urban adventures Society

A slacklining attempt in Chennai

Perch yourself on a rope above the ground, don’t look down, and discover how slacklining gives balance a whole new meaning

When slacklining, choose carefully the trees between which you want to suspend your line. Sure, any sturdy old one can more than handle your human weight, but only a friendly one will offer you snacks to munch on when you take a break.

“Tamarind?” Eashwar Mathur holds out a slender dark pod for me to taste. With his lanky frame, voluminous curls and 6-feet height, the 22-year-old resembles a tree himself, but the fruit he offers is one he has picked off the ground. The grass beneath our feet is strewn with tamarind pods — a decades-old tree in the green Swiss Hutte premises off Greames Road is keeping us well fed as we try out the sport.

Beyond the basics
  • Longline slacklining involves lines that can be anywhere between 40 metres and 70 metres in length
  • Highlines can be suspended between cliffs above seawater or buildings 13 storeys high
  • Tricklining involves pulling off different stunts while walking on a slackline

Yes, it’s a sport. And it’s one that Eashwar and 25-year-old Janeshwara Raga, of Chennai Slackline Club, take quite seriously. As Eashwar puts it, “It involves training. There are standard bodies regulating and grading all the gear, curating slackliners, conducting world championships...”

But Chennai has a long way to go before world championships can become a tangible reality. For now, the duo is happy to have finally found a venue that doesn’t shoo them out after a few sessions. “They think we damage the trees, but we don’t. In fact, slacklining helps people appreciate trees and make memories with them,” says Eashwar, wrapping a thick sheet of cloth protectively around the tamarind’s bark, at a height of about five feet.

Over it goes one end of the 15 metres-long slackline, looped and locked in place by a steady metal clasp. The process is repeated on another tree some metres away, and the two inch-wide line stretches between them, seemingly ready. But Janesh and Eashwar aren’t done: they check the slackness of the line, adjusting it, testing it with their own weight, and only then letting others on.

A slacklining attempt in Chennai

Baby steps

And just like that, we’re all toddlers again. The first challenge is standing up straight and staying that way for about five seconds. The second is walking, but it takes me about an hour to even consider that.

I begin with a cheat code. Instead of trying to sit with one foot on the line, then another, and then hoisting myself upright, I use the trainers as, well, training wheels. We all do — letting one of them sit on the line in turns, thus lowering its height enough for us to just step on it.

I take a tentative step off the ground, the line sags slightly under the weight, and my heart leaps instantly up my throat. Promptly and unhelpfully, a light breeze flows in to tickle my heel, as if to drive in the fact that there’s nothing underfoot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a three-foot drop or 30, fear creeps in regardless. So though it takes me just one try to get up, I need about 20 more before I can summon enough guts to stay there. “Don’t look down,” instructs Eashwar, “Look straight ahead, find a spot to focus your gaze on, and just walk. Step by step.”

A slacklining attempt in Chennai

I try, but because my mind knows that I have just a two-inch strip to place my next step on, I can’t help but look down. And just like that, I feel myself teetering. As I do so, my inner self-defence mechanism (or wimp, call it what you will) compels me to simply step down before I fall.

“If you feel yourself losing balance, use your arms. Move them to adjust yourself, don’t keep them stiff by your sides,” says Janesh. So that’s why they look like human windmills when on the line, I realise, making a mental note and steeling myself.

On another line some feet away, a seasoned slackliner literally bounces on his line, sometimes on either foot, sometimes on his rear. I try it again: Step up, look down, teeter, step off. Up, down, teeter, off. And again, and again. Till we all give up and take a break. And I am offered some tamarind.

A slacklining attempt in Chennai

I pop one in my mouth, appreciating the shock of absolute bitterness. All my focus now diverted to the little seed on my tongue, I get on the line again. And take a step. Then another. I take five before realising where I am, what I’m doing, and promptly fall off again.

My instructors don’t know whether to laugh or sigh. They were in discussion about their experience of training schoolchildren, plans of more events around the city, and the active slacklining communities in Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. But instead, they silently help me back on the basic line.

Slackline Chennai’s next session is this Sunday, May 19. For venue and other details, call 8825585376 or check the Slackline Chennai Facebook and Instagram pages.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 9:50:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-slacklining-attempt-in-chennai/article27139319.ece

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