The Bridge Line | The History of Slack


“I was hanging out with Jeff and Adam in July probably...or maybe August. And by November ‘83, we walked the first high slackline, “The Arches,” under a bridge in Pasadena, CA, near the Rose Bowl, with Chuck, my brother Ric, and Rob Slater, to train for the Lost Arrow Spire.


Rob Slater was a friend of Chucks, and we had met him in Yosemite that same summer we met Adam and Jeff. By the time we met him, he was already a badass. And we were just, kinda, kids. Rob was only a year or two older than me but he had already soloed the Pacific Ocean Wall and BASE jumped off of El Cap... he'd done all kinds of stuff. He BASE jumped into the Black Canyon in Gunnison....a jump that not everybody can survive. And he couldn’t walk the slackline on the ground, but he just loved adventure. Rob was just an adventure junkie like so many people you know. Anyways, he was down in San Diego, and I told him that I wanted to go walk this bridge, and he said, “Well if you do it, let me know, and I'll come up.” So he did.


Anyways, the line I bought was a piece of the old swami belt material--2 inch tubular nylon webbing, that was rated at 6600 pounds if you didn’t tie a knot in it. We didn’t have multi-strand threaded lines back then (those came a little later), so the first highline was actually a 2 inch highline, about 22 feet long, and 140 feet high.


We set up the line-- and this is in November--so it's getting dark early and I'm feeling like I'm sort of the one that is supposed to walk it. Well, me and Chris….but mostly me, because I’m the driving force in this and, well, I rigged it. But I'm kind of scared to do it. And it's getting dark and I'm kind of happy it's getting dark because... "Yeah, I'll come back tomorrow'”. So none of us walk it and we go home (Ric, Chuck, and I were living in the same house at the time). And when we get back to the house… we were a group that talked a lot of shit and bickered a lot and, ya know... didn't always live up to our talk. But Rob is there, and Rob...we respect Rob.



So we go home, and Rob says, "Oh my god, I can't believe that I kind of chickened out. Tomorrow, I'm gonna go there, and first thing, I’M gonna step off." And I'm like… “GREAT! That'd be great!” Rob was a real psychological boost for us because he was somebody that just loved adventure. We brought him along because he could teach us how to love adventure. It's just that psychological boost of having somebody with an attitude of, "THIS IS GREAT! The scarier it gets, the greater it gets!”


So the next day we get there, and Rob, true to his word, takes a step out. He's kind of hanging on to part of the line we tied up high so you could grab onto it while you're standing there. And Rob takes a step, and for a brief moment, he's standing 140 feet above the gravel. And then he falls, grabs the line with both hands, and he jumps back on. And then he says, “Let's set up a hand line above us, just so we can walk out there and get used to it”, and I was all for that. And Chris was like, "Nahhh... we should do it without it."



We end up setting a handline because Rob and I wanted to, and we could all walk it like that. And then Chris walked out to the middle, let go of the handline, and walked to the end. Then he tried from the end of the line and he fell, and I was like, “Well, this is my only chance. Next time he's gonna do it, so I better get out there.” So I get out there and I make the first full crossing across the slackline. [The very first crossing on a nylon highline--not a cable or a wire or a rope.] Chris also completed a successful walk, but none of the other guys walked it without use of the guideline above. [“Actually, Chuck held on with two hands while being double belayed,” claimed Chris in The Evolution of Slacklining.]



Chris and I went back and walked the bridge quite a few times. But when we set up the two inch line in the park at pretty long length, at about 80 feet, it would shake back and forth when the wind blew past. Just a breeze and it would start going up and down and shaking back and forth... I mean, just radically. It would go up and down so fast that when you try to catch it...it was so quick that it would just like flick out of your hand, ya know? And I was looking at this and thinking, “This will NOT do on the Lost Arrow Spire. It's ALWAYS windy up there.” So I'm like, alright, that will never work. What can I do?


I'm a builder, and I had already started as an apprentice carpenter. I had seen how electricians use fish tape to pull wires through conduits, and I got the idea of pulling small lines through bigger pieces of webbing...pulling pieces of 9/16ths through a piece of 1 inch and making a stronger line. So I bought these lines, and I bent a clothes hanger into what I thought was the appropriate shape. I got Chris to help me, and we made the first threaded line. We stuffed a 1 inch piece of webbing with two pieces of 9/16ths and some 3 mil purlon. The pieces of 9/16ths were sitting atop one another, and then there was just a little bit of space, so I had the piece of purlon running next to it. I originally had 2 pieces of purlon on the inside, but they didn't fit the way I thought they would. So we threaded this line and set it up in the park, and that one was way more stable in the breeze.” According to Chris Carpenter’s article on The Evolution of Slacklining, “The 9/16th super tape at a 45-foot length was our favorite. This line proved to be very springy and especially good for swinging on. We walked on and broke a 30-foot length of tubular bootlace. . . . We strung and walked a 118-foot length of one-inch webbing (very much like walking on the moon). And we also experimented with doubling up the lines. Scott strung bootlace within bootlace; we never did break this one. We also tripled the lines [using the process Scott described above]. This tripled line was our strongest slackline that we later used for highlining.” They tested their tripled up line at the bridge, and then in 1984, they went up to the Lost Arrow Spire for the first time and brought it along with them.



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