Walk the Line

The latest sport craze for adrenaline junkies is not for the faint of heart—or the poorly shod.

IF YOU FIND backflips and yoga intimidating under normal circumstances, imagine performing these feats on a one-inch-wide line strung 100 feet above a rocky ravine. For Andy Lewis, arguably the world’s best “slackliner,” that’s nothing. Try adding fire. Or doing it naked.

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The latest sport craze for adrenaline junkies is not for the faint of heart—or the poorly shod.

IF YOU FIND backflips and yoga intimidating under normal circumstances, imagine performing these feats on a one-inch-wide line strung 100 feet above a rocky ravine. For Andy Lewis, arguably the world’s best “slackliner,” that’s nothing. Try adding fire. Or doing it naked.

Nicknamed SkAndy—short for “sketchy Andy”—Lewis’s death-defying antics, captured on YouTube for all to see, are just one reason the sport of slacklining is gaining devotees across the globe. What began in Yosemite National Park in the ’70s when climbers would string up lines in the parking lot to practice balance and build core strength before tackling the rocks, slacklining has now grown to an international sport, with a pro team, national championships and even a World Cup. At the competitions, contestants face off by performing “tricks,” from jumps to spins to double backflips, but even the less gymnastically inclined are using the lines to practice balance, meditation and yoga. And thanks to commercialization of the sport—the pro team is sponsored by Gibbon, a company that makes most of the lines its adherents use—slacklining is quickly grabbing the attention of footwear companies looking to capitalize on a new crop of active consumers.

“We’ve seen double-digit growth in the category,” says Brett Cardamone, vice president of marketing and art director for Five Ten, whose Line King biking and BMX shoe is particularly popular with the pros. “The biggest growth is in the climbing gym and school venues, since it’s very easy for a rec center to set up a highline close to the ground. It is one of the most ideal urban sports—especially tricklining. We’ve seen a big jump in female trickliners.”

Josh Greenwood, a member of the Gibbon pro team living in Brooklyn, NY, likes to wear Five Ten or Adidas styles when he strings his line up to practice in nearby Prospect Park, although he has friends who prefer Converse and Vibram FiveFingers. “A good rule of thumb is a nice sturdy shoe that has a flat sole to it, because if you have too much arch in the shoe it’s really difficult to walk on the line,” he notes.

Greg Thomsen, managing director of Adidas Outdoor USA, says a lot of slackliners are using the brand’s water and climbing shoes, like the Speed Boat and Solo, since the soles provide a “sticky” grip that’s perfect for perching on a narrow line. Although the brand has no plans to release a slackliningspecific shoe at the moment, the company does plan to market the shoes to slackliners in its advertising and has already distributed pairs at competitions. Not to mention, the brand strung up a 20-foot slackline in its office. “We require people to walk on it when they come in,” Thomsen adds with a laugh.

This spring, Five Ten is launching the first slackline-specific shoe, the Andy Lewis Signature Line King, a collaboration with the infamous trickliner that includes a firm heel to prevent injuries and a reinforced heel counter for increased stability. “Probably my favorite feature on the Andy Lewis Signature Model is the stash pocket in the tongue, per Andy’s specs,” Cardamone says. “We can only assume it is for his car key or milk money.” —Audrey Goodson

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