By Mariana Munoz
Sept. 24, 2014
The crowd watches in amazement as Tarzen successfully walks the line without a problem.
AUSTIN, TEXAS--The crowd is silent and tension is in the air as Curtis Jackson, better known as Tarzen, concentrates on walking across a nylon rope fastened to opposing sides of the boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake. In theory, the objective of slacklining is simple: you walk across a nylon rope and make it to the other side. In practice, it’s much more complicated—just like the discussion that revolves around it.
The Austin Parks and Recreation Department published a new set of proposed rules on August 25, which makes slacklining a permit-required activity. While some consider slacklining to be a recreational activity, others consider it to be a threat to both human life and nature.
Mike Johnson, an Austin Parks and Recreation officer, says the concern for the activity is largely focused on nature because the tension of the lines on trees damages the bark and exposes it to disease.
“There is a concern for the trees; as human beings, we are responsible for protecting vegetation,” Johnson said.
According to the new set of rules, if a slackliner does acquire a permit, they may not use a tree as an anchor post if the tree is less than one foot in diameter, is a heritage tree, or if it is posted as “not for use” for slacklining.
Shane Poe, part of “Keep Austin Slacklining,” concentrates as he walks the final line portion.
The recently built boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake has become a favorite spot for slackliners who like to experiment over water.
Derek Lewis, an Austin resident, jogs frequently at the boardwalk. He is concerned with the risks that come with practicing the activity.
“I come here every day and see the slackliners walking the rope. It makes me uncomfortable because they’re exposing themselves to serious injury, especially since they don’t wear safety equipment,” he said.
While slackliners use safety equipment as they walk over ground, they do not use safety equipment when they are walking over a body of water.
Johnson said the department’s concern with the boardwalk is the potential damage to infrastructure.
“We want to keep the boardwalk in good condition and safe for pedestrians. The tight pressure may cause some railings to wear off sooner,” he said.
Rita Lancaster, a frequent spectator, is thrilled by the idea of slacklining.
“I think what these guys do is amazing. It’s honestly great to be able to take video and send it to my friends who live in other cities. It’s like a way of saying, “This is what he have in Austin, come see!” she said.
A group known as Keep Austin Slacklining encourages and teaches others to take part in the activity. They offer free walk-up instruction any day and anywhere they set up and they are active on social media.
Parks and Recreation officers and even the Austin Police Department often force them to take the lines down and pack up.
Chris Boswell, a member of the group, disagrees with the new rules set forth by Parks and Rec. He said slackliners are careful to use padding when anchoring on trees.
“We mean no harm, we just want to spend our time doing something positive and spreading the art around,” he said.
Austin Police Department officers show up at the scene and begin to question whether or not the slackliners have permission to set up a line in this area.
Slacklining has made a positive change in some of those who practice it. Curtis Jackson, better known as Tarzen, said slacklining sent him on the right track to living a healthier lifestyle.
“I spent most of my adult life working as a massage therapist and leading a lifestyle with unhealthy eating habits that were slowly deteriorating my health until one day, I found slacklining,” he said.
Tarzen realized it was time to make a change in order to live a longer, happier and healthier lifestyle. At age 36, he became a vegetarian and began practicing slacklining, which requires physical training and strong core body strength.
“I’m 52 years old now and my mental, physical, and emotional health has improved drastically ever since I started practicing the activity,” he said.