Monday, February 1, 2010

Tightrope Walking

I was never a big fan of the circus. I think I’ve only been to a couple shows that were the whole shebang-a-bang. I never looked forward to the clowns, lion taming, or the bears on the unicycles. And as far as the trapeze artists were concerned, when you’re so far away that you can’t even see the swings, the whole scene appears a bit odd. But there is one circus feat I would love to try someday; risking my life with a walk on a tightrope.

The art of tightrope walking (or funambulism if you want to get fancy) is attempting to traverse along a thin wire or rope suspended at great height. Some performers may choose to use balancing poles and even perform without a safety net for added effect.

A new twist on this old sport is called slacklining. Instead of a highly taught steel wire, performers use nylon webbing stretched between two anchor points. Being made from nylon, the rope is very flexible reacting greatly to the slightest disturbance.

Did you know?- The highest slackline walked on record was by Christian Schou in 2006 at 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) high. It was later repeated by Aleksander Mork in 2007.

In an attempt to help you respect the intelligence of these brave souls, here’s a bit of science to understand how difficult it is to master the physics of tightrope walking. We all know that some performers use a pole for added balance. The main advantage of the pole is that it moves your center of mass (COM) outwards, away from the pivot point. This reduces angular acceleration because your COM is now swinging through a larger arc; i.e. it takes longer to create the same angle. This reduces tipping tendency and also gives the walker more strength to correct any mistakes.

Probably the most famous of highwire walkers to Americans like me would be Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who walked between the two World Trade centers in New York City in 1974. You can watch the official trailer below for the documentary that follows how a team of adventurists pulled off this insane stunt in the hit movie, Man on Wire.

While learning how to walk a tightrope can be dangerous, slacklining is a fun and safer way to start out. If you would like to give it a try, visit to see there premier slackline kit or visit to choose from their multiple performance sets (If you have problems deciding which kit is best for you, click here for a product comparison guide).

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