About a year ago, my hubby stumbled across a sport that he quickly became obsessed with, and now my kids and I are also more than a little keen. He’s also spread the love of his sport even further, by taking his gear along to a recent Dads and Kids camp at the boys’ school, where he soon had a line snaking out behind him as kids waited for their turn. We’ve taken it camping and quickly made friends with other families, so as well as a good sport (the benefits are similar to yoga, as it is essentially about building core strength and balance), it’s a great way to meet people.
So what is this magic sport that pries children off their screen obsessed bottoms? It’s called slacklining. You’ve possibly seen the pictures of guys walking what appears to be a tightrope between two skyscrapers, or over mountain gorges? While that’s always an option for the slightly insane, the most adventurous version my hubby does is suspended over water – a river or lake. The local park is our family’s location of choice, but anywhere with plenty of well spaced trees will do.
Comfortable flat shoes and trousers or shorts are all you’ll need clothing-wise. You won’t need helmets as you will ‘spot’ your child and hold their hand for balance, and even after they get the hang of it and don’t need your hand to hold, basic slacklining takes place around 30 centimetres off the ground.
As far as equipment goes, you can pick up a standard towing strap at most hardware stores. Enthusiasts of the sport will discourage this as a long-term measure, as the strap’s webbing will stretch out of shape over time and be harder to balance on, but for a cheap and convenient way to give the sport a go, it will set you back about $25. Length is a factor in the level of difficulty involved, so go for around 15 metres.
Choosing your equipment
If you are ready to progress straight to the purpose built equipment, a kid’s slackline will set you back around $100, while a classic slackline will run closer to $85. Both make good choices. The “fun line”, as the kid’s line is called, has less flexibility in it, making it easier to balance on, and the classic line is also designed for ease of balance, though the 15 metre line is easier to balance on than the longer line of 25 metres.
You’ll need two trees to set up your line. Look for two trees around six to 10 metres apart, of a decent girth (not too wide or you’ll lose half your line length). Follow the instructions that come with your line to install, or secure the tow strap using the ratchets. Start with a taut line, as it has less wobble, and is therefore easier to balance on.
On the line
Hold your child’s hand, help them put one foot on the line and then let them step up their second foot onto the line. Let them stop and get their balance while holding on to you, then they can start to slowly walk. Encourage them to hold your hand with less and less force, until they are getting up and walking without you – just remember it is all about fun, and don’t rush to remove the hand support!
One the best parts of the sport for us is that it suits any level – all four of us have different skill levels but can enjoy ‘slacking’ together. It also has the benefit of never being fully mastered. Once you learn to walk the line unaided, you can learn to walk backwards. You can learn to do yoga poses on the line. You can learn to jump up and down on the line – there is no end to the skills you can master! To leave you with something inspirational, here’s what an eight-year-old can do with a bit of practice!
This article was written by Melanie Hearse for kidspot.co.nz