The German system is simpler. Strung between two fence posts, and then, later on, two pipes sunk into the asphalt parking lot, their lines attach simply and are tightened via a ratchet.
Setting up the Gibbon lines is Hogart, a tanned, shaggy-haired engineer from Stuttgart, Germany. He started slacklining in August of last year, a self-described “young ’un,” a colloquialism that sounds charmingly bizarre in his accented English.
“The first two hours [were the hardest],” he says, of his slacklining inauguration. “At the beginning, you see [people slacklining], and you think, ‘Oh, it looks so easy.’ Then you try it and you think, ‘Oh, damn! I’m shaking! I’m not fit, I’m not good!’ You have to get over this point. You have to believe that everyone is shaking at the beginning, and you have to forget your [pride] and just try it. After that, everything comes on its own. You keep trying, you discover new things, and then you slowly discover your own style. Because everyone has their own style.”
What draws Hogart to slacklining, he says, is in part the allure and thrill of doing tricks, but it’s also because he finds it to be intensely relaxing.
“You walk the line and focus on yourself and what you are doing,” he says. “Because it takes so much attention, your mind is clear. It’s very good for stress relief. When I’m really stressed from my work, then I just take my slackline and go into the forest, plug in my music — Celtic-Irish folk or something — and within half an hour, I’m done with my stress. It’s gone.”
Along with the Gibbon team is Mike, a 19-year-old from Boulder, Colorado, who answered Gibbon’s call for a summer tour mate from the United States and landed the job. He is the one who spies the two metal poles. He removes a cordon chain and replaces it with Gibbon’s two-inch slackline.
“We’ve been here about two days,” he says, brushing hair from his eyes. “We’ve been to a lot of places, and generally, we have to find places [to slack] on our own, which is a little more difficult. But since we’ve been hanging out with [Frankie], he’s shown us all the best spots, all the slackliner’s secrets, and that’s gotten me a greater impression of San Diego. It’s a great town. I love it.”
Mike started slacklining during his first year of college, about a year and a half ago, where the resident advisor in his dorm had set up a line. He was hooked instantly and took it up on his own. Since it is now illegal in Boulder, Mike must slackline on the sly when in his hometown, but, touring with Gibbon, he can do so freely.
Though San Diego has no official stance on slacklining, the crew was asked to take down their lines at Mission Beach on July 4, citing a municipal code Frankie took down on his phone, SDMC 63.012(b)(4): “Use of Parks and Beaches Regulated, Destruction of Plants.” It states, “It is unlawful to injure, destroy, cut or remove any tree, shrub, plant, wood, turf, grass, soil, or rock in or growing in any City-owned park or plaza without the written permission of the City Manager.”
But, at Moonlight Beach, there seems to be no problem. A police car marked “Sheriff” is parked not far off, and a few cops pass by without a second glance.
A crowd has gathered at the lines, mostly younger children. They take bold steps on the lines, managing to balance for a few moments before falling onto the sand.
There are several types of lines, Mike says, chiefly “high lines,” which are lines strung up 50 feet and higher, walked with a harness for safety; “long lines,” which are any length outside one’s skill set and are mainly for walking; and regular old slacklines, the kind the group has set up on the beach. These lines, typically three to four feet off the ground and a few yards in length, are the best for doing tricks and for beginners to get the feel.
This is what Maggie, a member of the American contingent, is doing, getting the feel. Though she has injured an already-hurt knee, it does not deter her. This is, she says, her fifth or sixth time at a slacklining event.
“I think it’s good for me,” she says, eyes shielded from the brightness of the day by a hat and a pair of sunglasses. “Spiritually, it’s good for you because you’re totally in tune with the line and where your brain is and how your body works. And physically, I think it’s good because it builds your core. When you’ve had a good day slacklining and are really sore the next day, you’re working muscles, even though it doesn’t seem obvious at the time.”
Despite her knee mishap, Maggie views slacklining’s physical risks as few.
“I think it’s probably safer than swimming the ocean or surfing,” she says. “It’s like any sport when you first start. There [are] lots of attempts before you get good at it. And so you pop off the line, which is why you pick a nice, soft spot to land. But, you know, I’ve had the line snap and hit my skin, and it stings a little bit, but it’s not a big deal. Overall, I think it’s pretty safe.”
None of the slackliners interviewed have sustained any major injuries. Both Megan and Frankie bear what they call the mark of a slacker, a half-inch-long line of grazed skin that runs the length of their shins. Hogart says he has “punched his family jewels,” but other than that, has not harmed himself slacklining. Ditto Mike.
As the day wears on, the newbies, mostly a gang of 12- to 14-year-old skater boys, gain confidence on the lines, and in the expert camp, the tricks begin. Mike and Hogart take turns on the Gibbon line they’ve strung above the asphalt — an added risk — jumping and leaping.
Mike, cheeks puffed out, bends his knees, line beginning to wobble precariously. This he has anticipated. In a smooth motion, he launches into the air, turning in a full 180 rotation — and lands it.
An onlooker, a kid maybe four-and-half-feet tall, hair bleached blond at the tips, stares, eyes agog.
“Cool,” he says. ■