Walking up in the air is one of the extreme experiences that many people would like to try but they don’t have the courage or the right “dose of craziness” to do it. Actually, slacklining, this is the name of the discipline, is the act of walking over a webbing that is tensioned between two extremities that can be for example the sides of two mountains. Slacklining differs from tightrope walking because it is practiced without the barbell or any sort of weighs and the slackliner walks over a webbing and not over a rope or a cable.
This extreme sport was born in the United States in the early 1980s and it has three “sub-categories”: trick-lining, long -lining, high-lining.
Tricklining consists in creating many “tricks” or shapes with your body trying not to fall, some of the tricks are: knee drop, buttbounce, chest bounce or lemur leap.
Longlining is walking up in the air over a very long webbing and the greatest struggle is that the longer the webbing the more it will swing.
Highlining is slacklining above the ground or water, the athlete has to ensure himself at the webbing with a sling, even if sometimes expert athletes do it without any cautions, this method is called “free solo”.
Caleb Beavers is a slackliner who practices highlining and challenges the gravity walking suspended in the air from a mountain to another one.
Sara: How was your passion for slacklining born? Tell me something about you.
Caleb: My passion for slacklining was born when a friend and I set up a small slackline in the park, and spent hours trying to walk on it. Later that same day, we watched videos of sketchy Andy Lewis highlining in Moab, and I made a conscious decision that I wanted to try highlining.
“The fear of walking on a highline can only be overcome by subjecting yourself to that fear over and over again”
Sara: What are the feelings you experience when you are suspended in the air?
Caleb: When I first started highlining, the feelings were definitely fear and anxiety and it wasn’t until one year into my highlining practice that I finally started to feel comfortable on the line. Now I have no fear, and I find myself in a meditative space when I highline. I am really able to enjoy the space I am occupying.
Sara: How do you prepare yourself, both physically and mentally, for these really emotional “crossings” from one mountain to another one? Where do you train?
Caleb: The only way to train is to highline as much as possible. Regarding the physical side, it is possible to train lower to the ground, however highlines typically are rigged at lower tensions and therefore it feels totally different. As for the mental side, the fear of walking on a highline can only be overcome by subjecting yourself to that fear over and over again.
The human brain is able to feel “the fear”, and it works much like any other muscle, you must exercise it to make it strong. The only way to exercise that “fear muscle” is to highline. Since I started highlining I haven't spent more than a week without doing it. Living in Boulder, Colorado, with a great community of highliners makes it very easy to highline often.
Sara: In your opinion, which are the best places to practice slacklining? Do you travel a lot to find the right place?
Caleb: I cannot choose one “best” place to highline. I have traveled all over the country and even abroad to highline. I think it all boils down to being in a beautiful space. In Boulder there are many beautiful rock features to highline off of. The view from the line, the direct height from the ground, and the cleanliness of the rigging is all that makes the best highlinings for me. If I were to name a few specific locations: Yosemite Valley, Smith Rock, Moab Utah, Boulder Flatirons, El Potrero Chico are all amazing places to highline.
“The brain is able to feel “the fear”, and it works much like any other muscle, you must exercise it to make it strong”
Sara: Is there a particular situation where you were really scared?
Caleb: I have one situation that actually legitimately scared me, and that was when I was in the middle of a 200m long line when an intense heavy rain and windstorm exploded and I had to rush to get myself off the line. The Intense wind has caused serious issues for highlines, and it can be very unsafe to be on the line during the wind. Luckily, I made it and everything was fine.
Sara: What is the “Spaceages Slacklines” you founded?
Caleb: I went to engineering school, so I started designing my own high-tech slackline gear. Spaceage Slacklines is a company I founded to bring my ideas to market.
Sara: What is the best satisfaction you reached so far?
Caleb: The best satisfaction I have reached highlining is when I “send” a new personal record. “Sending” means to walk from one end to the other without falling, and when I send a line that is longer than I ever have done before, I call that a “PR” or personal record. It’s very satisfying to increase my PR, and it’s a great way to track my progression throughout the years.
Quirin Herterich practices highlining too. He says this extreme discipline is the perfect challenge for both body and mind, also he adds that this sport has taught him a lot.
Sara: Tell me something about yourself. Why did you choose to practice this extreme sport?
Quirin: Highlining for me is the perfect challenge for body and mind. It makes me practice both physical and mental strength and therefore fulfills me a lot. It is a very young sport with very few rules, so it leaves a lot of space for creativity. Redefining the limits in length is what I personally like the most but also combining it with other disciplines like skiing and climbing and bringing the highline to the most impossible spots on earth. Overall, I consider it one of the safest things I do, even if it may look extreme at first sight, I would never call it an extreme sport. It is extremely safe.
“In the meantime, I feel like I’m home on my highline”
Sara: What is the first feeling you experienced when you walked up in the air for the first time?
Quirin: Pure fear. I've been climbing and skiing since the age of three, both at competitive level. So I never expected to be afraid of heights in any situation. Big heights usually made me excited, but on highlines I really shat my pants and that kept me curious to try again. After months of training I finally managed to highline without fear and that was extremely rewarding. In the meantime, I feel like I’m home on my highline.
“Highlining for me is the perfect challenge for body and mind”
Sara: Have you ever been scared in the middle of one of your crossings? What did you do? I mean, how did you maintain your self-control?
Quirin: In 2018 I crossed the longest highline of the world with a length of 2800m. At about 1000m from the end, after walking for 120 minutes, I felt pretty tired. I knew that going back was even longer and therefore I had no option. Also, I knew that no one could have helped me out there. If I didn’t manage to get out then sitting in the harness would have caused a suspension trauma in my legs. This would eventually led to overall fatigue and most likely to death as soon as the weather turned into a storm according to the forecast and the experience of the last days in that place. I was scared in this situation and knew that it was very serious (even before going on the line, since all the facts were clear in advance). Maintaining self-control is essential in such situations, the fastest and easiest way to get out of the line is walking. In general, to manage my mental strength I meditate daily which also helps me in my job, as I work as a senior manager
Sara: Do you have a favorite place where you practice slacklining? Or a place that “stayed in your heart” for some reason?
Quirin: I regularly train in my home mountains in beautiful Bavaria on rather low slacklines, about 20m. These training lines are quite boring and fulfill the purpose of keeping me in shape but that’s it. The really interesting lines are on the Alps and most of the time are combined with travelling. Basically, every holiday since I was 17 was spent highlining and I’ve had the chance to see absolutely stunning places. What touched me the most was Australia in 2015, but also Norway in 2018 and 2019 was full of intense experiences.
Sara: I think that these kinds of experiences let you enjoy the real taste of life and freedom. Don’t they?
Quirin: True. Highlining has taught me a lot. I gained a lot of self-confidence thanks to highlining, I learned to work hard for my goals and also how to fail. My life would be completely different without highlining. I would not be where I am right now without it. Being on highline projects is pure life: great people, interesting places, creativity and freedom.
“Highlining has taught me a lot. I gained a lot of self-confidence due to highlining, learned to work hard for my goals and also how to fail”