In November, 2010, slackliner Andy Lewis rigged a 130-foot length of webbing between two sandstone cliffs outside of Moab, Utah, and walked it—out and back—with no safety harness or net. The line, dubbed Shakes McCoy, was the longest anyone had ever free-soloed. Lewis has soloed 44 highlines—swaying, bouncing lines of one-inch nylon webbing strung up hundreds of feet above the ground—this year alone. Closer to the ground, the 25 year old has also landed the first-ever backflip on a slackline and won the 2010 Slackline World Cup. A film about Lewis's exploits, "Sketchy Andy," will premiere at the Reel Rock Film Tour on September 15. I caught up with Lewis, who slacklines full time, to find out more about what it takes to walk the line.
How different is one highline from another? Aren't you pretty much just walking the same line in a different place?
That's exactly it. A 50-foot highline could be a one-hour setup between trees in your backyard or a three-day hiking, three-day rigging mission that you set up between two unclimbed towers with 250 feet of vertical exposure. Both 50-foot highlines, but both entirely different. Every place has a unique setup, every highline has a different height, length, tension, and exposure level. To the average Joe, it's just walking a line in a different place; to a slacker it's the minute differences that make the challenge of slacklining.
How did you get started slacklining?
Slacklining started for me as a hobby. I bought some webbing and strung it up everywhere I could think of. I was learning to do tricks when I saw a YouTube video of Dean Potter free soloing Lost Arrow Spire [a classic highline in Yosemite]. All of a sudden, I had to start highlining. Free-solo highlining was more self-inspired—needing to be perfect, with death as the consequence.
Tell me about your first highline.
The first few highlines I walked were all really sketchy. I didn't know how to rig highlines, I didn't even have a backup rope. My first highline was in a park about 20 feet off the ground, and was about 45 feet long. When I finally got to walk it, it was amazing. By the end of the day, I got really comfortable and ended up free soloing it.