Andy Lewis | The History of Slack


Another important figure in the history of slacklining, Andy motherfucking Lewis. Andy is known for an astounding amount of feats in the slackline world. He is known as the father of tricklining, one of the few practitioners of BASElining and free solo, the inventor of spacenets, the first to land a feet to feet backflip on slackline, the first to rig and walk the first 50m, 60m, and 100m long highlines in the history of the sport, and one of the founding organizers of the GGBY (Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah) and THC (The Humboldt Classic) festivals in the United States. Andy, like Dean, helped spread our faith around the world with the media attention he gave to slacklining; most notably, when performing tricklining in the 2012 Superbowl Halftime Show, front and middle stage, live, with Madonna, and 120 million people watching. Furthermore, he is widely credited for the creation of the term “Slacklife” and for religiously following the lifestyle it entails. In fact, it is his influence and use of this term that inspired Kimberly Weglin to formalize the Church under the eyes of the law and officially name our religion, “The Slacklife.” To this day Andy Lewis is the only slackliner in the world to have held the titles of freesolo world record, highline world record, and overall tricklining world champion--a feat that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Perhaps, his most proud accomplishment is the day he free soloed a line, naked, with the leash attached to his balls. Epic.

And this isn’t even everything he’s done. Andy, himself, was gracious enough to write out some of the details of his long journey through the Slacklife for all of you to read:

“I was born October 7, 1986 in California. I was raised by two amazing parents, Roger and Lynn Lewis, who have been together for nearly 30 years and helped me embrace freedom of thought as well as the wonder of the outdoors from a very young age. My father will tell you stories of hiking “Andrew” (or “Drew”) around in a backpack through the redwood trees before I could even open my eyes. “I could see that he loved the smell of the trees and smiled when the sun hit his face,” says Roger Lewis.

I grew up as an athlete: a Boy Scout, a student, an artist, and always loved trying new things. I was never afraid to be in front of the class or volunteer to go on stage at rallies, and I loved to just participate in all activities. I took to many arts like drawing, painting, photography, woodworking, and ceramics. I also took to many school sports like Track and Field, Soccer, Basketball, Baseball, and many extra-curricular sports like mountain biking, surfing, rollerblading, skateboarding, unicycling, and eventually found my way into rock climbing.

Rock climbing gave me an even bigger purpose to be outdoors and explore new areas. The more that I ventured into rock climbing, the more I began to embrace and expand my ideas of what I could climb and access. I had always climbed trees as a kid and would always be found on the roofs of the school. Kids would cheer as I threw balls, frisbees, playing cards, and other miscellaneous toys that were lost to the roof.

Climbing on school roofs and trees soon turned into scaling boulders. Boulders soon turned to cliffs, towers, buildings, and eventually huge walls of seemingly endless stone. Rock Climbing even became the theme of my first ever long road trip. With two of my best friends I embarked upon on a journey of freedom in lieu of my high school graduation in 2004, all based upon finding awesome places to climb. It was on this road trip that I stumbled upon “Slackline.” It was also the first time I had really been exposed to the “Slacklife,” even though that name or title didn't exist yet.

I first was exposed to Slacklines in Yosemite National Park. My friends and I passed by the loose lines in Yosemite on the way to climb boulders in the Valley, and we didn't even know what they were. We ended up never even trying the lines before leaving.

Shortly after the road trip, my good friend George Upton invited me and our mutual friend, David Gumbiner, out to teach us how to rig a basic slackline (which George’s brother, Charles Upton, had taught George how to set up). Slacklines were still very rudimentary then, being rigged with just a piece of webbing and some carabiners. George, David, and I all set up the line, got it just tight enough to walk, and really experienced Slackline for the first time together.

I got on the line and immediately had to try over and over again until I could walk across. It took me almost half an hour to get across the nearly 30’ foot loose orange nylon line, and that was it; I was hooked. The very next day I bought my own materials to rig a slackline: 65’ of orange tubular nylon, and a single aluminum non-locking carabiner.

