SwatSlackerz brings slack-lining to Swarthmore

Now that it is beautiful post-summer fall on campus, you’re likely to see founder and head of SwatSlackerz Philip Queen ’16, some of his friends, and curious passers-by slack-lining on Parrish Beach any given afternoon.

Slack-lining is a very unconventional sport. For one, you need a slack-line, which is a semi-elastic line that is about 1.5 inches in width. You take this line and tie it between two stable poles, or in Queen’s case, trees. You can vary the tightness of the line. The goal is then to, first, get on the line and second, walk across it. Advanced slackers can turn around on the line and walk the other way, or even do tricks.

Philip Queen started slack-lining in high school. “I used to rock climb in high school, and one day, the gym had a line set-up,” said Queen. “I fell on my face violently, but for some reason I kept trying, and began to really enjoy it.”

Philip’s perseverance was admirable, but he didn’t become seriously interested in slack-lining outside of the context of his rock gym until he watched the movie Man on Wire (Marsh, 2008), a documentary on  tightrope walker Philippe Petit walking across the Twin Towers on a high wire in 1974. “Watching the movie gave me a weird compulsion to walk on something thin between two very high points without any safety,” said Queen. “For me to do such a thing, I would have to know how to slack-line.” He decided to buy a line to use at home.

Queen’s desire to want to be prepared to perform a tightrope-esque feat turned into a very fun, challenging and unique recreational activity for him. He practiced, when the weather permitted, for thirty minutes to an hour after school most days. “I never practiced for the sake of practicing. I just really liked the feeling of walking on the line and enjoyed doing it whenever I had time.”

Queen, over the years, got better and better at slack-lining, and since it was such a big hobby for him, he decided to bring his slack-line to Swarthmore. “I only did it once or twice in the fall semester,” said Queen. “But a lot of my friends wanted to learn to slack-line in the spring semester, so we started slacking very often, which attracted other people who were interested in learning.”

A common day of slack-lining for Philip, and other Swat Slackerz such as Chien He Wong ’16, Jonah Schwartz ’15, and Michael Wheeler ’16, involves them setting up one, two, or even three lines, since others have been inspired to purchase their own slacklines. They’ll do their thing, walking on the lines while friends both watch and participate. They inevitably attract the attention of passers-by, who walk by and ask if they can try. Some people try once and give up, others become very interested and come out and slack whenever Queen and company set up the lines. In any case, the number of student slack-liners is constantly growing.

Due to the large number of people joining Philip in his hobby, he has decided to create SwatSlackerz, a semi-formal campus group. He created the SwatSlackerz Facebook group, where people post videos of slack-liners and other slack related content. But most importantly, as Queen says, he posts when he is going to slack-line so others know when they can expect to slack. It’s been a useful way to coordinate the group, and much more efficient than the mass texts he sent last semester.

Slack-lining is definitely a big mental challenge, perhaps even more than a physical one. This mental aspect to the sport, as well as its uniqueness, definitely attracts Swatties to try it out. “No one thought slack-lining was cool in high school,” said Queen. “I’ve been surprised by how positive the reactions from people have been. Slack-lining is just so different than the sports that we’ve all grown up with, and people take it up as a challenge that broadens their horizons.”

Furthermore, a part of slack-lining that makes it unique is how it applies as a metaphor for life. “It’s about giving up the need to control everything, reacting to factors outside the self, and finding balance in abnormal ways,” said Queen. “In fact, Nietzsche, in ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra,’ uses tightrope walking, a close relative to slack-lining, to illustrate numerous philosophical points.”

So, what is the future of Swat Slackerz? “We’re experimenting with water-lining and high-lining now,” said Queen. “It’s becoming much more common for us to set up the rope across two high points on the train-bridge in the Crum and to tie the line across the Crum river.”

Eventually, the group would like to become a fully SBC-funded group. “As we gain more members, we’d like the school to purchase lines so our lines don’t get so much wear,” said Queen. “Also, we want the school to buy lines so the group can continue on after the current members graduate.”

Queen has continued the activity he loves at Swarthmore, and now he has a group of friends he bonds over his hobby with. His passion for slack-lining has led to new friendships and has introduced a very foreign sport to the Swarthmore community. Queen’s story of slack-lining is proof that physical activities at Swarthmore are not confined to athletic fields or courts.