How do you slackline? If you're new to slacklining, the idea of walking a 1" or 2" wide slackline can seem intimidating. But the truth is you need not be a balance master to "walk the line." Follow these practical tips, and throw in a little perseverance and patience, and you'll be balancing on a slackline in no time.
Related: How to Set up a Slackline
Set the Line Low
This might be obvious, but setting the slackline low to the ground will not only decrease your anxiety of falling once you're on, but will make it easier to get on and off the line (which will happen often when you're starting out!).
We recommend setting the line 1.5 to 2 feet off the ground for kids and 2 to 2.5 feet high for adults. At these heights, you will want to set the line across a shorter span (from about 10 to a maximum of 20 feet) as the line will sag in the middle. The longer the line, the more the sag.
Tip: Use a set of slackline stands to easily get the line the right height for beginners.
Make Sure the Line is Tight
The tighter you ratchet down the slackline, the less sway and bounce you will experience when walking it. More experienced slackliners often prefer a "loose" line for performing tricks, surfing the line and bouncing. For beginners, however, all this extra movement in the line can make it difficult to stay up.
We recommend getting a 2" wide beginner slackline kit with a highly rated ratchet system and a TUV safety certified and tested line. This will give you the confidence to tighten the line as far as the ratchet will allow. A tighter line is much more rigid ... almost like walking on a 2" plank.
Tip: If you're having trouble getting the line tight enough, try this: Ratchet your line down and then have a partner sit on the other end of the line from where you're starting when you first stand on the line. This will add additional tension and rigidity to the line, and keep it from swaying.
Use a Balance Aid
Most people -- even the most coordinated and balanced among us -- can't stay on the slackline for more than a couple of seconds when starting out. This can be frustrating and defeating.
That's why we recommend getting a "helping hand" when you start for building confidence and giving you a feel for walking the line. Get a partner to walk alongside you with their forearm out. You can either hold onto their arm as you're walking for a balance assist, or you can let go and only grab the arm when you're losing your balance.
Tip: If you don't have a partner, use a helpline (many beginner kits include a helpline). These can be setup above the slackline and give you something to hang on to as you're walking the line.
Build Muscle Memory
A funny thing happens to most people when they put their first leg on the slackline ... it starts to shake. See the shaky legs on these gymnasts when they try for the first time.
We don't pretend to know the biomechanical and neuromuscular reasons for this; we just know it happens. Typically this goes away after your first couple sessions once you develop some muscle memory.
This is why getting a little assistance at the beginning is so important. It allows you to more quickly build familiarity and muscle memory on the line.
Tip: If you're over the age of 16, be prepared for some sore core muscles after your first couple attempts. All the little flexor muscles in your core get a crazy workout as you try to keep your balance!
Shoes or Barefoot?
Some say start barefoot. We say start with shoes. The benefit of starting barefoot is a having a better "feel" on the line, but this benefit is very small. When you're a beginner, you're just trying to stay up. A better feel is the least of your worries. Shoes are much more comfortable on the line, and you're less likely to slip off (bare feet can get sweaty and slick). It's also a more comfortable landing on the ground with shoes on when you fall off.
Start Straight, Walk Straight
"Mounting" the line is the process of standing up on the slackline and is the most important part of learning. Start with one leg on the ground and one leg on the line (pointed length-wise down the line). Then "pop up" onto the line with the foot that's on the ground. It will feel like a bit of a bounce.
Once on the line, resist the temptation to stand sideways on the line with your feet at a 90 degree angle to the line. This is a more advanced stance, and a more difficult way to start. Keep both your feet pointed down the slackline.
Keep Your Eyes on a Fixed Point
Once you're on the line look for a fixed point straight in front that you can focus your eyes on. The tendency for most people is to look down at their feet. The problem here is that the line is likely to move quite a bit as you're building your balance. You'll find it's easier to keep your balance when watching a fixed, unmoving point rather than your shaking feet.
Balance With Your Hands
If you watch the best slackliners in the world you'll notice most of their balancing is done with their hands out from their sides. A flick of the hand here and a bend of the arm there is all that's needed to stay on the line. Very rarely will you see high-level slackliners stick a leg out. Here's a good video example.
This is because pulling a leg off the line reduces your balance points by half. You also are likely to over correct with your legs. When you start you'll likely use your legs for balance, but we recommend practicing as much as possible using just your arms and hands. Hand "up and out" is a good rule of thumb.
Hopefully these tips haven't intimidated you! Again, the truth is anyone can walk a slackline. We've seen everyone from 5-year-old kids to grampas get up and going on a slackline. There's a good chance you'll be slacklining on your second or third attempt.
The key ingredients seem to be practice and perseverance, so don't give up!