Alex Mason started professionally slacklining in 2011, and has since racked up dozens of achievements competing everywhere from Salt Lake City to Austria. His biggest win this summer: First place at the Slackline World Championships in Vail, Colorado, at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Oh, and he’s 16 years old. As he balances junior year of high school and competing with the Gibbon Slacklines Pro Team, we talked to him about life on the line.
Outside: What have you been doing since the World Championships?
Alex Mason: I’ve been traveling. I went to Germany for the [Globetrotter Slackline] WorldCup, but then I broke my arm. The new lines, the new prototypes they have, are really powerful, and I miscalculated and just fell from really high up. It wasn’t during competition or anything. I’ve been training a little bit, trying to make sure I don’t lose any of the tricks I’ve learned recently.
How do you slackline with a broken arm?
The cast is pretty light and you get used to it pretty quickly. I used to have a full arm cast, but I got it shortened so I can slackline a little bit. I only do half the tricks though, because I can’t chest bounce with my arm like this. But I can do a lot of flips and such.
Have you been working on new tricks?
I’ve been thinking about stuff, but I haven’t really had a chance to try it with the broken arm. Except my doctor says that whatever I do, he’ll fix it.
How did you get into slacklining?
There’s a rock climbing gym near my house that a guy named Damian Cooksey owns. He did a lot of stuff early on in slacklining, like he landed the first front flip on the line. He created a rock climbing gym and a slacklining gym in the same building, and a friend of mine invited me to go, and I did. From there I got better and better, and here I am today.
Did you have any interest in it before you figured out that you were good at it?
Not really. I couldn’t even walk the thing for like a month. I went [to the gym] originally to rock climb. And when I’d get tired from rock climbing, I just started slacklining a little bit. As I took more and more risks, I got better and better. Finally I started just coming to the gym to slackline.
How often were you slacklining, to get as good as you did?
I started practicing a lot really soon, once I realized it was really fun and I liked it. But in the beginning I wasn’t even trying to get good.
When did you decide you wanted to start competing?
I kind of started wanting to do that when I landed my first backflip on the line. I was like the second youngest kid to do it, and Gibbon [Slacklines] noticed that, and they liked that. So I went to my first competition in Salt Lake City shortly after.
What win are you most proud of?
I’m definitely most proud of the World Championship in Vail. But pretty much every WorldCup I go to I get second. It would be nice to get first in the WorldCups.
Do you have any idea of what your chances are this year?
There are always gonna be new people who have gotten really good, and everybody’s always training really hard. The level only gets higher and higher, and I’m just trying to keep up. It’s always a surprise to me when I got to a World Cup because there’s always some kid who I’ve never seen before who’s super good.
Seems like a lot of people coming into slacklining are pretty young.
I’d say so. I mean, younger kids definitely learn faster. And a lot of them are Brazilian too. Young Brazilians are really starting to dominate the sport. For some reason it’s really big in Brazil. I have no idea why.
So are you really famous in Brazil?
I was talking to one of my Brazilian friends, who moved from Brazil, and apparently they think we’re really famous. It’s funny.
Are there any slackliners who have taught you a lot?
Andy Lewis [seen here on Conan performing with Mason and Michael Payton] is definitely a big influence on my slacklining. He’s a really down to earth guy. He is super supportive, super nice. He taught me a lot of tricks when I first started.
And we grew up in the same place, pretty much. I had no idea who he was before, but he grew up like 10 miles from where I live. He helped build the gym where I first learned to slackline.
Do you have tricks that tend to give you a lot of trouble?
I mean everything’s pretty much scary to try for the first time. Some more than others. But backflips are really a big challenge for me. When I first started it wasn’t terrible, but I did one and shot like 12 feet off the line, and I almost broke my ankle really badly. I had to overcome that fear and start doing those again really recently.
How do you get in the midset to try again after a fall?
You try to stay really focused and kind of get the flip down and spot the line, and just keep on bailing and don’t go for the line at first. But once you have the flip down, so you could land on the line, you just throw it – and pray, really.
Would you say there are certain tricks that you’ve just always been good at?
The trick I really like is a butt flip. It’s a butt bounce to a front flip to another butt bounce. I really love that trick, I do it all the time. I started doing more and more variations on it, and I think those are really cool. One of the big tricks I really want to do is a double butt flip. But I kind of need a foam pad to try that.
What does the double butt flip look like?
No one’s landed it yet. But it’d be a butt bounce, to a double front flip, to another butt bounce, is the idea.
Do you think you’ll keep slacklining for a long time?
Yeah, definitely. I think I’m gonna try to compete as long as I can and see what happens. I guess there’s kind of an age [when people stop competing], like 30 is definitely the cut off. It’s hard. If you really do it for a really long time—there’s this one guy named Brenden Gebhart who’s got, like, tissue damage and cartilage damage, and he broke his ribs. It’s hard on your body at times.
Do your parents worry about that?
They’re not worried yet.
How does it compare to the physical demands of rock climbing?
It requires a physical fitness level more like skateboarding, because it’s not constant physical strain on your muscles, and you don’t have to have an amazing strength-to-weight ratio or a massive ape index to do it. But to look good, to have good style, to get big air—you kind of do have to have less fat. So you don’t need to be in the greatest shape to slackline, but it definitely does help.
Do you have any kind of training schedule to stay in shape?
Not really, I just try to have fun with it. If I know that I need to work some tricks, like certain tricks, I will train those until I have them, pretty much. To stay in shape I just try to rock climb as much as possible, and I ski in the winter.
Do people at school know what you’re doing?
I don’t really like to tell people. I’m kind of shy about that stuff, I guess. I mean my good friends definitely know what I do, and some other people do, but for the most part, not really.
Do you think it’s going to start becoming something people start recognizing?
I think eventually it’ll go the way of skateboarding and all those other sports, maybe less so, but it’ll definitely get more mainstream. It already kind of has. I mean, after the Super Bowl, with all that hype, it just got a lot bigger.
What is it about slacklining that keeps you hooked on it?
It’s a really good challenge. It’s really fun—all the friends I made doing it, and all the people I met. I get to travel all the time. It’s a really good deal for me.