When the weather gets warm, students on campus engage in many outdoor activities such as Frisbee, jogging, or tossing a baseball around in the academic quad without so much as a glance their way.
But one group of students on campus has been searching for some “slack” from naysayers of their outdoor activity of choice: slacklining.
Slacklining is similar to tight-rope walking, with a flat nylon rope suspended between two anchor points fairly low to the ground. A group of dedicated slackliners can be seen most often in the academic quad between two trees just in front of Recitation Hall. Harmless enough, right?
Not according to public safety.
According to Kurt van Mol, founder of the Slackline Society on campus, almost every evening, public safety officials raise concerns with students who are using slacklines in the quad.
“At 5 o’clock when they start their rounds, they start yelling at us and saying we are irresponsible,” van Mol said.
Van Mol stated that public safety is concerned with two different things: the harming of the environment due to the slacklines being tied to trees, and the potential safety issue of students getting injured while slacklining.
The problem is, neither of these concerns have basis in truth.
Yes, slacklines can damage trees. However van Mol was quick to point out that all slacklines are fixed to trees with a protective surface between the rope and the tree, such as a padded yoga mat or towels, so as to not scrape of the bark and cut into the tree. With the proper measures in place to protect them, it does not hurt any trees one bit.
It is so harmless, in fact, that national parks across the country, such as the famous Yosemite National park, allow slacklining provided that the lines are attached with regards to the health of the tree, such as by attaching pillows, towels, or other forms of pads between the line and tree. Many universities across the country have also accepted the up-and-coming practice of slacklining.
Van Mol and other slackliners take exception to allegations of being irresponsible and damaging to nature. Slacklining is a peaceful activity that people engage in to be closer with nature, not harm it.
“A lot of what slacklining is about is being able to find tranquility, relaxing, forming a community, and making new friends,” van Mol said. “People are claiming we are hurting the environment which is exactly what we are not doing and do not want to do.”
There has also been worry that slacklining can cause injury, but members of the slackline society were quick to point out how safe it really is.
The line is tied just a few feet off the ground, eliminating any risk of injury from a high fall. It is no higher than some people are able to jump on skateboards or bikes. Also, all newcomers are prohibited from walking the line on their own without assistance. A member of the society holds onto beginners to stabilize them and eliminate the risk of falling.
“Kids running around in the quad playing Frisbee or climbing trees are more likely to get hurt,” van Moll said.
But despite the precautions taken by the slackliners, they are still being told to pack it up.
Van Mol’s solution? Make it an official West Chester University club. “We want to have it passed so we can spread the word and have people realize that we are being responsible and respectful to the environment,” van Mol said.
Having the Slackline Society become an official club would do numerous things. If passed, it would allow students to slackline unbothered as long as they met the safety requirements. It would also encourage students who might want to try that slacklining is indeed safe, because it is recognized by the school.
“It’s hard because it’s a sport nobody knows about, it’s a weird activity,” van Mol said. “We want to make it so it is something that has a good reputation on campus, not a bad one. Also, other people are setting up slacklines on campus, and I want to make sure they are being safe and doing things properly.”
The idea has taken off. Van Mol and his fellow slackliners have already begun the long process to being recognized as an official organization. They have bylaws, an OrgSync account, a faculty advisor (John Helion), a recruitment list, a roster, and they have already had an introductory meeting. They also have a president (van Mol), vice president, and treasurer, in addition to 42 “official” members of their currently unofficial group.
But the next step will be the hardest. “Meeting with the grounds crew and public safety,” van Mol said with a wry smile.
They are hoping that their preaching of safety and care of the environment along with the recent support from students and other organizations will help make public safety understand that it is a responsible and tranquil activity.
If approved, the Slackline Society wants to do more than just allowing their favorite activity to remain on campus, they want to do what van Mol mentioned before: building communit
y and making friends.
“I would really like to incorporate freshmen who come by and maybe do not have a place. It’s a really friendly, welcoming, and open society. Anyone can do it, just come on over.”
To find out more about the Slackline Society, “like” WCU Slackline Society on Facebook, visit their Earth Day table on April 22, or email president Kurt van Mol at KV746822@wcupa.edu.
Kenny Ayres is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.