Being a pioneer has always been the most difficult thing to do. Take the examples of so many people around the world who took the first step in a particular field – Savitribai Phule, Dadasaheb Phalke, Wright brothers, Alan Turing, etc. all of them had to face opposition from society, culture, the law and a restricted mentality of the so called sane people living around us. But there is one thing common in all these people, and that is – they did not give up. Similar is the story of Samar Farooqui, India’s first fulltime slackliner and trainer, who is on a mission to accomplish a feat never attempted in India by any Indian. From 2010 when he was first introduced to the sport, till date when he is one of the best slackliners and high-liners of India, his journey has been nothing short of breath-taking. Let’s hear it from him –
Back in 2010, while I was in New Zealand working for an adventure tourism company, I saw some guys on a beach trying to balance themselves on a rope tied to two trees. The sheer simplicity of that sport attracted me to try it out and I was astonished when I could not even sustain for mere five seconds on the rope. But those five seconds were enough to give me my calling!
The next thing I did was try again, and again, and again. And today, after over eight years I have achieved a small milestone I would say in this sport which is still trying to grow roots in India. It has quickly turned a profession from my passion and I am enjoying every bit of it taking one step at a time – bettering myself at it slightly more each time.
Let me first introduce you to this sport as a lot of people in India yet do not know about this it. It is an extreme adventure sport where people try to walk on a strip of webbing made out of Nylon and polyester fixed above the ground. It is often mixed with tight rope walking but the major difference between the two is it’s not actually a rope (it’s a one-inch-wide strip) not stretched enough to make it taut. The strip is slack as the name suggests and the elasticity and the slackness varies with the height of the supports, length of the rope and the expertise of the walker. Your core muscles are at work and you need a lot of concentration to get from one point to the other, on a not-so-stable line.
When I first tried it, it was super addictive! I just couldn’t stop myself from doing it over and over again. The passion had grown so much that I used to tie ropes anywhere I got a chance and practice it. On one such occasion, it had gone so far that I had got arrested for slacklining by the Mumbai Police. It is so ironical that we are constantly urged to be different and think out of the box, and when we try to do so, there are so many external forces trying to stop us. For them, it was a crime. But for me, it is something which keeps me sane in this insane world.
This is something that I love and would want to keep doing my entire life. And if I am branded as a misfit for doing it, so be it. I was anyway a rebel all along my childhood. I was a kid with immense energy, I used to run around the society climbing trees and walls. Today I have found a path to channelize my energy and hence, to help other such misfits and rebels, I founded Slacklife Inc. in 2014. It is an organisation that strives to promote the sport and spread awareness in the public attempting to clear all the wrong notions people have in their minds.
We often see these days, kids take to alcohol and drugs at a very young age. The main reason behind this is that today’s generation has lost focus. They do not know where to direct their mind and energy and hence fall prey to the easy trap. I was fortunate enough to get acquainted to this sport at the right time and I want that to happen with many others. We at Slacklife try our bit to give that focus and aim to youngsters so that they can gain this positive energy and probably, in future, use it for the growth of the country.
I am often pestered with questions like “Don’t you think it is dangerous?” or “Don’t you feel fear?”
I would be lying if I said I do not feel afraid. Of course I do! I am afraid whether the line is anchored properly, whether it will take my weight till the end, will I be able to complete it without injuries, will the wind blow me off, and so many more questions. But the real delight is when you go past that fear and reach a place where you feel something that you have never felt before!
Of course there are risks involved, else why would it be categorised as an extreme adventure? But it isn’t as dangerous as people tend to believe. With the proper knowledge and expertise, it can be as safe as crossing the road. You need to practise and slowly build strength. Also, slacklining is great for recovery from injuries, as you become aware of your muscles and their weaknesses. That helps you on working on them slowly but steadily.
Today, we might not be even close to international skill levels but I am happy that we are trying. On some Sunday mornings, I see kids as young as six or seven practicing in parks. And these are the ones who will someday put India on the Slacklining map of the world. Or who knows, we might even be the best in the world! The youth of India has immense potential and can bring in a revolution if guided in the right direction.
Speaking to Samar was a total bliss. The guy is filled with positivity and has the ability to inspire you within seconds! Recently, Samar is also being indulged in a similar sport called High-lining. It is a more extreme form of slacklining, in which case the line or the tape is anchored at a much higher elevation above ground. This could be two opposite cliffs or high multi-storeyed skyscrapers facing each other. A safety harness or belt is used to attach the walker to the slackline for safety reasons. Samar has been a resident of Mumbai and is active in a lot of Slacklining groups from Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, etc. Three years ago he started the ‘Between Years Slack Festival’—which takes place at the year-end in Lonavala, Maharashtra.
This is another attempt to attract youngsters to a healthier lifestyle rather than being drunken and doped all night on the New Year’s Eve. There were about 70 participants the first year which, Samar says, was not a bad number and it rapidly grew to 130 the following year. Also, during these festivals celebrities such as Kalki Koechlin and Murali Vijay have tried their hand at slacklining.
Samar has also presented his skills on India’s Got Talent TV show twice and has taken sessions with international slackliners like Andy Lewis and Sam Volery. He has been invited to a number of International festivals and has also trained Syrian refugee kids in the sport.
The next level, Samar pointed out, is Baselining (a combination of slacklining and base-jumping) which he aims to attempt in coming October. This is something no Indian has attempted and includes jumping of the line while in the middle of two cliffs without a harness and with a parachute instead. Samar is very confident he can accomplish this feat and needs our help in doing so. He has started a crowdfunding campaign to sponsor this project and you can check it out here – https://www.fueladream.com/home/campaign/9893
As a famous saying goes – Never was anything great achieved without danger! Success belongs to those who are willing to take that plunge and emerge on the other side of fear.