Like most rock climbers in Central Oregon, Jason Fautz was drawn to Smith Rock State Park. But scaling those sheer volcanic cliffs was not what drew his attention.
Having moved to the area two years ago from Washington, Fautz was "in a transition in my life;" he naturally sought out what was familiar to him—rock climbing. But it was the few people who were "highlining" at the popular extreme sport destination that caught his eye.
"When I first got here, there were maybe one or two highliners out there," said Fautz. "Now we have people from all over Europe, the United States, and Canada coming to Smith Rock making it a mecca for highliners."
Highlining is part of the sport known as slacklining, simply defined by Fautz as "walking a piece of webbing between two points." In its simplest form, slacklining requires a length of webbing and equipment for attaching each end to an anchor point, such as a suitable tree.
Three months after arriving in Bend, Fautz started his company, Slackline Technology, to address what he felt were deficiencies in the gear used by those in the sport.
"I saw a need and an opportunity so, with my background in manufacturing, I went to work," he said. "As a long time climber, I wondered why the sport had to be so complicated."
Fautz has created his first two products, a web anchor and a specialized rigging plate for attaching pulley systems. Along with manufacturing his own gear, Fautz took on other lines of equipment including pulleys, ropes, and webbing to complete his portfolio.
Fautz explained that there are a number of sub-sports within slacklining including highlining, which involves traversing a web at high altitudes above land or water; tricklining, performing tricks on a higher tension line; longlining, installing webs in excess of 100 feet; and yogalining, performing traditional poses while on a short line.
"One of the attractions of slacklining is that it is such a new activity that we haven't yet figured out everything that is possible," said Fautz. "There are a ton of things that can be done."
The sport is not isolated to Smith Rock, but can be seen around Bend, where "slackers" attach their webbing among the trees in Drake and Juniper Parks. The sport is allowed by Bend Parks and Recreation as long as a special set of rules are followed, meant to protect the trees and the public from harm; namely, the park requires all anchor points must be to juniper or ponderosa trees that are at least 18 inches in diameter and suitably protected at the anchor points to avoid damage. Nylon webbing is required and climbing trees in order to attach anchors is prohibited. Lines are limited to no higher than 30 inches from the ground and 80 feet in length and must be monitored and properly marked to avoid pedestrians or bicyclists from being injured by the lines.
For those interested in trying the sport, Fautz's advice is simple—just try it.
"You just have to try, try, and try again," he said. "At first, everyone is out of balance and legs are shaking."
According to Fautz, the benefits of slacklining include balance, stability, and rehabilitation for ankles and knees. The activity can also be made part of a CrossFit training program for improving core strength and mental focus. To ensure that he is a continuing part of the movement, Fautz is planning to add an educational component to his services.
"We started out supplying gear and now there is a need for education," said Fautz. "We are working to create videos that address best practices and city policies."
For Fautz, it is all about spreading the word of what "slack life" is all about.
For more information about slacklining,