Photo: Jesse Dhue
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Highlining on the Banks Peninsula

I tried desperately to avoid a wedgie as I straddled the one inch piece of webbing and sidled out over the void. Looking down my stomach felt unsettled and I could hear my heart beating heavily in my ears. The line swayed in the wind, intensifying the dizzying affect of the height. It seemed as if the world was shifting around me and I clutched the line desperately to stay upright as I felt myself tilting over.

“Breathe” shouts Jesse from the sidelines, “you’ve got this bro”!

I growl loudly trying try to will myself to calm down. Eventually the line steadies and I begin to focus on what’s next. I focus with all my might on the cliff 51m away, and shift my weight onto my back foot. I sit there, with one hand up for balance, the other holding the line, trying to feel its character, building up the courage to stand. A couple of false starts, but I knew I couldn’t give up yet. If I let the fear win, then disappointment would haunt me for the rest of the day. Motivated by this thought and unwilling to give in, I finally willed myself to begin to stand. Every fibre of my body screamed that I shouldn’t be there, but still I continued. I put my front foot on the line and snapped my other arm up in the air. The line swayed violently beneath my feet and I fell silent as I searched deep within me for the focus and calm I needed to walk the line. By now I was standing, and fighting hard. The state of zen required eluded me. A large part of my mind couldn’t help but focus on falling correctly to avoid some bad rope burn. Suddenly the line pitched sharply to the left and I knew I was gone. I dropped quickly and caught the line with a harsh slap to my armpit.

Struggling to stand on the 51m line. Photo: Jesse Dhue

A lot of the appeal in the activities I pursue is not about the fear itself, but about my ability to overcome that fear and focus on the task at hand. It’s this zone and the sense of accomplishment that follows which I chase. Highlining is an interesting one for me. So far I’ve been unable to fully reach this zone and overcome the fear of being on the line. I am yet to complete a crossing of a line at height. I must admit this lessens my enjoyment and in turn impacts my motivation to keep falling and getting back up. But some small part of me keeps coming back to it. Perhaps it’s the love of the challenge, perhaps it’s the feeling of adrenaline running through my veins? I already know the feeling of intense focus I get on long lines closer to the ground. Perhaps it’s the desire to achieve this at heights? Hopefully I will eventually have a breakthrough where I can reach a state of calm and channel the technique I’ve been practicing in the park for over a year.

Fernando and Tom crushing it in the wind and clouds. Photo: Jesse Dhue

Christchurch has a very active slacklining scene, coupled with the great public access to lands, and on the rocks of the Banks Peninsula and the Port Hills, there are many established highlines. Slacklining partners can be found by contacting the ‘Christhurch Slackline’ group through their Facebook page. I was lucky enough to catch up with Fernando and the gang to head out to the Coppers Knob lines. This will be the site of this years New Zealand Highline Festival. The group had already rigged  two lines (51m & 55m)  and Jesse and I helped to rig another 20m line that morning.

Fernando cruising the 55m line.
Tiara staying composed on the 51m. Photo: Jesse Dhue

I had a quick thrash around on the 51m in the morning but welcomed the setup of a much shorter 20m line on which I achieved my personal best performance and first real whipper. I remember taking a couple of steps and then I went to put my foot down for another. Suddenly the line was not there.  I plummeted, reaching out to catch the line, as I have many time before. This time my arms grasped nothing but thick moist air. I watched as the line sprung up above me as if in slow motion. I remember thinking, ‘well, here we go’ and then braced for the leash to catch me. It happens fast and just like a rock climbing fall you don’t even have time to be scared.  I felt the leash go tight and the line begin to slow my decent. I dangled from the leash, a metre below the line as it bounced gently. This was my first leash fall and a big milestone towards overcoming the fear of the line. It was a very clean fall and I came out completely unscathed.

My best attempt at a highline yet on the 20m line. Photo: Jesse Dhue
Seconds later I took my first leash fall. Photo: Jesse Dhue

A few more tries yielded similar results. The clouds began to close in which made for a cool atmosphere. Unfortunately this was also soon accompanied with strong winds, which quickly made it almost impossible for a beginner like me. It didn’t stop the others from crushing it though. The group has heaps of lines established throughout Canterbury and they were all welcoming and willing to pass on some rigging knowledge and beta. They keep the stoke high and the vibes good. I hope to highline more with them during my time here.

Feel free to leave some feedback in the comments below. Contact me if you’re keen to adventure together and be sure to subscribe via email to never miss out on my latest posts.

Sam
Avid outdoors man, aspiring mountain guide and author of 'For love of the Mountains'

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