Day after day I couldn’t and didn’t stop slacklining. Slacklining provided a purpose for me that involved an all encompassing set of skills to accomplish. The search for locations, the adventure of accessing beautiful locations, an artistic outlet for visual and physical movement...and the skills even gave me the ability to “fly.” Well, it was more like floating, but it was more air, and more exposure than I was ever used to.

Most importantly there was-- all of a sudden-- more of a reason than ever to climb, rig, balance, focus, breathe, and eventually jump off the most beautiful points you can both find and access. To me, Slacklining wasn’t a sport, it was a lifestyle. And I eventually deemed it that by naming it Slacklife. “One part Slack, one part Life,” I would joke.

Technically, this statement originated from my mother, Lynn Lewis. I slacklined everyday for a long time and my Mom took pride in calling me a Slacker. "Andy, where are you going?" She'd ask lovingly. "I'm going slacklining MOM!" I would reply vaguely, running out of the front door on my way to my next adventure. "Oh, the life of a slacker." I'd hear her reply chuckling as I closed the door behind me. We had this exchange multiple times a week, for years. I eventually embraced it and it transitioned into what I deemed as "the Slacklife." This was because whenever I wasn’t in school, or working, I would be Slacklining-- and pushing everyone else around me to try to do the same! It became a goal for me to show everyone I could what Slacklining was and furthermore-- convince everyone that they, too, could learn to Slackline. The Slacklife was a system based upon using the metaphors built from learning to walk a slackline to improve, advance, and motivate my life-- on and off the line.

Slacklife became a religion for me because it encompassed everything. It was synonymous with freedom; physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally-- and I embraced it fully. After starting slacklining in 2004, I began to train more and more, but I didn’t really consider it training. I considered it playing. I started to be able to play on the line, creating poses and movements, and began to say “anything you can do on the ground, you can do on the line.”

In 2005, I landed the first ever backflip on a slackline, feet to feet, less than 2 years after learning to walk...and I had learned it completely on the Slackline. No trampoline training. No gymnastics teacher. It manifested simply from playing on Slacklines. A year later, in 2006, I landed a squirrel backflip on the line. A squirrel backflip is a backflip but you grab your feet behind your head as you flip. I landed it perfectly and it gained incredible recognition. It got me much, much, more publicity than the other backflip because it was really clean and beautiful. I was all of a sudden known in the slackline and climbing communities. It was even purchased by NIKE to use in their 2008 world wide commercial show everyday during the Olympics.

I embraced Slackline as the medium for which I could learn and train. It became my mantra. “Anything you can do on the ground, you can do on the line.” This outlook helped me create a massive amount of the foundational movements on the Slackline. Not only was I creating the movements, but my creativity allowed me to name each movement too. I would give unique names to each of these poses, jumps, spins, grabs, flips, and “combos.” Maybe, most importantly, I began to post them online and share them with the world. I slowly became known as “Mr.Slackline,” and started to gain worldwide recognition for the creativity and sustenance I was giving to what would soon become a sport.

I was creating so much that it gave me an edge throughout every Slackline Contest from 2008-2011; winning ALL 4 overall world championships back, to back, to back, to back. My dedication to the sport went far enough that I even started titling the movements I was creating as a new style of Slackline; which I deemed as “Trickline.” I released a slackline set up with Gibbon Slacklines in 2013, becoming the first set up in the world to ever be sold as a “Trickline.” The way I saw it, competitive slacklining wasn’t slacklining; it was completely unique and needed to be embraced; embraced as “Tricklining.” “Not all Slackliners are Trickliners, and most Trickliners… usually aren't very good slackliners,” I would joke.

During my training and competitive circuits mastering Trickline, from 2008-2011, I also managed to rig and walk the first 50m, 60m, and 100m long highlines in the history of the sport. I also ended up snagging the world record free solo highline walk in 2010, and then shattered my own record in 2011-- breaking the world record by 60 feet. In 2011 alone, I walked 101 Highlines, 64 of them-- completely without protection; including the world record.

