COLUMBIA — Often, when the weather's right, a group of college students shows up at Peace Park gingerly walking across a rope strung between two trees. No, they are not circus performers. They are slackliners.
Slacklining first emerged in the early 1980s among rock climbers and is now gaining popularity in Columbia as a challenging outdoor sport. College students have especially taken to slacklining because it is relatively inexpensive, can be set up almost anywhere and is extremely entertaining.
Slacklining is most common among rock climbers because equipment for the two sports is the same. Alpine Shop employee Liza Babington said that's how it began.
"It started out as something climbers just did when the rocks were too slippery," she said. "They would set up the slacklines instead."
The basic gear for slacklining, three one-inch nylon-webbing lines and five carabiners, costs about $40. Beginners can also buy kits that include two-inch lines for easier balance. The kits, however, are more expensive, ranging from $70 to $100.
Babington said the hardest part is just learning how to get up on the line. Even though the sport doesn’t work the upper or lower body much, it is still challenging.
“It’s all about core and balancing,” she said. “Any little shift of your weight on the line causes it to sway a lot.”
Matt Baker is a self-taught slackliner from Columbia. Slacklining is a young sport without many clubs or organizations, so Baker learned by reading online. He recommended slackline.com for beginners.
"I've been slacklining for about a year now," he said. "When I started, I would practice three or four times a week. After the first week I could walk across it."
Since he started, Baker has increased his skills to include tricks like the lemur leap, the Buddha and the butt touch.
Slackline tricks look like a mix between yoga poses and skateboard moves. From backflips to standing balanced on one leg, there are a wide variety of tricks to learn.
MU students created a club last semester, Slackline Mizzou, to meet the needs of the growing student slackline community.
Competitions are also emerging, there was even a slackline World Cup in Germany this year. Normally held at rock-climbing competitions, slackline tournaments are more about showing off and having fun rather than winning.
The tricks aren’t the only entertaining part of the sport though. Whether someone is landing a back flip or falling on their butt, it’s going to be amusing.
Baker explained that when he is slacklining around Columbia, people passing by often stop to watch or try to slackline.
"One of the best parts is just getting people to try it," he said.