On days when sunshine dares pierce the haze of Eugene’s grey skies, you’ll find Sydney Talbott@@[email protected]@ outside. Like most University of Oregon students, she takes advantage of each second of vitamin D afforded by the Pacific Northwest. However, unlike most students, her preferred method of outdoor entertainment is spent suspended off of the ground, barefoot, using her toes for balance while shimmying across two inches of flat, semi-taut nylon webbing, practicing a sport called slacklining.
A slackline is defined as “a cable (as in a lumbering operation) suspended slackly between spar trees and adapted especially to yarding downhill.”@@[email protected]@ In the rapidly growing balance sport, nylon slacklines, ranging in their elasticity and width, are strung between trees or other vertical objects and walked upon in a manner similar to tightrope walking for meditation, physical and mental training purposes.
“It’s super fun,” Talbott said. “It’s exercising without really noticing it. A good way to get outside to do something new, meet new people — and it’s relatively simple.”
Within five minutes of stringing up the line that she received as a Christmas present from her parents, she attracts a conglomeration of spectators. Close friends, familiar faces and first time strangers gather around her line to watch, cheer and try a turn for themselves.
“A lot of people like to just come up and try it out,” she said. “It’s really funny, but I feel like I’ve met more people slacklining than going to class.”
She was drawn in to the sport only a few months ago. As an incoming freshman from Louisianna, slacklining wasn’t something she’d ever heard of before coming to the UO. After meeting fellow freshman Ian Shapen@@[email protected]@ fall term and trying the sport for the first time, she was hooked.
The first time she tried, Talbott could only walk two or three steps at a time before falling off. Determined to make progress, she spent an entire weekend discovering her unique walking technique and making it a few steps farther each time.
A term and a half later, she can make it across the line easily and is working on her ability to sit and stand without falling off, spinning and balancing tricks.
Slacklining holds a special appeal for her in its ability to make her feel both mentally and physically balanced. A self-proclaimed klutz, she says that balancing on the line has an unusual ability to make her feel graceful and centered.
“It totally centers you,” she said. “You figure out how your body is positioned. You’ve got to find your center of balance and totally be in tune.”
Both she and Shapen say slacklining is an individual sport in the aspect that everyone who tries it has their own approach and style.
For example, Talbott prefers to walk barefoot, whereas Shapen wears his shoes. She describes her style as “static” — meaning she prefers balancing tricks and maintaining self control — as compared to Shapen, who practices a more “dynamic” method, including jumps and more explosive tricks.
“I like it just because it’s fun,” Shapen said, “I get to exercise, I get to jump around and stuff, and it’s a nice conversation piece.”
Regardless of their difference in styles, both enjoy the group dynamic that comes out of practicing with their friends and introducing their sport to new people. As more onlookers are drawn in to the student slacklining community, Talbott, Shapen and the other regulars hope to expand their gear repertoire, adding more lines for the group to practice on and investing in harnesses that would allow them to safely try their hand at “high lining” in the tree tops.
In the meantime, you’ll find them in their usual spot on sunny days — suspended between the trees behind the sand volleyball pit next to Carson — cheering, joking and encouraging participation.
“We love having people out here. We definitely encourage it,” Talbott said. “You have to jump in, you have to try it. It’s so much fun.”