By Mary Bolling Blackiston, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Slacklining, the latest craze to hit Rio’s beaches, is a sport where one must maintain balance while walking on a springy line of nylon webbing that is taut between two anchor points (often between two coconut trees). Experts can also do jumps, flips and other acrobatic moves on low, tight lines (called tricklining). Some even like to practice yoga poses on the line (referred to as slackline yoga).
The sport only appeared on the beaches of Rio about two or three years ago, but its origins trace back much farther. Slacklining reportedly started in the 1980s in the Yosemite National Park in the US as a simple way for rock climbers to kill time when weather conditions were unfavorable.
While slacklining may look easy or uninteresting to the outside observer, it requires extreme concentration, balance and coordination skills. Fans rave that it improves physical and mental balance, flexibility, self-awareness, reaction speed, posture and concentration.
It also works out the entire body, especially the abdomen, legs and bum. Thirty-year old Carioca, André Rodrigues, enjoys it because it helps him relax, as well: “you forget about everything and all your problems when you are on top of the line.”
Furthermore, Rodrigues finds that slackliners always seems to want to help one another, and the sense of community is very strong amongst participants. For him, joining the “slackline family,” as he describes it, is the main attraction: “people who practice this sport simply form a gigantic family around the world. Everyone knows each other and talks, even though they don’t know each other personally.”
For those who are tempted by the many benefits of slacklining, there are numerous groups throughout Rio to choose from. There are even various Facebook groups made up of slackliners from around the world (Slackchat and Slackcouch), enhancing the community feel even more.
In Copacabana, slackliners practice by the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Rua Santa Clara. Ipanema is another popular place in the Zona Sul (South Zone); one of the most popular and largest groups is by Avenida Vieira Souto, close to Rua Garcia D’Avila.
Also on Avenida Vieira Souto, there is one group close to Rua Maria Quiteria and another can be found at Posto 8, between Rua Farme de Armoedo and Rua Teixeira de Melo. Praia de Barra (Barra Beach) at Posto 4 is also a possibility.
The time and day varies, but most of the slackline groups in Rio tend to meet daily in the late afternoon and evenings for three to four hours. The group at Rua Garcia D’Avila is more consistent, generally meeting each day from 6PM to 9PM.
For practicing highline (in which the line is set up at high altitudes, such as across valleys, mountains and canyons), Pedra da Gávea (Gávea rock) is often favored.
Whichever place one chooses to go, one is sure to be welcomed with open arms. Rodrigues finds that in Rio, “you will always find a nice crowd with people available to teach, who want to chat and make new friends.”
Finally, in order to avoid serious accidents, having good equipment and well-designed, secure lines is an absolute necessity. The store Centauro, along with some climbing shops, sell lines for beginners.
For better and more advanced equipment and lines, Internet sites Universo Slackline, a Pé na Fita Stone and Kmon Store are alternatives. Additionally, midrange brands such as SKL, Slackproof, Slacklife and Stamm, all have their own sites that sell lines and equipment. Note that the most popular brands are Gibbon and Elephant.
Yet for those just traveling through Rio, or amateurs, before going out to buy equipment, the best thing to do is to head to the slackliner location, observe a bit, get to know the crowd, and then ask to give it a whirl. Since slackliners are a family, everyone is sure to help.