Slack attack

Braving the rain, sleet and wind, Wilderness Charter School students Friday inaugurated a new slackline course in the city's Triangle Park with plenty of hoots and hollers as they walked barefoot on wobbly, one-inch webbing.

What's slacklining? It's like tight-rope walking but the line is not rigid; instead, it has a lot of spring, "like a one-inch trampoline that wants to throw you off," says Alex Landt, who created the triangular course as an Ashland High School senior project, working with Ashland Parks and Recreation Department.

"It's a balancing sport, something fun to do in parks when it's sunny," says Landt. "You try to stay on the line and do tricks and have fun. Some people can jump and do flips. It's all about using your weight to stay balanced." A spirited group of AHS students and recent graduates braved the elements, showing their most recently mastered tricks and stopping for orange slices and Oreos in an event tent that blew away in a high wind — and was quickly set up again.

Undeterred, AHS junior Tyler Sell showed how he could walk, turn, bounce and eventually settle into a sitting position, just inches off the grass.

Sell, like all the students, said "slackers" approach slacklining as a mental game, requiring a certain amount of surrender and goofy fun, kind of like Frisbee.

"It's all about relaxation, in my mind. You let go of everything," said Sell. "If you start overcorrecting, the line starts oscillating more and more." Rayna Hagie, a 2009 graduate of AHS, said it took a couple years to get the balance but now she is teaching people to do it in a few hours.

"It's all about breathing and relaxing," she said. "If you get tense and get jittery, the slackline will too." Slacklining got its start among rock climbers in Yosemite Valley in the 1970s and, according to many slacker websites around the world, is being used to traverse towering Alpine valleys, but mostly is set on soft, sandy beaches and grassy parks or over water, where falling is not an issue.

Ashland's slackline course, an apparent first in Southern Oregon, was designed by Allan Geoff of Ace Engineering in Ashland and accomplished when the city Parks and Recreation staff agreed to plant three sturdy poles five feet in the ground, allowing slackers to stretch webbing with carabiners and "come alongs."

As slackers promised, a trip around YouTube will show you a raft of amazing stunts being accomplished on slackliners, including 360-degree spins and flips, bouncing off trees the lines are anchored to, an interplay of slacker ballet with two on a line — even doing yoga postures on the webbing.

Ian Barbusa, a visitor to AHS friends from Hawaii, said, "I almost find stillness in myself. I was wonking all morning on it. When the line tried to go to the right, you just go to the right with it and let your body align, then things even out." Newcomer Joy Harpham, an AHS sophomore, getting up on the line for her first times, said, "It's a challenge I want to conquer, but I don't know how to conquer it. I will though." The trick, says Charter School graduate Mimi Charter, is to approach it "almost like meditation. You clear your mind and absorb the way it goes back and forth. The objective is about balance. You get started, you take a couple of steps and you just get addicted to it. And you fall, of course." The course is open to the public, said Landt, to bring their weblines and go for it.

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