Day after day I woke up and my first thought was "I wonder if today is the day I'll die?" I was not having a continuous philosophical existential crisis, I was in training to break a world record. I wanted to become the "Best Slackliner in the World," and alongside of pushing acrobatics, technical body movement, rigging, and highlining-- I had become obsessed with the "Freesolo Record" set by Dean Potter; who at the time was unanimously considered the boldest adventure athlete on the planet. Without the use of a harness or leash, without the use of a parachute or any safety device, I wanted to successfully walk the longest highline in the world; I had to if I wanted to be considered the best. I would sacrifice my life willingly if I failed myself in doing so. I wanted to be the best, I needed to be, and I had to prove it, but not to anyone else--just to myself.

Do not mistake this as a death wish, for I only dreamt of using the consequence of death to reveal to myself the true motivation I had for life. Sacrificing my life for the progression of Slackline would only be honored if my mind and body faltered during my journey. For this reason I disallowed the assumption of failure, for nothing halts motivation more effectively. Assuming success distinctly empowered me-- it inspired and drove my training. Training I needed to combat death from failure. The only way to push myself to a new level was by repeatedly executing my actions PERFECTLY, even in the face of horrific injury or death.

What I didn't expect was how much resistance I would be met with from EVERYONE-- the city, police, firemen, landowners, etc (obviously) and less obviously resistance from my community, friends and family. "Selfish" was the sentiment of most, and love was always the basis for concern. It was the strangest dichotomy to have a dream that drove your every waking moment and gave you the power that made you... you, yet literally everyone in your life simply WOULD NOT support you. More concerning, they honestly believed that people SHOULD NOT support it. What ended up happening was that everyone slowly realized the most important thing was that they COULD NOT stop me. The Slacklife helped me analytically break down every goal in my life as if it were as simple and straightforward as a slackline. And let me tell you, I did not just one day say " know, I'm going to break the freesolo world record." This was a long long process of dreaming and completing goals. In 2006, my first real goal in highline was sending a single highline. My sights were set on walking the Lost Arrow Spire Highline; the first and most iconic highline ever rigged. Scott Balcom had established the line before I was born, and the line was instantly a right of passage for all slackliners.

Funny enough, I remember in 2007, my Mom asking me one very serious question before I left to Yosemite Valley to attempt to send the prestigious gap. My mother pulled me out of the car, hugged me with all her might, pulled back, held me with her strong, confident, comfortable hands, looked me right in the eyes and said, "Boo, don't do this...?", with an obvious weakness in her voice. In which I responded " Mom, I have to do this. I won’t be able to stop thinking about it until I finish this." She was visibly upset, but responded, "Well, just promise me you will stay safe." Having never done anything like this, and not really knowing the dangers or risks, I boldface lied to my mother and said, "Don't worry mom, I will be safe," and I drove off with tears in her eyes. However, for some reason I could simultaneously feel her encouragement and support; because I was doing what I loved. A mantra my mother would repeat to me daily for my entire childhood, "do what you love."

I took my dream of walking Lost Arrow and when I sent that line. MY stoke for slackline exploded into 100 new dreams. I was boosted with confidence from walking the Spire and I wanted to set the highline record for longest highline walk, I wanted to "be the best Trickliner in the world," I thought-- even though the word trickline I still had to make up, into a dream of Free soloing Lost arrow, and when I stepped onto the summit after walking across the Lost Arrow Spire Highline free solo in 2009, my sights were taking aim at the Free solo record. I had spent so much focus on Lost Arrow that I got my walks down to 31 steps there and 27 on the way back. I broke down the line literally step by step. That's when it hit me, all I had left to do to complete any task was use my Slacklife Philosophy to complete my dream by laying out how I would accomplish it (literally) step by step-- extrapolated over a timeline.

Just like a slackline, I identified my goal of the free solo record as the end of the line, but I had to learn to embrace every step across the line to reach my goal. But, the record was simultaneously (a.) the sign of the confidence to able to walk any highline unleashed, as well as (b.) an exit plan to certifiably have a goal that when I reach it, I would maybe be able to stop taking the risk of the consequence of death, to push my goals. However, I felt that the fire in my heart would never subside-- even with an exit plan. The most dark, daunting, whispers in the back of my mind was always, "You need an exit plan, otherwise, you will eventually draw an "X" out of the deck." So outside of everything, breaking the record was my way of hopefully tricking myself to quit. For there was one thing that I knew for sure. I would either break the record, or I was going to die trying.

