Picture the scene…
A semi-desert environment, where mountains and boulders radiate tones of “the golden hour”. A place where climbers flock too by the hundreds from across the planet. A place where pushing your limits is the goal. This is Rocklands. Bouldering mecca and now Highline mecca 🙂
Early Friday morning I packed Jitterburg (my petrol thirsty truck) with all the essentials for a weekend of camping and highlining in the Cederberg. Late that Friday afternoon, after some detours we arrived at de Pakhuys campsite, very very nervous! We were now in unfamiliar territory. Well… at least I was, Jitterbug is hardcore! We arrived too a very quiet campsite, everyone was out and about doing something. I scouted the campsite for the best nesting spot I could possibly find. This was going to be home for the next 4 days. I proceeded to set up my awesome tent. My spring water and micro garden of sunflower sprouts which was started before Afrika Burn. Then to later head off for a little exploration ride in the immediate area on my Muni.
De Pakhuys has a vast amount of sandy foot paths weaving between massive boulders. I think there would be a fair amount of riding if enough scouting were done. The challenge with the area is that the rocks on the footpaths are quite big, so practice those big upward jumps. Ideally we would want to construct the trails so that everything had a downward direction. You know our intention is a good workout (up & down), but the reward of a long smooth undisturbed downhill is priceless. Especially if it is technical.
On arrival back at the campsite I was greeted by the Burki’s. The Swiss-French mother and father of Sylvain Burki. Who is the founder and creator of an awesome company named “Slackgear”. I met Sylvain on a film set. Like myself, Sylvain earns his bread and butter money through the film industry. We got chatting and slack lines came up, then unicycles came up. Sylvain has laboriously been developing a product range of high quality locally produced highlines with an entry level slackline. Since OddWheel already stocked an imported slackline range, I was very eager to explore a local product and bring it back home. I was onboard to support Sylvain as best I could because unicycling is as obscure and niche. Both are balance orientated and seem to be on the same movement spectrum.
Photo: Sylvain Burki
I’ve learnt so much about the sport in the short time I have spent talking to Sylvain about his gear and the different forms of lining. Did I mention that his parents are Swiss? The dude has left no stone unturned! At least that is what it feels like. His combined knowledge of gear, rigging and safety and strong passion for highlining has driven him to develop the equipment he would like to use. As in most activities, gear, especially good gear comes at premium prices. Sylvain’s aim is to make this sport more accessible through affordability but maintain the quality. His done this with his 15m Beginner Slackline. Later on if you take a keen interest in the sport you can slowly build up your kit for highlining. Or you buy a full highline kit. The beauty of the system is that all pieces within the beginner kit can later be used for the highline kit. These hand crafted kits are very well made with premium materials! One that I would like to mention is the webbing itself. It is 25mm wide, with rounded edges, white in colour with 2 thin black stripes running along the edges on the top of the webbing. This indicates if the line is flipped over or not. To get what he wanted he had to manufacture 5 km’s. So your colour choices are white or… white. And then there is the break force system he built at his house for testing. No stone unturned!
Photo: Charmaine Retief Kritzinger and some impressive rigging
Sylvain decided a Highline event was needed and invited OddWheel to showcase Unicycling. Conceptually there were meant to be a few more balance orientated activities at the event like Juggling, Poi, Climbing, Yoga/SlackYoga/AcroYoga, Music jam-sessions (guitar, didjeridoo, djembe etc). We ticked the Unicycling, Poi and Climbing boxes. Hopefully next year there will be a little bit more.
