Highlining: Balancing, walking and sprinting in the air

Birds flying high, you know how I feel. Many singers sang those lyrics in the evergreen Feeling good. Among them Nina Simone, Sammy Davis jr., Matt Bellamy of Muse and Michael Bublé. But in fact there are not that many people who know how it feels. Surrounded by high flying birds. Highliners such as Benoit Brume, organizer of the Speed Highline World Cup in Ribeauville in France cán tell us a bit more about that feeling.

Photo credit: Benoit Brume

“It is amazing, really”, Brume says. “If you look up, you see birds. And then if you like down, also: birds. It feels like you are walking on air, like you’re walking with the birds. Normally you look at the landscape from the cliff, now you’re looking at the cliff from the landscape.” Highliners are walking on a thin line which is stretched between two cliffs, high above the ground. In the case of the World Cup in the French town of Ribeauville between two beautiful ancient castles, built on those cliffs. In the speed discipline the obvious objective is to go as fast as possible. Two highliners are competing against each other in a duel, with parallel lines of 150 meter webbed next to each other. In the middle of those lines, they race over a distance of 100 meter

Fear of heights

The top athletes can do that in or under 1 minute… Off course the highliners are secured, but on such a height, balancing on a thin line; that requires guts, mental strength and a good balancing technique. “If you can ride a bike, you can highline”, says Brume. “It’s about balancing, but off course there is one thing you need to overcome, the thing that makes this an extreme sport: fear of heights. It is completely unnatural and irrational to be walking in the middle of the air.”

That’s way highlining is a mental game as well. A sport in which you can overcome your fears and where it’s about true grit. Brume: “It’s about the willingness to do it again, and again, and again, because it is an ungrateful sport. It takes a lot of effort with few result. Many people give up after five minutes, but if you pass that and you really want to do it, it can become addictive.”

Golden age

Highlining became a sport about thirty years. Nowadays Brume experiences the popularity of the sport. “We are in the golden age of highlining, like climbing was thirty years ago. The sport is developing itself. In new techniques, in better gear, in more participants. It’s great to see. There are more disciplines and people setting new records. For example: ten years ago the distance of a highliner to walk without falling was 60 meters, my team recently set the world record at 2.7 kilometers, without falling.”

Highlining in Ribeauville (Photo credit: Benoit Brume)

Although considered an extreme sport, highlining doesn’t have high numbers of accidents and injuries. Highlining is not a dangerous sport, says Brume. “Once you are safe and secured on that line, you can’t die when you fall. And in fact: you don’t even break an ankle or knee, because when you fall, you fall on air and clouds.” In the park you sometimes can see people slacklining, a cord stretched between the trees, not that far above the ground. But that could turn out to be more dangerous, because you fall on the ground and you might break something.”

It’s addictive, it’s safe and if a highliner gets in a flow the state of meditation can be reached. That’s why they are feeling good. They know how it feels.