The Seductive Challenge of Slacklining

Shift the addictive art of balancing on a ribbon from “waste of time” to “family time”


Last week I set up a slackline in my backyard for the first time. Chloe, my three-year-old, wanted to help. So she got a job. “Chloe, I need you to do something very important. Can you?”

“Sure I can, Papa!” she said.

“Okay, here.” I wrapped a sling around the mesquite tree, clipped a carabiner and told her, “I need you to hold this. It’s the most important job, because it’s against the rules to let it touch the ground.”  A little dramatizing wasn’t going to hurt.

We rigged the whole contraption, and then I stepped on the line and balanced as best I could for a moment. Chloe asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to walk on this until I get to the tree.  It’s really super-duper hard.”

As soon as I fell off, Chloe says, “It’s my turn!”

She’s three. So it was her turn for the rest of the afternoon. I picked her up by the armpits, set her on the line, and she did a nice job keeping her feet going from one end to the other. “I want do the slackline again.” So we did it over and over.

I think I’m setting her up for life. She’ll be equipped to hang with the dirtbagging kind in campsites all over the world once she gets the hang of it. Truthfully, this is a super campsite activity for kids. And parents.

Yet it’s kind of a trip that William Watt calls this video a teaser.  If you’ve ever tried your luck and concentration on a slackline, you know well the drama that unfolds in your head on your very first attempt. When you watch others on the line, it’s hard to understand the challenge—the intoxicating and seductive challenge—of trying to balance on a piece of damned string. That is until you get on it.

First, you say, “Oh, I’m too old to do this. I look like a fool.” And it kind of resembles an idle waste of time, much the way skateboarding did to our parents. But it’s fun and addictive and silly and challenging.

What I love about this video is the mood set by Matisyahu’s “One Day.” Idealistic, young and naïve—those attributes are not a bad thing, but a beautiful thing: there’ll be no more wars / and our children will play / one day.

I think about that when Chloe’s squeaky voice asks me, “Can we do the slackline, Papa?”


Mark Stephens is a father and husband living in Arizona. He writes about the people, places and things that appeal to active parents enjoying outdoor adventure in any of its forms on his blog


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