Treading The Fine Line With Slacklining Pioneer, Samar Farooqui

Treading The Fine Line With Slacklining Pioneer, Samar Farooqui

When we imagine people walking on a wire it conjures up images of a unicycler in a top hat high above a three ring circus or maybe the heart-stopping view of Philippe Petit suspended between the Twin Towers. But you better transpose this visual to a more modern setting because the gravity defying sport of slacklining is here to stay. An easy mistake to make is to assume slacklining and tightrope walking are the same thing, the key difference is the tautness of the wire used. For slacklining there’s usually a lot more give which makes the whole experience more dynamic but the taut tightrope is sometimes considered an easier line to walk because of the minimised sideways movement. For many individuals conquering these wobbly walks and challenging the laws of physics with their aerial acrobatics has become a full-time pursuit. One such daredevil is slackline master and founder of Slacklife Inc. Samar Farooqui.

His romance with slacklining began in 2010 and since then he has become the pioneer for slacklining in India. He became the first ever representative of the country in the International forum when he competed at the Urban Highline Festival, Poland in 2014. More recently he has been a part of the well known Indian Surf Festival, Covelong Point which last month hosted the first ever Indian slacklining competition. Thanks to Samar and other dedicated slackliners, this stunning sport is well on its way to earning a permanent place in the Indian sporting arena.

Homegrown caught up with Samar to learn more about the world of slacklining.

Homegrown: Whether it’s slacklining or tricklining it seems this is a sport that requires a lot of skill and practice. When and how did you first become involved in it?

Samar Farooqui: I first came across slacklining in 2010 when I used to work for an adventure travel company in Mumbai. The first time I tried it, I fell off but it felt like it was possible to do. The process was very straight forward, it’s a 1-2 inch webbing that you have to try and balance on. I kept going at it for a while, in about 4 hours I was able to walk from one end to the other. At the end of it I hadn’t realized where the time had gone and I had thoroughly enjoyed my self and worked up a sweat. Few months later when I moved to New Zealand to study adventure tourism, I saw that there was a community of slackliners there, went over and said hello to them and became a part of that community. I’ve been slacklining regularly ever since.

HG: When you began slacklining what were your greatest fears? How did you overcome them and how did you face the challenges of being in a relatively new sport?

SF: When I began, I was obviously doing the most basic thing in slacklining, i.e. walking and standing. The biggest fear would be falling and hurting myself, say twisting an ankle. But that was easily manageable by simply keeping the line set up at a lower height. Once I stepped on to the line, the slackline made me realize that most of the fear was in my head. So I had to get out of my own head, I plugged in some music and kept having a go one after another.

Challenges weren’t there at all to begin with when I was practicing the sport as a hobby. 3 years into slacklining and having conducted some events in New Zealand, I decided that I want to be a professional Slackliner in India, promote the sport here and make a living through it. Initially, I would approach event management companies to get slacklining as a part of their event to engage crowds and give them a better experience. The first thing they would ask me was : “what is slacklining?”. So creating awareness was perhaps the hardest part. As time went by, people/ newspapers and new noticed what I do and how it can benefit their event… then the job got easier.

I would also pitch slacklining to corporate and school groups as a team building and leadership development activity, again initially they thought I was crazy and kidding. Only with time and exposure on TV, Radio, Newspapers and Magazines did people start taking the benefits of the sport seriously.

HG: What are people’s reactions when they learn what slacklining is all about? How do you think the general approach to the sport is developing in India?

SF: The first expression / reaction I usually get is surprise and disbelief. Usually they have a tough time digesting what they are seeing me do on 1 or 2 inches of webbing (flat rope). But once they try it, they think it’s difficult to learn but possible. I always say to them, keep practicing and put in a few good hours and automatically your body will learn how to balance itself. Initially muscles in your body aren’t developed to hold your weight on a bouncy piece of rope, with time your muscle memory will kick in and your body will remember how it’s done.

Recently (at the Slackline India Championship) Johnty Rhodes learnt to slackline with me, when he started he said to me he can’t do it, but he kept trying… after a few tries for about a half hour or so he gave up and came back again with a fresh mind. He managed to walk two full lines on his second day as well as learnt a few basic tricks.

The general approach…. hmmm…. For onlookers they are usually fascinated. At all the events that I am a part of I have only gotten good feedback from the people and the organizers.
For those who actually try it, a lot of them are instantly hooked… some become regulars of the slackline meet ups at the parks, some go out and buy their own line and find a nice quiet spot to enjoy the sport.

We occasionally have trouble with park and police authorities, since they don’t know what we are doing, they assume it is illegal to Slackline in a public park or area.

I would say that Slacklining in India is developing at a good and organic pace. 3 years ago when I came to India, there were barely 30 slackliner in reality and facebook numbers reached as far as 300. Now, there were about 30 participants who entered the first ever Slackline India Championship. Our Facebook numbers indicate that there are over 4000 slackliners in the country.

HG: What do you hope to show people during the first competition at Covelong and how do you expect it to affect the future of the sport?

SF: Well, the competition is done now… what I had hoped for was to showcase the sport to all the people who are attending the festival (which we did). And also to show people what you can achieve if you just pick up the sport and be a little persistent with it. Also my hope with this competition was to give all the existing slackliners the motivation that they needed to upskill. In the 3 days of the festival and the 2 weeks leading up to it, majority of slackliner will say that they have tried and learnt something new on the slackline. Perhaps it’s because of the nature of entering and taking part in a competition and to be better than the other person. Or perhaps it’s because of the drive to do better than you did in your previous attempt on the slackline. For some it’s just for good old FUN! What ever their reasons to upskill and improve their slacklining was, it has brought us one step closer to actually sending an Indian athlete to the slackline world cup.

HG: What should people know before taking up slacklining themselves, what are the perks and the pitfalls?

SF: When I am teaching someone how to slackline - I give them three basic rules:

1) Pick a focus point ahead of you and keep focusing there, do not move your eyes from the prize. - Your body wants to go where you are looking, if you look down, you will fall down. If you look ahead, that’s where you will go.

2) Breathe - after a few attempts people realize that they had held their breaths, making their body stiff. Slacklining is often called meditation in movement, if you focus on your breathing, things will go smoother.

3) Relax your body and mind - slacklining is not a sport / activity where your body will be doing repetitive movements, each try is different. Thoughts you get in each try are different. The moment you stop fighting with the line and yourself, your body will be balanced.
The perks of Slacklining:

- Core muscles workout

- Helps stress relief

- Good to train you reflexes

- Good to improve your focus

- Meditative

- Great for community bonding and team building

- Most importanly, it’s FUN

The Pitfalls of Slacklining:

It’s addictive!

HG: Where are the best places to slackline in India?

SF: Cubbon park in Bangalore and Haus Khas village park in Delhi are hot spots for community slacklining sessions. Bombay has slackline scenes at Narali Baug in Dadar . There are communities in Nashik, Pune, Hyderabad, Assam, Manali, Covelong - Chennai, Rameshwaram, Hampi and many other places.

Slacklining is a versatile sport, it can be practiced anywhere… all you need is two trees or two good anchors to set up. Some of my favourite location so far have been, Covelong, Rishikesh, Nashik, Rameshwaram, Badami and some spots in Mumbai and a Spot in Lonavala. Got quite a lot of the country to explore still.