Kimberly Weglin spends her weekends balancing on a 1-inch-thick wobbling rope, hundreds of feet above the ground. But she is not an adrenaline junkie.
“If you have adrenaline, you’re doing it wrong,” she said. “You can hear everything around you – people’s conversations, the birds. If you think about anything else, you’ll fall off.”
Highlining – a type of slacklining that is practiced hundreds to thousands of feet above ground instead of just a few feet – “feels like meditation,” Weglin said.
Weglin, 23, started slacklining in 2014, a few years after it took off. Sports enthusiasts and retailers estimate there are now thousands of slackliners across the nation.
Jerry Miszewski, the owner of Maryland-based Balance Community, which sells slacklining equipment and organizes community events, said the roughly 30-year-old sport grew in popularity after several events, such as a slacklining performance during the 2012 Superbowl’s halftime show. Later that year, Madonna featured the sport in a performance during her world tour, he said.
You get to see so many beautiful places from a perspective that almost no one in the world will get to experience. (Few people) in history have walked in the spaces we walk in.
Kimberly Weglin, on the benefits of highlining
“When I started slacklining, I could name all the people in the world that were walking on highlines regularly,” Miszewski said. “Now, I can name maybe 1 percent.”
For Weglin, the sport became a lifestyle philosophy, prompting her to decline an offer from the UC Davis School of Law in 2015 and embrace a simpler life.
“I was doing it for the wrong reasons,” she said of her initial decision to pursue law school. “I really took a good look at my life and realized it’s not what’s going to make me happy.”
Weglin and her boyfriend Ryan Jenks, 32, who she met highlining, live a “minimalist” life in their Lodi home – no debt, no pets and few responsibilities, Jenks said.
The couple traveled to Lublin, Poland, last week for the Urban Highline Festival. There, they plan to meet European highliners with whom they’ve interacted on a slacklining Facebook group.
“We intentionally live our life to be simple at home, so we can go out and live with adventure,” Jenks said, “Some people say highlining is a sport, but it’s mostly a lifestyle.”
Weglin, Jenks and their highlining friends spend entire days in the mountains. After hiking to the perfect location, the crew spends hours rigging and walking their lines, and lounging on nets suspended well above the ground.
“It feels like we’re never done packing.” Weglin said. “We get home from a trip to unpack and a day later we’re packing again for another trip.”
Last month, Weglin walked her favorite line to date across Yosemite National Park’s Vernal Fall, 420 feet above the ground.
Weglin said she could feel the mist from the rushing waterfall only 30 feet away. Her moment would be interrupted by the U.S. Secret Service. President Barack Obama was visiting the national park and Weglin was asked to clear the area for the president’s hike.
Still, it exemplifies her progress from the days when highlining prompted panic attacks that she said would last hours. Her friends encouraged her to keep trying as she sat hyperventilating on the sidelines.
“I have seen a huge difference in myself in the few years I’ve been doing this,” said Weglin, who estimates that she progressed from slacklining to highlining in about six months. “You learn about yourself on the highline, how your body works. I feel my body and mind have become more in sync.”
When Jenks started slacklining about six years ago, the community was still so small that he had no guidance about how to practice it, he said.
But an increasing communication among slackliners in the area allows people to learn more quickly and safely, Weglin said. Highliners take multiple safety precautions, rigging a backup web in case the main line breaks. The lines can sustain 15,000 pounds of weight, Weglin said.
Highliners seek amazing views and peacefulness, said Weglin, who likened it to forced meditation.
“The appeal for me is location,” Weglin said. “You get to see so many beautiful places from a perspective that almost no one in the world will get to experience. (Few people) in history have walked in the spaces we walk in.”
Pictures on Weglin’s Instagram show her balancing in front of backdrops of deep blue seas, and hanging from aerial silks near rocky slopes.
“When you’re out there, it’s just you,” she said. “You don’t have a support system to rely on. It’s up to you if you want to take the next step.”
Alejandra Reyes-Velarde: 916-321-1005