For those who don’t know the Crossing Lines team very well, I’m definitely the rookie of the group. My addiction to slacklining started just a little over a year ago, but most of my decisions around the sport were made around the potential to highline. My decision to buy a one inch line rather than a two inch, the first “trick” I learned being the chongo mount. A couple months later, I was testing my luck at the 40m Quincy Quarries “Twilight” line, a distance that I had not walked even half of on the ground yet. You can guess how that went.
Now, a little less than a year later, I am walking lines longer than 40m on the ground and have tried my luck at multiple other highlines. If we’re going to get into the art of labeling, I suppose that I would deem myself a highliner. But recently I actually discovered another component of the highlining sport that I find equally, if not more, rewarding as walking a highline: rigging highlines. It combines my already insatiable love for slackling and climbing with the technical understanding of gear, anchors and how it all comes together to create a safe, redundant line. To me, a well rigged highline is pretty much better than art (especially if all of your gear matches).
A couple of weeks ago, after fighting 45 minutes of Boston traffic in my trusty Subaru Impreza, Tuna Bear, with a trunk full of gear and a couple of newbie highliner friends singing “Yo ho Sebastian”, we pulled into the empty Quincy Quarries parking lot. This was the first time that I was going to be leading the rigging and the first time that we wouldn’t have our highlining guru, Sonya, present. She was looking over my shoulder from afar, but I felt confident in my understanding of the important concepts of the rigging and made sure to go with my gut on anything that I believed needed adjusting or fixing. It can be a very long process, usually taking at least 3 hours, but the time is worth it to have the peace of mind when you scoot out on the line. The rigging ended up going wonderfully and the gratitude from my friends for keeping them safe was incredibly rewarding.
I’ve thought quite a bit about how I felt the first day that I led the rigging. Simultaneously terrified, brave, empowered, supported and badass. But I could only feel this because I was prepared, knew what I was doing and was able to recognize something unsafe and fix it, rather than think “Oh it’ll be fine.” I recognize that just because I have rigged Quincy multiple times, I am not yet a skilled highline rigger, however, I feel prepared to contribute to our team.
A week after leading the rig at Quincy, a few friends, new and old met up on the Boston Esplanade at our typical spot. Just as we were pulling my purple primitive line tight at about 21 meters, a guy I had never met before runs up (for lack of better name, we’ll call him Rookie), briefly introduces himself, waits until we had pulled my line tight- without helping- and then jumps on my line without so much as an inquiry of permission or “is this ready?” Backing up the line, my friends and I wait patiently for Rookie to fall off. He makes a good effort, almost crossing the 21 meters before bailing clumsily. As my friend jumps on to take his turn, I started talking to another friend about the Quincy highline. And so begins the following interaction with Rookie.
Rookie: “Oh, I’ve rigged Quincy once!”
Me (Jade): “Oh, you have a highlining rig?” *quite surprised as I believed myself to be the only person with a complete rig in Boston, let alone someone that I had never met before.*
Rookie: “Yeah, except for a static rope. I didn’t know that you needed one of those.”
Me: “Well, you don’t really, we use two lengths of type 18… Wait, does that mean that your line wasn’t backed up?!”
Rookie: “Yeah, didn’t know that you needed to do that. We were tied in though!”
As my friend, who is familiar with rigging longlines and anchors, fell off the line and joined the conversation, my friend asked Rookie if he used a pulley system.
Rookie: “What’s a pulley system?”
As the conversation continued, we found out that Rookie had rigged the line with his cousin using 1-inch tubular webbing, through a 2-inch rachet. BAD BAD BAD on so many different levels. This newcomer had already not endeared us to him by jumping on my line without asking or helping tension, and this new information only led us to continue to respond to him mostly with “how are you still alive?”
Its understandable that someone who does not have their own personal Sonya to teach them how to rig and a lack of classes might not completely understand what they did wrong. Further, many are eager to try highlining out in New England, but the lack of education and accessibility here may cause people to attempt things that they should not. Further, rookie mistakes likely do not endear people to take newbies out to learn how to rig properly. Highlining is meant to be terrifying and exhilarating; the point is to do something death defying and crazy. But its also supposed to be deceptively safe. I’ve learned a lot from my rigging experience. Most importantly, never be afraid to admit that you don’t know what you’re doing and walk away at the risk of the safety of your friends and self.