Erstellt am: 2. 9. 2012 - 22:09 Uhr
Slacking Off In Bregenz
“Don't forget to breathe,” shouted slack-line pro Andy "Sketchy" Lewis through the rain, as I floundered on the narrow strip of webbing of a slackline waving my arms for balance like a pair of windmills. “You should try and keep your hips and your shoulders square!”
It was no use. Once again I fell off on to the mud beside the line, hiding my embarrassment with a nonchalant laugh. I was trying out slacklining for the first time at the Freakwave Festival in Bregenz and I wasn’t cutting a very elegant figure. It had looked so easy, but even with the help of an expert I couldn’t stay on the line for more than a few seconds before toppling over onto the wet meadow on the shore of Lake Constance.
Sketchy Andy, a tall broad-shouldered American with abundant curly hair styled into what can only be described as a blond Afro, had his arms crossed: “You’ll get there. It’ll take a couple of days. But then it will totally change your awareness of your body.”
The difficulty I had had made it all the more impressive to watch Sketchy and a selection of the world’s top slackliners trick-lining at a World Cup event the next night, using the line like a thin trampoline as they span 360s, landing on their knees, their stomachs, their backsides and sometimes even flipping over head over heals. The line was hung about half a metre over a narrow floor of red matting, with the crowd huddled close to the action and a loud hip-hop soundtrack blarring from a parked minibus, giving the event the feel of a Run DMC video. In the end the Brazilian Leivas Zambelli won, the judges awarding the final to him ahead of a younger rival who clearly thought he’d win it and couldn’t disguise his disappointment.
Sketchy describes slacklining “as if a tight-rope has been out on the town and go drunk.” The sport started with people just hanging a rope between two trees with a bit of slack in the line, then webbing replaced the rope and you could introduce tension into the equation giving the line a bounce. Athletes learnt to control that force to perform tricks. “You can use it as an entire form of energy,” said Sketchy, going all Jedi knight on me, while Italian competitor Dana was even more esoteric, “you can get in touch with the inner parts of your body.”
This is a sport that is developing very quickly – tricks that were ground-breaking a few years ago, like the flip, are now considered an essential part of any serious repertoire – but there was also a lot of variety in the performances. “It is a young support so you can be really creative and invent your own tricks,” Christine, from Munich told me. One of the few women in the event, she managed to do the splits on the tape, but more impressively, while many of the guys wore that rather self-regarding perpetually unimpressed face that is sadly so common in freestyle sports, Christine Rank pulled of her entire routine with a massive smile on her face. I became a fan.
“It’s a real sport now, says Sketchy, for years it was just developing without any fix rules or criteria for judging – but now it has a global appeal with competitors from all over the world who are all adding their interpretations to the sport. David from Germany says the World Cup is a great exchange: “You can see, for example, what people are doing in South America and you can pick up tips from the global elite.” He said he didn’t really care whether he won. “I just want to put in a good performance and impress the crowd. That’s what this sport is really about”.
The slackline World Cup event was the highlight of the 5-day Freakwave festival, which combined music, street art and freestyle trend sports such as stand-up paddling and long board skating. A 70 metre slack line had been hung between two piers of the lake and I had a very enjoyable time watching people fall into the cold-looking choppy water. Then I saw a Polish athlete called Jan Galek moving with incredible care and patience and managing the full distance: “It is hard because the waves make it disorientating,” he said, “It’s hard to focus on one point. But that’s the challenge.”
The skies were a leaden grey on Saturday and I was wishing I had put on an extra T-shirt when I saw Freakwave organiser Marty “McFly” Winkler, who’s also the godfather of the Austrian Freeski Open, out on the lake, bare-chested, and paddling along on a stand-up surf board. He ducked under the slackline and came ashore announcing merrily that is was “warmer in than out.” He’d been marking out to course for a stand-up paddling event. “There’s quite a big stand-up paddling community in Austria now,” said one of the competitors Mike Mayer, from Surf Shop Vorarlberg, who told me the sport, which involved dipping a shovel length paddle into the waves while maintaining your balance, is perfect for training strength and endurance, “and we have so many lakes in this country – it’s perfect for the sport to grow.”
I suppose the Freakwave attracts a high voltage sort of crowd. It certainly seemed that way in the evening, when, despite the cold and sometimes wet weather that plagued much of the festival, the whole audience energetically seemed to be dancing to the live music. “I didn’t expect the crowd to explode like that,” Rainer Von Vielen admitted after his enthusiastically received set: “I looked at the weather forecast and it looked so grim but that was so much fun. I’m still buzzing with adrenaline.” Caramelo from the multilingual German-South American group Raggabund had the same feeling: “I don’t know where this energy comes from, maybe it’s the lake or the mountains, but we love playing here.” Long after midnight Fiva und das Phantom Orchester played a pulsating set inside. But my highlight of the festival came on the outdoor stage under torrential downpour on Friday night, when the Swiss band The Pullup Orchestra produced an intoxicating high tempo mix of hip-hop and brass band complete with huge horns that left me dazzled.
“This is a festival like no other,” announced a proud McFly, bobbing to the music in his fedora hat. “Just next time you come, Chris, bring better weather!”