. I find slack-lining much more rewarding than the economics class that I have then, especially when it's nice outside," claims Swartz.

For more information about the sport of slack-lining and its history, go to www.slackline.com.
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