Slacklining: Growing an emerging sport, one step at a time, 500 feet off the ground

 Slackline Industries athlete Josh Beaudoin doing some high altitude market research in Utah. // Photo: Courtesy

Slackline Industries athlete Josh Beaudoin doing some high altitude market research in Utah. // Photo: Courtesy

IN ELDORADO CANYON OUTSIDE BOULDER, COLORADO, it’s a 600-foot walk from the Bastille to the Wind Tower. It’s also a really bad place to drop your keys.

At a height of approximately 500 feet, the walk from point to point can only be made on a one-inch wide slackline suspended across the canyon.

This Saturday, Slackline Industries' athlete Taylor VanAllen will make that high altitude walk, re-creating a historic “highwire” steel-cable walk that was last performed in 1948 by daredevil Ivy Baldwin.

VanAllen will make the crossing in front of an estimated two thousand people, including co-hosts from the Action Committee for Eldorado and the Colorado-based Slackline Industries.

Events like the canyon crossing are rare in Eldorado, but are nothing new for Slackline Industries. They’ve staked their brand on envisioning and bringing to life grassroots tactics that support the growth of the sport first and foremost.

“Deciding to take a leadership role in the sport of slacklining wasn’t a choice somebody made in a marketing meeting. It’s part of our company DNA, and how we choose to do business,” said Ricardo Bottome, CEO of Slackline Industries.

The indirect benefit of grassroots tactics is best described (especially in an election year) as the gaining of political capital, which provides slacklining with the chips it needs to double down on other initiatives that can further grow and legitimize slacklining from a backyard hobby to an X Games-caliber sport.

The late Dean Potter was perhaps the best ambassador for the sport of slacklining, giving an offshoot of the sport (“highlining”) previously unprecedented exposure. In 2010, a NBC news feature on Potter captured the imagination of a young Taylor VanAllen – the athlete who will make the Eldorado Canyon crossing this Saturday– and inspired him to dedicate his life to the sport.

There is no current industry data on the sport of slacklining, other than the proliferation of brands and sporting variations in the marketplace that blossomed since slacklining was featured in Madonna’s 2012 halftime show at Super Bowl XLVI. In addition to highlining, current variations include urbanlining (performing in distinctively manmade settings) tricklining, waterlining, slackline yoga, freestyle slacklining and windlining.

“Slacklining is a community driven sport. It’s about participation more than pros, and our goal is to provide that community with the structure it needs to continue growing,” said Bottome. “We see these structural enhancements as investments in future of the sport. To grow our company, we have to grow our sport. The two are fully intertwined.”

The list of investments made by Slackline Industries have included a three-year process developing comprehensive judging criteria for international slackline competitions; providing athletes and rigging specialists for high visibility events such as the Super Bowl halftime shows; hosting online competitions such as the upcoming Slackline World Championships; and anchoring the GoPro Mountain Games with their annual Slackline Pro Invitational.

“To truly be a leader in slacklining – or any emerging sport – it takes more more than just designing cool and worthwhile products. It’s about taking specific, visible actions, and committing to those actions for the long haul,” added Bottome.

 Slackliner Taylor VanAllen // Photo: Courtesy

Slackliner Taylor VanAllen // Photo: Courtesy

For Saturday’s event in Eldorado Canyon, VanAllen will re-create the steel cable tightrope crossings made by Baldwin, who made the high exposure walk over 80 times in his life starting in 1902 and stretching through his 82nd birthday in 1948.

The event will benefit the Action Committee for Eldorado and will certainly raise the profile of slacklining to new heights in Colorado’s front range.

Elevating and legitimizing the sport’s profile in nearby Boulder has an additional benefit, as slacklining has previously been illegal in the city parks (you cannot attach items to trees in the city limits). Events like the Eldorado Canyon crossing, however, are providing some of the political capital needed to help make that change. According to Slackline Industries, the City of Boulder will soon be announcing a change of policy and allowing the sport in select parks.

“Slacklining is our community. But Colorado is our home,” said Bottome.

Drew Simmons is the president and founder of Pale Morning Media, a traditional and digital public relations agency specializing in the outdoor world . Pale Morning Media’s current client list includes Slackline Industries.