Photo by Scotty Rogers

Photo by Scotty Rogers

BASE Jumper, rock climber, and forefather of the slackliner phenomenon, Andy Lewis has set world records in the art of competitive tricklining. His masterful hijinks have garnered the attention of celebrities like Madonna, who recruited Lewis for the Super Bowl halftime show in February 2012. Origin caught Lewis on the ground at the January 2013 Outdoor Retailer Expo, and asked him a few questions about what it is that keeps him elevated.


Maranda Pleasant: What is it that you do?

Andy Lewis: I am a slackliner. I guess my title would be “innovator of the sport.” I came along in the sport very early in its existence. I did a lot of tricklining, which is where you do tricks on a line low to the ground. I invented a lot of movements, a lot of tricks. I won the first five world championships around the world. I also started doing long highlines, pretty much before anybody else. In 2008, I set the world record with fifty meters; 2009, sixty meters; 2010, one hundred meters. Since then, it’s been broken by Jerry Miszewski. He’s broken pretty much all of my records, except for the free solo record—which is to walk a line without a safety harness, where if you fall, you die. I set that record last year at 180 feet.

MP: What are some of the craziest places that you’ve slacklined?

AL: The thing about slacklining is, it’s really just connecting two points to make a line. And those two points can be anything. It’s just opening your mind to convincing yourself of the possibilities. So there could be two buildings, there could be two points on a crane that’s eleven hundred feet on a building, two trees, eight hundred foot towers, canyons, cliffs, rocks, over water lines—as long as you can find two points to connect your line, you can put a line anywhere. The craziest places that I’ve done it are really high off the ground, up to 3,000 feet high off the ground.

MP: Where was that?

AL: That was in Yosemite National Park in California. Lost Arrow Spire, Yosemite Falls, Taft Point—they are some of the highest points in the world. It makes it really scary.

MP: What is it that drives you?

andylewis_quote-1AL: By a lot of people standards, it’s a very extreme sport. But by our standards, it’s more of a meditation. It’s a whole process. You get used to the process and you learn to love the process. It’s finding a project, preparing mentally for a project, thinking about it, getting the gear ready, getting a team ready. Actually being a part of a team—getting the team to work and succeed and use their skills as one whole composite to actually get a project up. And once you get a project up and walk it and rig it and film it and make videos—I mean, it just goes on and on and on, what you can do with the sport. The reason why never really comes into my mind. It’s kind of just what I do. That’s what’s so cool about it. I don’t really need a reason why. It’s not like I need an excuse to go out there. I just do.

MP: When you’re walking across these canyons—it’s pretty frightening even looking at the pictures—what is going through your mind when you are on that very tiny rope?

AL: There’s a lot of things that go through your mind when you’re walking on a highline like that. Fear is one of them. Nothing about your groceries. It’s very present. It brings you very into the moment. And being in the moment is really cool, it’s interesting. It’s interesting how it affects your emotions. It shows you what’s important in life, who you care about. Especially when you take a leash off. When you really have to—you’re walking over canyons, and that panic attack? It straightens out your brain. It helps you realize what really is important to you, who you really care about, what you really want to do with your life. If you died that day, what would you regret not having done? That’s kind of what it brings to light: what do I want to do with the rest of my life? And that’s, I guess, what I think about. Focusing in the moment, focusing on where I want to go, but also focusing on where I am right now.

MP: Athletes are the new Buddhas. What is that feeling, when you’re crossing something, especially without a leash, and you make it? What does it feel like in your body at that moment?

AL: When you’re on the other side, it’s happiness. Because you faced death and you conquered it. You used your skills to help yourself live. It was a challenge to yourself to say, hey—I will do this, or I will die trying. When you get to the other side, you really embrace this feeling of utter happiness. It’s just so good. It’s something you can’t really define. It’s very spiritual. It’s something that—you do it for no reason and it feels good for reasons that you can’t explain.

Photo by Scotty Rogers

MP: Do you think that this is worth dying for?

AL: Absolutely not. It is definitely not worth dying for. Especially with me, because I’ve been part of creating the sport, I’ve been kind of a forefather of the sport. As that, I’m an ambassador to the sport. If I died, everything that I’ve said, everything that I’ve done, everything that I’ve stood for, goes to waste. It’s not important anymore. Because now it’s not about trying to kill myself, it’s about trying to stay alive.

Slacklining, slacklife. Slacklining every day, putting that line between two points. That is everything to me.

andylewis_quote-2It’s hard to explain why I want to free solo, and how, if I died, it would affect me negatively. Why wouldn’t I just tie in, then? It’s because to risk everything that you have in trust of yourself—that is the movement. And if you can’t trust yourself or you make a bad decision, then you haven’t been there in your mind long enough. You haven’t really thought about it through to the end.

Whenever I free solo, I’ve already thought about every step. I’ve thought about how it’s going to feel; I thought about being in the moment; I thought about every breath I’ve taken; thought about my rigging. By the time I’m on the line, free solo, the only thing that matters to me is the moment. This breath. That step. The feet on the line. The webbing in between my toes. All of that is worth the movement. But dying is not worth it. That’s not the death that I want. I don’t want to die like that, and I’m scared of dying like that. I think one of the biggest reasons why is because it would ruin the movement I’ve helped create.

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