Slackliners meet a fine balance (2023)

The sport is physically difficult and mentally challenging. And it's fun for all ages.

Author of the article:

Katelyn Spidle Especially for the Montreal Gazette

Posted on July 31, 2015Last update on 06/03/20204 minute read

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You may have already noticed them with the tam-tams that float a few meters above the ground, balancing on a 2.5 cm thick rope stretched between two sturdy trees: the slackliners. A decade ago, they were few and far between. But since Julien Desforges founded Slackline Montreal in 2006, what was once a fringe sport has become an extremely popular activity that is taking over the city's parks.

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(Video) My thought process on a line… #slackline #heights #balance

Desforges spent his days hunched over a computer, designing websites and editing video for a living. "When I started slacklining, I felt better, so I asked myself, how can I do this?"

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(Video) Balance-Training on a Slackline - Physiological Changes in the Body

After launching a website with answers to the many questions from the curious public, Desforges began selling equipment to help slacklining beginners get started. Today, Slackline Montreal's mission is to provide products, services and events that enable people to play sports safely and responsibly.

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"The basic steps are really important," said Maxime Pelletier, instructor and artist at Slackline Montreal. "If you know how to do the basic steps, you can go a long way on your own." Pelletier helps facilitate a service called Slackline Zones, which has multiple slacklines set up so people can learn to rope in an informal setting under the guidance of experienced slackliners.

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People often catch you setting up teams side by side and sharing tips and advice in a collaborative environment. Head to Jarry Park on a sunny afternoon, Pelletier urged, and you'll probably see a net of 15 to 20 slacklines.

But the parks are not the only place where people learn this sport. In 2009, Desforges received requests from schools interested in hosting Slackline Montreal to hold workshops during physical education classes for students. He estimates that Montreal slacklining has been taught in more than 400 schools across the province and has reached cities like Rouyn-Noranda.

Schools are always looking for something new, he said, and the beauty of slacklining is that you don't need a partner. While curricula tend to emphasize team sports, slacklining allows kids to focus on developing self-exercise, an experience Desforges and Pelletier described as meditative and therapeutic.

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"When you train on the slackline, you have to be present, otherwise you start to shake or fall," explains Desforges. "For people who wouldn't necessarily meditate because it's too abstract, it becomes more concrete and easier to understand."

Desforges assured that, although slacklining requires physical and mental effort, it is not an extreme or dangerous sport. Over the years, he has taught people between the ages of five and 60. But there are certain precautions that must be taken to avoid accidents. Slackliners tend to avoid the crowds and settle under the shady shelter of properly spaced trees. It is also important to ensure that a slackline does not cross a path or area where children may play.

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It is also about ensuring that public trees are protected from damage or injury. The best trees for slacklining are at least a foot thick with smooth bark. If a slackline is anchored to a tree that is too thin, there is a risk that it will break in half. Trees with flaky bark are more likely to peel, putting them at risk of infection.

“At Slackline Montreal, we sell all of our slackline kits with tree protection,” Desforged said, adding that the padding is made from recycled fire hose. "Whenever we see someone crouching in the tree without padding, we either provide it or ask them to come to us."

Most people who buy Slackline Montreal equipment also buy introductory courses, which Desforges offers at a discounted price. Classes are customized based on interest and ability.

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Slacklining culture places great value on protecting the environment, a fact that is not entirely obvious to anyone unfamiliar with the sport. Community bylaws that prohibit hanging items like hammocks or bicycles in trees sometimes make slacklining in public spaces difficult. Desforges revealed that while police often target large groups of slackliners in La Fontaine, Mont-Royal and Laurier parks, smaller groups are generally tolerated.

"I would like to see some guidelines and changes in the law to really say that slacklining is legal and allowed," Desforged said. After a failed attempt to petition the city in 2012, Desforges chose to embrace the sport's legal ambiguity as the Canadian Slacklining Association, founded by Pierre Carrillo and Chantal Therrien, works to bring the issue to national attention.

"It's a very good practice," Desforged said. "I think people who do this build peace and it shouldn't be illegal at all. This is ridiculous. I think everyone who does it will say the same thing."


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