By Jessica M. Pasko | Photos: Yvonne Rew-Falk
When Sara Kaiser first tried slacklining during a family vacation in eighth grade, she hated it.
But the 22-year-old recent UC Santa Cruz graduate says she had a change of heart while, as a senior in high school, she was reviewing photos from that fateful trip. She recalls suddenly feeling as though slacklining was something she could get into.
Slacklining is a cousin to tightrope walking that, instead of a rope, uses a type of polyester or nylon webbing that has some bounce and—hence the name—slack. The stretchy cord is strung between two structures, be they rocks or trees or buildings, and then walked across. (Kaiser describes it as a cross between tightrope walking and trampolining.) The lengths and heights vary, and that’s a major part of the fun.
“It took a while to get used to standing up,” says Kaiser. “You get to a point where you’re a little nervous at first, but you eventually get comfortable and relax.”
Born in Vancouver, Kaiser grew up in Moraga in the East Bay and eventually moved to Santa Cruz to attend college. She started out as a geology major, which led to a job she still has working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Eventually, the self-described voracious reader and writer moved on to a cultural anthropology major, and, along the way, became very serious about slacklining, honing her craft several times a week. These days, she says she is lucky if she makes it slacklining once a week. (In addition to her job with the USGS., she is finishing her training as a yoga teacher.) Still, her dedication has paid off: although she’s modest when asked about it, Kaiser is notably talented.
“I’d say the conventional definition of a good slackliner is someone who can walk a long slackline without falling or who can, say, juggle while on a slackline,” Kaiser says.
By any definition, her ability to journey across slacklines that stretch for nearly 500 feet places her squarely in the category of skilled slackliners. Her personal record includes having tackled a 180-foot-long slackline poised 70 feet in the air.
“But it’s the process itself that’s rewarding—the rest doesn’t really matter,” she adds.
Getting on the line and relaxing to the point where one is actually able to stand up is the first and most important hurdle when it comes to slacklining, she says. It’s largely a mental thing—you have to allow your mind to stop worrying about other things and find that physical connection, she explains. Her yoga experience and training comes in handy with this aspect, helping her slacklining practice become a sort of meditative experience.
Falling is always a concern, of course, but Kaiser says the trick is to accept this fact so that you can move past it. Even skilled slackliners fall sometimes, though Kaiser says she’s been lucky enough to avoid any major injuries. Part of that has to do with the number of safety measures in slacklining. She uses harnesses and a leash when practicing highlining, for instance.
Her prowess has landed her a sponsorship with Balance Community, a Yosemite-based company specializing in slacklining supplies and gear. As part of her sponsorship, she will be keeping a blog about slacklining on the company website (balancecommunity.com) and will also represent it at various events.
But, for Kaiser, successes in the sport will always take a back seat to her love for it.
“It doesn’t matter necessarily how high or long [the line] is,” says Kaiser. “You get in touch with your body—you relax—[and] it becomes harder to allow the stress of your day get to you. It’s a great way to clear your head and really feel that connection with your mind and body.”