Published: Coconuts HK, 7 Dec 2016
Link to the original article here
As anyone who’s hiked up Lion Rock knows, the view from the peak is absolutely breathtaking. However, while most are content to just see the view, one group recently blew us all away when they took in the sights while balancing atop what appeared to be little more than a rope, hundreds of metres above the city.
In reality, these daredevils were actually highlining, an extreme version of slacklining (itself a close relation of tightrope walking) which entails anchoring a thin, flat piece of webbing between two high points, and walking from one end to the other. We’re not sure there’s a way to accurately convey the stomach-dropping intensity of the sport in words though, so here’s a fun visual:
The feat, organised by a group called Slacklining Hong Kong — many of whom are experienced rock climbers — took place on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. After setting up their considerable gear on either side of a small canyon, the adrenaline junkies took turns walking across the line and dropping jaws in the process.
Footage of one of the highliners stumbling was shared widely on social media, with netizens lambasting the group for what they perceived as knowingly endangering themselves.
Many commenters said the slackliners shouldn’t call emergency services if they ran into trouble, since they had chosen to walk the line, while others called them stupid for “playing with their lives”.
Speaking to Coconuts Hong Kong, one of the slackliners, Ricardo Iriarte, expressed his frustration at the negative reaction, especially considering that he says the appeal of highlining is feeling alive.
“We’re not risking our lives more than when you hop on a racing green minibus, or walk around the streets looking at your phone,” he said. “We highline safely, using good materials developed for it, bolting solid anchors on solid rock, and wearing a harness and leash.”
Indeed, our minds were somewhat put at ease after learning about the safety precautions: the webbing the group walks on, while thin, is heavy, and can carry hundreds of kilograms. The 95-metre-long strip is then doubled up, so that the second length can act as a backup, while participants are strapped into safety gear to protect them when they fall.
And of course, they will fall in the beginning —the line is “slack”, after all — though Iriarte noted with some glee that the it felt “swell” for him to be the first person to walk from anchor to anchor without falling.
The enthusiast explained that he had wanted to highline at Lion Rock ever since taking it up three years ago, but waited until he’d practised a lot at other locations and become proficient at bolting anchors (which is crucial to ensure safety). After the weather began to finally cool, he seized his opportunity.
As for the walk itself, Iriarte said it was “amazing” as the exposure was greater than any of his previous highlining experiences, before adding that looking at the city at the same time “felt very nice”.
When asked if he’d repeat the experience, he agreed without hesitation, but clarified that a second attempt wouldn’t happen for another few months, given the logistical requirements (newsflash: all that gear is heavy).
However, he lamented the lack of exposure and wariness surrounding the sport in Hong Kong which he believes is preventing the city from fulfilling its potential as an “urban highlining paradise”. He cited European cities such as Lublin, Poland, where urban highlining festivals are organised “with the blessing of the authorities, which see it as a good way to promote tourism”.
Here, he says a lack of understanding and fear of liability means slackliners are routinely denied permission to set up their lines between city buildings. If done properly, Iriarte says people have a “higher chance of getting injured playing rugby than when walking on a highline”.
Having seen our fair share of tackles at the Sevens, we might have to agree.
However, Iriarte thinks public hostility to highlining may stem from more than just ignorance. “The lack of exposure is certainly a factor, but the aversion to physical challenges and risks I see around here also affects their view.”
Using examples like local acquaintances who never learned to swim because they parents thought classes would be too dangerous, or seeing people take a one-metre tall escalator at a mall instead of walking up “three measly steps right next to it”, Iriarte said, “I wonder if [these people] can ever understand that something that goes against everything they have been told about risk … is not intrinsically wrong or suicidal”.
Moving on, he believes the only thing that can normalise slacklining in the eyes of the authorities is “more and more highlines, so they can see that we do it safely and … don’t want to kill or injure ourselves.”
“Any building would do, and the more the better, so as to make it more public, and so that people see it’s just a sport: a very colourful and risky-looking one, but a respectable sport in the end.”