When I started to break down how I would attempt the record I came to the conclusion that there are 52 weeks in a year and in 2009, I wanted to walk 1 highline a week to maximize my currency in balance and rigging, and forfeit as much of my time into the pragmatic exploration of every detail of Highlining. Finding a line, discovering anchors, rigging uniquely, and sending the line in control, every step. This goal of 52 highlines a year became 100 lines in a year 2010, and then 100 lines AND 1 a week FREE SOLO by 2011; I ended 2011 with 64 free solos.

I figured that a total of 52 Free solos in a calendar year would keep my mind current enough for long enough, to be able to have a chance at the record. All of these High lines were supposed to be different and (hopefully) newly established Highlines. It seemed to me like all of a sudden I was free soloing a highline at least once a week, just to stay current. All so that I could continue my intimate relationship with the fear of death, consistently, all year round. Otherwise, I felt as if I would surely fail, paying the ultimate price of death.

Andy Lewis Journal Entry (unedited) - 11/18/2011

“Trusting myself was the challenge. Continuously fighting my thoughts. Questioning my intuition. “Dying would be so easy,” I thought. Slip once off of any part of the line; and that’s it. D.e.a.d. dead. I found myself sitting on the highline free solo; hovering hundreds of feet high. I backed off the line without even standing up. Beautiful. Endless. Magnificent. My confidence was shrunken by the massive red desert cliffs that fell away into the exposure. Enthralled; hypnotized by the idea of the solo walk. But, this was not just any free solo. This was THE free solo. 180ft long, 200 ft high. If I were to walk this line free solo, it would be longest in slackline history. No cavalleties. No net. No safety leash. Just me, my slackline, and the emptiness.

“All year,” I thought, as I paced around our base camp. I have been soloing all year. Up until this moment I had wanted to walk 52 different highlines free solo; 1 for every week of the year. A couple days before I rigged this line, I finished my 52 solos, more than a month early! I had no need to solo this line. I had already achieved my goal. I had not been thinking about walking this line specifically. Nor, would I have ever dreamed that I could walk it solo. But then it hit me. I had been walking all these lines-- just for this moment. This wasn’t time to think about goals, or numbers, or what my body would sound like when it hit the sandstone hundreds of feet below the line… It was time to be me. It was time to do what I do best. It was time to show myself what I had trained all year to accomplish. Even though I didn’t know I was going to… I had to walk this line free solo.

After 7 hours I scooted out just past the edge like the many times I had done before, but this time I stood up. I gained control and took step after step. My eyes locked on the anchor across the canyon. I was nearly halfway out on the line when it happened. I mis-stepped… I instantly lost control and all my worst fears came true as I fell. Being in mid air felt like slow motion. I was forced to catch myself! I screamed at the top of my lungs!~ not out of anger or frustration, but pure exhilaration. I had a smile from cheek to cheek and i couldn't believe where i was!~ Dangling, literally by a thread, in the middle of space. Bouncing in the exposure I felt so trapped and so free at the same time. I was alive, but couldn’t stand up again; there wasn’t enough control. I was 100ft from either cliff edge… with no rope. It took me a few minutes.. but, I scooted back safely.

I felt so relieved to be back on the cliff, but I was ready to try again. I felt so solid, the rig was perfect, and I just new I could walk it. I wasn't scared this time, but I also wasn't as focused. I started out stronger and faster than the last time, but O got about 15 steps out and I fell and caught again! I came back to the ledge noticeably peeking on adrenaline. I could feel my whole body pulsing with power. I kept pacing and my mind was racing. Everyone around me could see my eyes were glazed over with something powerful.

I was questioning whether or not I wanted to walk this line, but I couldn't stop thinking about the edge, the mount, the line, the tension, the focus, being in the exposure, being free, being perfect, being attentive, being alive.... I had to try again. I was being pulled by an outside force. I was going to send this line, i just knew it.

