Two sturdy trees, 50 feet of nylon or polyester webbing, and a soft landing are all that’s needed to set up a slackline. All of which are abundant on Sunday afternoons at Carrier Park where a group of dedicated slackers – as they’re known – can be found just downstream of the picnic shelter at Carrier Park in a cluster of trees along the French Broad River.
Lyle Mitchell has been organizing the collective of slackers since February – what devotees of the sport call a “jam” – from four in the afternoon to sundown. What drew Mitchell to the pastime was to become a better rock climber. And indeed, the sport was developed by climbers who, several decades ago, spanned rope or webbing between two trees to hone their balance.
Since then, the sport has taken a path of its own. For instance, soon after getting hooked on slacklining Mitchell pursued a popular outgrowth of the sport performing traditional yoga poses on a slackline.
Yoga aside, to simply balance upright in a single spot or to place one foot in front of the other on a one inch wide piece of slightly tensioned webbing takes more than just flexibility and confidence. Mitchell says that finding a place of mental and physical stillness is necessary in order to get the feel for a slackline. And even on a leisurely Sunday afternoon on the banks of the river there’s plenty to addle your state of mind – walkers, dogs barking, bicycles grinding.
Mitchell points out that any strain or stiffness in your body is amplified by the looseness of the line; your nervous energy transmitted into wild tremors on the webbing.
“You have to be present in the moment. As soon as your mind wanders you’re off the line,” he says.
But unlike rock-climbing, which typically involves a destination (the top), Mitchell says the end game of slacklining isn’t necessarily to get from one tree to the other. “The goal is to get a better sense of where your body is in space; how to engage your sense of being,” says Mitchell who adds that the weekly jams are beginner friendly and regular attendees will demonstrate a few fundamentals to help newbies off the ground.
If you’re up for the challenge check out the group’s Facebook page (Yoga Slackers Asheville) or for less than $100 rig up your own line in the front yard – a nod to the simplicity and versatility of the sport.