Interview: But danger is real, says acrobat Nik Wallenda ahead of his historic walk across the Grand Canyon
Nik Wallenda, king of the high wire is all set to cross the Grand Canyon without a harness. The 34-year-old shares his fascination for heights and the preparations for the climb in this email interview. Excerpts
What is it about heights that inspire you? What scares you about them?
My family has walked wires for over 200 years and seven generations. I think any entertainer in the world will tell you that once they’re in front of an audience, there’s something about it. There is something alluring that you don’t want to turn away from and that is the case with me. So it is not about heights as such rather the rush of performing.
My parents encouraged me to go to college, and get a degree and go a different direction if I wanted just like I’m encouraging my children. But I started performing in front of an audience at two years old, not on a high wire, actually as a clown in a circus.
I don’t get scared really. To be fearful is actually very dangerous. I have to respect it. I always say that fear is a choice, but danger is real. I can decide whether I want to be scared or not, but the danger, I can’t decide. It’s always there. It is very much a mental game what I do. It is very important that I prepare and train properly not only physically, but mentally. And the way that I do that is by simulating the worst case scenarios.
Can you describe the logistics of your Grand Canyon walk?
This walk is going to be aired live in 219 countries around the world. The challenge with that is I have to wear cameras. I’ll have at least two, my balancing bar, two microphone packs, in-ear monitors, all sorts of batteries.
How will it be different from the Niagara Falls walk?
Niagara was about winds and mist. The Grand Canyon will be more about winds. You know, the winds are very undetectable. We’ll be training specifically for winds and that will be my biggest challenge. It is really hard to tell when and where they’re coming from, the speed of the winds, as well as the fact that I will be unharnessed. I won’t be tethered; I won’t be hooked to the wire, whatsoever. It will just be me walking across that wire with no safety.
What is your most memorable moment?
That’s a really rough question. I recreated the feat where my great grandfather in Puerto Rico fell and lost his life. It was probably the most memorable. It created closure for our family. It was extremely emotional, definitely the most emotional walk. As I walked, I had tears in my eyes. So I would say that’s probably the most memorable. That was the closest to my heart of all of the walks that I’ve done so far.
If not a high wire specialist what would you have been?
My parents had a very, very rough time making a living doing what we do. And there were times where they struggled financially. And they really pushed me away from our business to be honest, saying there was no way there was a future. At that point, they felt like the industry was dying, and so I did. I considered going to college. I was thinking about becoming a paediatrician. And I actually got accepted at a university in Florida, and had intensions of going there. And I did one last performance in Detroit, Michigan or what I thought was going to be my last goodbye to the high wire, which ended up relighting a fire. I thought, I'm going to continue this, but I'm going to do it in a big way.
What kind of preparation did you do for the walk?
Well, you know, there’s a lot of specific training. Just like for Niagara, I’ll be training with a cable nearly the same distance, however, close to the ground. So it’ll be 1,500 feet long, but very low to the ground and will simulate winds, updrafts, side drafts, and every direction you can imagine, trying to recreate what I would feel while I was crossing over the Grand Canyon.
I’ll be training in Florida and we’ll simulate the length of the wire so we’ll know the movement of the wire under my feet. And then we’ll also have big wind machines — the machines that we use are airboats. There are a lot of airboats in Florida. It is basically a boat with a huge fan on the back of it that can create winds up to 90 miles an hour. So we’ll recreate the winds with airboats to simulate what I’ll feel.
We’ll have actually ramps built to where it will shoot the air directly up under me, and again, we’ll try to simulate the gust that I might feel. Of course, there’s no way to tell what Mother Nature is going to be like that evening, but we’ll do our best to simulate that so I’m prepared for the worst case.
The event will be telecast on June 24 at 5.30 a.m. with a repeat at 8 p.m. on Discovery Channel