I scooted out about 3 ft and stood up on the line again. I forced myself to focus, take my time, and started walking. Then something started happening, something really strange.

My vision started to change and go crazy, and i couldn't do anything about it. I was literally losing control of my vision but at the same time I was accessing some other higher mental state. I couldn't focus on the end of the line like usual. I was having a hard time breathing smoothly, and everything started blurring out... slowly being banished from my focus.. everything except for the brilliant white of the highline beneath my feet vanished. The exposure, the background of the hills, even the sky was absorbed into this uncontrollable blur. i felt as if I was not fully able to be control my own actions. I was being subconsciously controlled by my own brain. Like my heart and my lungs working without thinking, I felt as if I was being walked across this line by my subconscious. By the time i reached the end of the line i was so far gone into this mental state that i couldn't get back to normal for hours. I couldn't eat, or stop smiling. I felt like I could run miles, or climb everest. I wanted to scream across the valley. I have never felt so alive, so in tuned, so mentally and physically affected by only 2 minutes on the line. Even later that night I couldn’t sleep.

“Something powerful walked me across that line,” I thought laying in bed that night. I didn't know what it was, or how it worked… but I had never felt so potently in touch with myself. I kissed the back of my girlfriend's neck, closed my eyes, and tried to settle my mind to sleep.”

Re-reading this reflection of my world record solo was a bit intense as the emotions I put into writing spilled back into my soul. Every word and every feeling is so memorable and so familiar. I remember it as if it were the day it happened and I love the fact that I took the time to put my experience into words, not knowing how meaningful the reflection of it would be later in my life.

I find it interesting to break down this literary experience I created as it is littered with emotion as well as valuable insight to the previous chapter. I gave examples of qualitative analysis: “ Continuously fighting my thoughts,” and “Dying would be so easy.” I also gave examples of quantitative analysis: “Up until this moment I had wanted to walk 52 different highlines free solo; 1 for every week of the year. A couple days before I rigged this line, I finished my 52 solos, more than a month early!” I was literally balanced in my thoughts both qualitatively and quantitatively. I had obviously analyzed the risk I was taking, thoroughly, and it is VERY apparent that I was FULLY-- maybe DREADFULLY-- aware of the worse case scenario-- the ultimate consequence of a quick and probably painless death upon failure.

This is where I would like to make a point that my action to get on this line however rational I may have made it seem to my brain, was still completely irrational. To the public, to my friends, to my family, and even to the people at the highline with me at the time... there really was no apparent reason for me to risk walking this line without protection. They supported the idea simply because… they really had no choice but to try to help me have the confidence to SUCCEED. There was no point in supporting my failure because no one wanted to see me die.

The only real reason that I could come up with of why I got on the line that day was that I knew that I could. I knew that I had practiced. I knew that I had been waiting patiently for my time to come. I knew that this would complete my goal. I knew I was ready and if there was anytime to get on this highline and attempt to walk it free solo…. The time was NOW. “It was time to be me. It was time to do what I do best. It was time to show myself what I had trained all year to accomplish. “

Now I hadn’t labeled it yet, but this entry is maybe my oldest documented use of definition positive thinking. For all intents and purposes, yes, I am saying, even IRRATIONALLY, one benefits from disallowing the assumption of failure. Positive thinking, and confidence of success is the first step to inspire, promote, and drive forward progression. I can, I will, I want!

Never forget that this is a non-stop mental battle. Energy can be destroyed by letting yourself get caught in the merry-go-round of fearful, negative thinking. Sometimes it happens almost instantaneously. If you need progression, you will have to TRY YOUR HARDEST. You must focus your energy. You will also need to know when that moment comes, and you are afraid, you will have a choice on how to act. Choose a positive reaction. If you have the time, take the time to balance and analyze your risk vs consequence, but when it comes down to it…. You must embrace the moment with the power of positive thinking! For you will never succeed at ANYTHING, if you don't try; and when you assume failure… you will never even take a first step.

