You Know It’s Springtime in Corvallis When the Straps Come Out

By Dave DeLuca

Sage Noelle and Zarin Lucero. Photo by Aaron Michael Davis

Sage Noelle and Zarin Lucero. Photo by Aaron Michael Davis

I pass through campus at least twice a day taking my wife to work. Driving past the park just east of 14th Street affords me a regular look at the changing of the seasons. In the fall and winter months, I witness the leaves as they change colors and float to the grassy fields and paved paths. During the spring term, students find their way out of classrooms to learn and practice disc golf and even surveying. When the sun comes out, volleyball and hacky sacks are seen. And now there’s one more thing.

It’s called slacklining. It looks like tightrope walking, but is performed from a much safer height. I spotted some slackliners on my regular trip through campus recently, and decided to investigate. Four freshman friends from the dorms took a few minutes to show me the ropes, so to speak.

Bonnie Criss was the “expert” of the group, and also proud owner of the Gibbon-brand slackline stretched between two trees. Upon closer inspection, the line was almost the opposite of a tightrope. It was a wide strap rather than a rope or cord. It was loose rather than tight. Not tight rope, but slackline. The band was run through a large ratchet, and tightened just enough to hold weight comfortably. The techniques used to traverse the distance between these trees were no doubt similar to those exercised by trapeze artists, but this sport appeared to be more forgiving. Not only were these coeds only just three to four feet off the ground, but the line absorbed movement like a trampoline.

Elana Beitzel, Adam Lawler, and Graham Spencer were green beginners. They happily reported having made quick improvements.

“You can see that you improve, even the first time,” Lawler told me.

It turns out that slacklining has been around since about 1979. It’s attributed to the shoeless cool kids at Evergreen College up in Olympia. It has grown in popularity across the globe to the point where the World Slacklining Federation hopes to make tricklining (a more dangerous and intense derivative of the same activity) into a competitive sport. Better watch your back, street luge. Maybe slacklining is new-ish to me, but not to Corvallis. More information can be found on the Oregon State University Slackline Facebook fan page.

The highlight of the day for the “slackers” that I met, other than talking to me, came in the form of mild chastisement from an OSU facilities worker in an orange golf cart. It seems my friends neglected to protect the sides of the trees from their straps. A blanket was handy, and hastily put in place around one tree. Spencer rescued the other tree after a quick sprint to the dorms and back. A ripped pair of pants proved to be just what the tree doctor ordered.

“I only wore them once before they ripped,” he said. But now they had purpose once again.

The newbies could only traverse a few steps before falling happily to the grass below. Criss, on the other hand, had successfully made it from tree to tree at least once. I should not try it myself, not with my bad knees, at least not in front of these whippersnappers. But then I thought, what the hell?

Don’t tell my wife.