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The rope is purple. It stretches long and low between two palm trees, two of many that line the grassy portion of La Jolla Shores. It is attached to said trees — their trunks carefully padded — via a series of cables and caribiners (oval-shaped metal rings that open and snap closed), and sways peacefully in the ­breeze.

Not far away, Frankie Nagara sits cross-legged, his back to one of the trees. ­He’s a lightly mustached 23-year-old, a sharp-ended plug adorning each earlobe. Soft-spoken and relaxed, he is clearly about to say something, but before he can construct his forthcoming sentence, an older woman stops on the sidewalk and ­balks.

­“What’s this rope for?” she asks, her voice strident, as though she expects she will not be able to hear the ­answer.

“Slacklining,” Frankie replies, not missing a ­beat.

“What ­lining?”

“Slacklining.”

“Slacklining?” The woman echoes, hitting a new octave entirely. “What is ­that?”

“This piece of rope right here,” Frankie patiently explains. “You walk on ­it.”

The ­woman’s face lights ­up.

“Kind of like tightrope,” she ­says.

­“It’s kind of like tightrope, yeah,” Frankie concedes, “but ­it’s a lot looser. You should give it a ­shot.”

The woman smiles politely by way of declining, pausing a moment longer before continuing on down the sidewalk. Frankie shrugs as if to say, her loss.

The rope ­sways.

Slacklining, a practice generally known as “slacking,” looks deceptively easy. Those who are good at it walk across the rope with the grace of gymnasts; those who are great at it can jump and flip, landing back on the line, or balancing themselves in yoga-like poses, faces drawn in ­concentration.

Beginning, however, takes considerable determination. The line wobbles uncontrollably, as though ­one’s body has a constant and powerful tremor. Walking it with the aid of another person, who acts as a helpful counter-balance, feels not unlike what traveling across a large rubber band might; the line is at once springy and taut, reacting to any change in weight ­distribution.

This, done successfully or unsuccessfully, is called “walking the ­line.”

­It’s damned ­difficult.

Frankie, however, is a master. Step by step, he balances in the middle of the rope, which is one inch in width and relatively flat, and then proceeds to curl himself into a pretzel shape, bringing his hands into a prayer-like position, palms ­together.

This is called the Garland ­Pose.

Frankie, who is the founder of sandiegoslacklining.com, and the San Diego Slackline Meetup on the popular in-person social networking site meetup.com, has been slacklining for nine months. He started when his fiancée, Megan, who balances on a second line they have set up, began to encourage ­him.

“She kind of shot the bug out,” he recalls. “[I said], ‘Hey, I want to try this,’ and [she said], ‘Definitely do it! I want to do it, too!’ Then, seeing pictures of friends and other people doing it, made me want to do it ­more.”

Megan smiles and says softly, “I did it with a couple of friends, some climbing friends, a few years ­ago.”

While the particulars of ­slacklining’s origins are hazy, what slackline practitioners (often called simply “slackers”) agree on is that the practice began in Yosemite, California, in the ’70s and ’80s and was born from the widespread rock-climbing community there. Climbers, many slackliners say, started unofficially slacklining while waiting at the base of rock faces or back at their camps, stringing up yards of webbing and working on their balance. Most slacklining gear is (or was) intended for rock climbing and has since been ­appropriated.

As far as sports go, slacklining is inexpensive. Unlike surfing, where one must shell out anywhere from $400 to $1000 for a board, the webbing used for slacklines is cheap, cheap, cheap. At popular outdoor retailer REI, the one-inch tubular variety starts at .36 cents a foot. Caribiners are anywhere from $9 to $24.

Slackline-specific gear is a bit more costly. Slackline Brothers in Los Angeles sells ­what’s called a “slackline starter kit,” which includes 75 feet of tubular webbing, and the “Slackline Brothers Tightening System,” for $230. Gibbon Slacklines, a company operating out of Germany (more on them in a moment), sells their ratchet-system slacklines starting at $79.99. But this pre-packaged gear is by no means necessary; slacklining started as a do-it-yourself sport and the tradition ­continues.

And ­it’s catching on. There are talks of competitions, one of which was already held in Slovenia, and, Frankie says, groups worldwide are discussing rules and regulations for official slackline ­games.

In San Diego, ­it’s mostly done for ­fun.

“With our actual group, San Diego Slacklining, we stand at about 50 members,” says Frankie. “But ­there’s definitely a lot more people that slackline in San Diego that just ­haven’t signed up for our site or for our group. [There are] probably upwards of 100, 200 ­people.”

The San Diego Slacklining group, which Frankie started in April of this year, typically draws a crowd anytime they get together and ­slack.

For the two days following the La Jolla Shores set-up — Fourth of July weekend, no less — Frankie, Megan, and company meet at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, along with a team of guys from Gibbon Slacklines, the aforementioned German company. The Gibbon crew is in the midst of a two-month American tour, and San Diego happens to be a stop on the way; having hooked up with Frankie, they are privy to some of the best slacking spots in the ­city.

Moonlight Beach is packed. Brightly colored umbrellas create a psychedelic landscape, and a band plays upbeat cover songs under a Belly Up Tavern banner to a large crowd of swaying children and adults. Bare skin abounds, tattoos flashing as people flit past dragging boogie boards and toddlers behind ­them.

The assembled group of slackers, a motley crew of men and women, Germans and Americans, begin to set up their lines. Instead of being tethered to trees, the lines are attached to “A-frames,” two-by-four-and-plywood constructions that resemble a large “A,” with metal rings on each. One of the A-frames, for extra stability, is tethered to a fencepost, while the other serves as a middle point for a second line strung to a concrete picnic bench. Between the two lines, the A-frame is effectively pulled in two directions, rendering it ­stable.

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Comments

FrankieNajera May 17, 2011 @ 4 p.m.

Few things to comment. Frankie's last name is "Najera," SanDiegoSlacklining.com is closed, as is the Meetup Group.

If anyone is looking to Slackline in San Diego County, check out our Facebook Group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_137649482967926

Other than that it is nice to see this! Great article!

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