To this day, I am the only Slackliner in the world to have achieved the the Free solo World Record(2010 - 132ft / 2011 - 180’) , The Highline World Record (2010 - 100m highline), and been Overall Trickline World Champion (in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011).

During my quest for the records, I caught the eye of major filmmakers who captured, edited, and promoted a video called “ Sketchy Andy,” and my story was presented as a main feature movie in REEL ROCK 2011/12 (possibly the largest Outdoor Adventure Film Tour in the World.) It was a heartwarming movie dedicated to the Slacklife that won awards worldwide, toured through more than 20 countries, and was shown more than 350 times in that tour. It gained so much popular attention that it won me the coveted cover shot of the European Outdoor Film Tour Poster. That cover shot was given to only the most legendary adventurers of all time--including Dean Potter, my hero--and it was a huge honor for me. I was completely shocked by the endless flow of positive attention... and then the phone rang.

I was invited to be on the Super Bowl HalfTime Show! I ended up solidifying a gig with Madonna, doing a duet, center stage, LIVE, in front of nearly 120 million people. I couldn't believe it, but I knew that it was something I would love to do. I worked for 2 months rehearsing and designing my duet with Madonna and my dream of introducing the slackline to as many people as possible It was attention I could not imagine….120 million people got to be exposed to Slacklining, INSTANTLY. I was ecstatic.

My performance threw me into the spotlight and gave me the ability to chase my dreams like I had never imagined possible before. My Slacklines turned into Guinness Book World Records, TV recordings, Hot Air Balloons connected with Slacklines, LIVE shows in VEGAS, more contests, and more time to slack. I was literally blasted to a new level of sporting attention, giving me an unbelievable reach to a massive international community.

I started to plan bigger things. I wanted to bring the community together. I wanted to be able to share the experience, not by speaking, but by action. Since my college career at Humboldt State, where I graduated valedictorian of his class, I had been developing “tree nets.” The jumbled platforms of tangled cords, knots, and ropes became more organized unique pieces of art. And then I had an idea that changed the sport yet again: Space nets.

I helped create a massive highline festival in the Moab desert with friend and adventurer photographer Scott Rogers and Terry Acomb (Father of the Fruit Bowl Highline Area in Moab, Utah.) By the time I had come up with the Space Net idea, the festival was in its 5th year. However, when the space net was first rigged for the eyes and hearts of the entire community, it gave something that everyone needed: a universal connection. Part of the genius of the net was that without the help of MANY other people, it just wasn't possible.

The connection of the community was actually a prerequisite to share the experience of the Space Net to the community. Needless to say, the Space Net brought the community together on a platform (pun intended) of shared experience. Shared workload, shared responsibility, and provided a beautiful SHARED EXPERIENCE. An experience that will be shared yearly, indefinitely; surrounded by… you guessed it-- Slacklife.

The connection between the different groups of sports athletes was something profound. Climbers, Highliners, and BASE jumpers were ALL hanging out together. A first in the long history of Moab. But the real connection I was looking to help inspire was between the Adventure Athletes and “Normal people.” I wanted to be able to give someone with limited exposure to these sports a safe and unique gift to the insight of why adventurers live the way they do. Funny enough, it worked.

The Pentagon Space net, without use of words or convoluted explanations, showed people WHY I did what I did, and why there were full on communities of people who did what they did. It was a visceral, palpable, relatable, safe, repeatable way to SHARE the EXPERIENCE that moved me so much in me life. Jokingly, I would say, “Really, I got tired of trying to explain why I loved these sports, and the net gave me the ability to say, ‘Why do I do this? Well, go take a look for yourself!’”

Today, I continue to teach slacklining, train slacklining, pushing myself to learn, grow, build, and solidify the community around me. I have dealt with mitigating risks of the most dangerous sports in the world to help thousands of people safely enjoy and share the experience I have had. I have continued explain and share my exploration of studying, analyzing, testing, and creating all aspects of Slackline-- pushing the concept of Slacklife. To this day, I still believe anyone can Slackline and that it will improve everyone's life dramatically.”


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