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Taylor VanAllen likes to say that no matter how long you’ve been highlining, there’s always an element of fear. But it’s not enough, apparently, to stop the 25-year-old Morrison native from going for a new American record this month. Highlining, a type of slacklining, is a modern-day tightrope walk: Athletes balance on nylon webbing, typically about two inches wide, stretched over canyons, rivers, and other terrain. In VanAllen’s case, that translates to traversing a 2,400-foot line suspended about 1,000 feet high in Centennial Cone Park, west of Golden. (He’s connected to a safety line in case he falls). He’ll attempt the feat—which would officially become the American highlining record—along with a few of his teammates at Slackline Industries, an equipment manufacturer based in Boulder. If they succeed, it’ll more than double the distance of the current record, which is one they know well: They’re the ones who set it, last November, when they walked 1,052 feet over a ravine in Golden.
In a niche sport like slacklining, it’s not uncommon for members of the small but growing community to one-up themselves. Recently, however, record-length lines have become rarer as manufacturers work to keep up with athletes’ demands: Longer distances necessitate longer webbing, backup webbing in case the main line fails, and stronger anchors. Finding a permissible, wind-free location that can safely accommodate lines nearly half a mile long can also present a challenge. Despite those snags, the world highlining record was broken this May by Switzerland’s Samuel Volery, who walked a 3,970-foot line in Turkey. But with some dreamers in the community considering mile-long lines, VanAllen says Volery’s record won’t last forever.
VanAllen’s own slacklining dreams began much like any other rookie’s. After buying his first line as a teenager, he spent weeks in his backyard learning to go just a few steps. Over the next couple of months, he practiced daily, and four years later, he took up highlining. This past October, dozens craned their necks in Eldorado Canyon State Park to watch him replicate a 600-foot crossing completed numerous times by late 19th- and early 20th-century high-wire walker Ivy Baldwin.
To train for his latest balancing act, VanAllen has been practicing on different lines in the Front Range nearly every weekend. For the most part, though, he maintains that slacklining comes down to muscle memory. “It kind of becomes like walking on the ground,” he says. With that kind of confidence, he hopes to break at least one more slacklining record this summer in Clear Creek Canyon: rigging up a 900-foot “spaceline,” formed by bringing two slacklines to a T, and then walking out to the “space” where they connect. His major concern isn’t the height—just someone else beating him to it.
Do try this at home (or in Boulder)!
Denver Parks and Recreation prohibits folks from attaching anything to park trees, so instead of rigging up that slackline in Cheesman, you might want to head to Boulder, where, in February, eight city parks became slackline-friendly (provided you wrap your line around designated trunks).