I’m going to fast track through the filing cabinet: –
Saturday’s play begun with another exploratory ride. I got terribly distracted. More people arrive. Small play sessions erupt on various lines and unicycles. There is always a closet unicyclist among the bunch. Yip, this guy, who’s name I do not remember, spoke of the unicycle his father had made for him from the fork of a regular bike. He made reference to the luxury of having bumpers on a saddle. He could ride backwards smoothly and easily do a 360 pivot from a sharp turn. Then there is Paskal Wolski, 15 years old, Polish born now living in South Africa. Who upon arrival started practicing to ride the unicycle. Later, 3 guys from PE namely Juan, Carl and Don set up some Tricklines. I’ve never seen Tricklining in real life. I was astounded at what they were doing i.e. double drop knee, bounce walking, sitting down, butt bounces, chest bounces and who could forget the backward somersault dismount.
That afternoon was spent on the shelf of a cliff where Sylvain had set up 3 high lines – a 18m, a 46m and a 68m. The day had turned windy which made it quite unpleasant and cold up there. Very few people attempted the lines on this day. I think Sylvain and Paskal were the only ones that walked the short line.
Sunday turned out to be a magnificent day with no wind and blue sky. It was an unusual location to intimately spend the day with roughly 30 people on the shelf of a mountain. There were numerous starter attempts by newbies or virgin liners, one of them being me.
What an awesome feeling but equally terrifying, simple but complex. It’s a wide range of emotion, mental and physical feat that one faces and hopes to concur. I’ve come home from my weekend with a very soar body and a very clear mind. I have to admit the core strength and refined balance I have developed through years of mountain unicycling have given me a solid base for highlining. But don’t be fooled, highlining is tough stuff. There are so many things to learn! To simplify matters there are 2 things which need to be practiced:
- Learn to walk a low longline, aim for 50 metres (this would be the equivalent of learning to pedal on a unicycle for 50 metres)
- Learn the Chongo mount (I consider it to be the Free mount of unicycling)
Those 2 things can be intricately broken down but when woven back together you have a solid foundation for moving onto a highline. The other thing would be to plug into the community. My recommendations to start with are on Face-to-Facebook: Slackgear and DBA Slackliners.
Another factor to consider is clothing.
- Jeans – You know that super comfortable pair that allows ease of movement. The ones that you can’t bear to throw away. The ones that you have had your mom, girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife, friend, aunt or uncle repair repeatedly. Yes, that pair! You probably wearing them now – helps with webbing abrasion.
- Long sleeve shirt or hoodie – also helps with webbing abrasion.
- Gloves – for when you catch the line when falling.
- No shoes – for connectedness.
Photo: Modelling from left to right – Sylvain Burki and Steve Bradshaw
The end of the day was spent at the waterline which was set up at the Alpha Excelsior Farm. Here are some pics of what bruising can occur from highline and waterline.
Photos: From left to right – Paskal Wolski and Julie Victoria
By the end of Sunday, Pascal was unicycling 50m+ and attempting to walk the length of the 45m highline.
Most people had left on Sunday which meant Monday’s session was small. I tried doing the Chongo again with no success. The victory of the day went to Charmaine, Sylvain’s partner, who for the last year and a half has been practicing the various components of highline. Monday saw the first time she stood out of Chongo on a highline. She was so stocked!
All good things must come to an end. Good-byes were said to everyone over the course of the day. I packed up my camp and headed directly for my mountain sanctuary in Cape Town.
It was a great weekend! One I would eagerly revisit. I felt the start of a small movement with great heart. It was like in “the good old days” of the Juggling Conventions. If ever you are able to experience highlining, you must act upon the opportunity. I “HIGHLY” recommend it! But be safe!
My warmest thanks to Sylvain for organising the event and sharing his expertise freely with us. I’m equally thankful to Charmaine for supporting the man on the mission. And every other individual who made my weekend memorable and so out of the box!
Added but never forgotten brotherly unicycling thanks need to go to Brent Boswell and Rob Bulloch for the use of your 20’s. They helped stimulate the potential unicyclist of a small handful of people over the weekend.
Oh… and just so everybody knows. The eventual goal would be to ride a unicycle on a highline. How’s that for dreaming big? Hehehe…
Keeping it Wheelie High!