Professional slackliner Alex Mason joined fellow slackliners on the Oval on Tuesday to give tips, raise awareness about the sport and demonstrate his talent.
Many of the people who came to the event were part of the unofficial student organization, OSU Slackliners. The group coordinates meeting times via its Facebook group. Slacklining is the sport of walking or performing tricks on a line roughly 1-2 inches wide.
Mason said he got into slacklining around seven years ago when he was 12 years old. He discovered the sport at a gym he went to for rock climbing that offered facilities for both sports.
“When I’d get tired of rock climbing, I’d just walk on the slackline for a few minutes and eventually learned how to do it,” Mason said.
He said that when he was getting into slacklining at a young age, the sport itself was still young. This provided an opening for him to turn professional a couple of years after starting, and he became known for tricklining, performing flips and twists and landing on the line. He was one of the youngest people to land a foot-to-foot backflip on the slackline.
“When you have no overhead whatsoever and you’re still getting an allowance from your parents and you don’t have to worry about any real-life problems, it’s a lot easier to do a sport that doesn’t pay well and put a lot of time into something that doesn’t get you anything immediately,” Mason said.
Now he does collegiate visits with Red Bull, traveling across the country and internationally to meet with slackline clubs and create exposure for Red Bull, the sport and himself.
Mason has roots in Ohio, with his dad having been born in Akron and his grandfather having worked for Goodyear, but Mason grew up in the San Francisco area. He said he enjoyed seeing parts of Ohio but hadn’t yet grown accustomed to the Ohio weather, describing the windy 50-degree day as “rough.”
Over his time in the sport, Mason suffered major injuries, such as a broken arm, and recently knocked himself out. He said for the most part, though, many of the injuries are “mostly stuff you can carry on with,” like bruises, sprains and the broken toe he suspected having on the day he came to OSU.
Chris Ritner, a fifth-year in material science and engineering, has been slacklining for four years and tricklining for two. He said he discovered Mason pretty quickly after getting into tricklining because of his notoriety in the sport.
Still, Ritner was apprehensive about throwing himself back into the sport after breaking his ankle while slacklining in August.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking to get back into after breaking an ankle. I haven’t really done it much since, but I still think tricks is where I’m mostly focusing,” he said.
Aside from tricks, Mason spoke about the other perks of slacklining. He said some people do it for fitness and there are even studies being done about using it for rehabilitation.
“When you first get on a slackline, your foot will start to shake,” Mason said. “It’s really interesting how your brain adapts and learns how to control the line. It’s really good for stabilizing muscles.”
Charlie Demi, a third-year in evolution and ecology, considers himself a “longliner” with the goal of walking longer distances on the line rather than performing tricks. He said he had never heard of slacklining before coming to OSU, and one of the main issues with the sport is that people simply don’t know what to call it, including tour guides.
“It’s kind of funny. Whenever a tour goes past we hush up and we’re like ‘Listen — what’s this person going to call us? Do they know it’s slacklining or are they going to call us Oval tightrope walkers,’” Demi said.
Slacklining may not be as easy as it looks, but Demi, Ritner and Mason agreed that anyone can get involved with the sport.
“People are always worried about the fact that you’re 2-3 feet off the ground with something that moves under you. But they don’t realize that it’s pretty easy to get down without hurting yourself,” Ritner said.