© Scotty Rogers
One of the most well-known slacklining pros on the scene, 33-year-old Heather Larsen has been walking lines for the last eight years, often against the epic backdrop of a canyon in Colorado. Not that she simply walks them – Heather takes the difficulty up a further notch by performing demanding gymnastic-style poses and balances, hundreds of feet up.
In this Q&A, I quiz Heather, who is based in Utah, on her skills, fears, and love of both slacklining and highlining. After reading, check out her glorious Instagram feed (details at the end of the interview) for stunning highline skills and scenery.
You have a background in climbing – did this lead you to discover slacklining?
I discovered slacklining while on a climbing trip. I used to live and breathe climbing. I still pursue the sport, but once I experienced the challenge of highlining, I knew I wanted to dedicate more time to the sport of slacklining.
Did you find you had the natural balance required straight away or did it require a lot of work?
Nobody is great at slacklining right off the bat. That’s one thing I really like about the sport – it is basically an even playing field. The stabilizers we use in slacklining rarely come into play in other activities, so everyone is shaky at first. It just takes time and lots of practice!
I read that your first walk was actually on a highline – is that right?
My first experience with slacklining was on a highline, yes. However, I didn’t walk across the line that day. My friend, Quinn, held my hand from the anchor while I stood on it and then I just rolled across the gap while hanging from my harness. That experience, however, is why I stuck with the sport to learn how to slackline. I liked the exposure of the highline.
Aside from walking a line, do you do any other types of training?
I’m a very active person, in general. A lot of my ‘training’ I don’t see as training. I do yoga, run, bike, climb. One main thing I am focusing on right now is core work. I find I’m lazy with my core, so I’m teaching myself to engage differently in every activity. I have started focusing on body weight training to build muscle and maintain physical fitness.
Do you work on balance drills when you’re not on the line?
The balance drills I work on when I’m not on the line are mostly just balance work incorporated into my other activities. I really like playing with balance on balance balls at the gym.
You’re known for your gymnastic poses on the line – do you enjoy challenging yourself?
One of my favourite things about the line is that you can be creative. My style has developed from my desire to do more than just walk. I’m definitely known for my gymnastic style poses and I’m always trying to figure out new poses to challenge myself with on the line.
How mentally taxing is slacklining?
Slacklining can be very mentally taxing. If I’m on a line that’s an easy length or rigging style for me, I can do laps all day, but if it’s a longer length than I’m comfortable with, I tend to get exhausted very easily… a lot of highlining is mental strength and endurance.
What are you thinking when you step out on an exposed highline?
Honestly, I feel different on every highline I get on. And I can feel different day-to-day on the same line. It’s all in where my head is. I want to feel a flow state when I’m highlining, but sometimes I just can’t tap into that. The exposure can really get me sometimes and I have to figure out how to relax in the moment and execute what I know I can do to feel comfortable.
Do you use any mental strategies to help you stay focused and in the moment while you walk?
The mental strategies I use on the line tend to just be mantras to keep me focused, breathing and being positive with my self-talk.
Do you ever feel a sense of fear whilst walking the line or approaching it??
I have felt/do feel fear when walking the line sometimes. Typically, it isn’t what we’d call ‘logical’ fear. I know I am safe. I know my rig is safe. I trust my rigging partners. There really shouldn’t be anything to fear out there, but I do still get anxious out there sometimes.
Can you explain how the leash works when you fall?
The leash is a rope threaded through webbing (everything in highlining is redundant). I tie the leash to my rings that are attached to the highline and tie the other end of the leash to my harness. If I fall, my leash will catch me and I can just climb back up and remount the line.
How tricky is it to remount a highline once you’ve fallen?
Remounting the line takes some practice, but it’s muscle memory at this point. You want to find the best way to get up without wasting too much energy. Every slackliner finds their own best way with this one. If you go to a festival, you’ll see 30 people remount the line 30 different ways. It’s actually a really beautiful thing to see how people learn to use their bodies differently to accomplish the same thing.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I feel like I don’t have any typical days these days. Some days I wake up at 5am to run or go to yoga class and I will just keep moving all day long. Other days, I have to rest. I might sleep in until 7 or 8, make coffee, journal, walk my family’s dogs, go for a hike. I’ve found that in order to have a healthy relationship with slacklining, I have to find balance in other areas of my life as well.
You’ve walked lines all over the world – where is your favourite place to highline?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite place to highline. I love the desert because it’s home. I also love lines over the ocean because it’s so different from my typical environment. As long as I’m outside in a beautiful location, I’m happy to slackline anywhere!
What are your favourite pieces of kit for highlining?
My favourite pieces for highlining are definitely the LineGrip. That piece of gear has changed the game for rigging. I also won’t leave home without proper nutrition, which I get from Gnarly Nutrition and Huppy Bars. I’m all about clean eating and those two companies have amazing goodies to keep me healthy and energised all day!
Is there a secret to ending a slackline wobble?
The secret to ending the wobble – or any struggle – is to JUST LIKE IT! My good friend, Keagan, said that to me when I was just beginning highlining and I have adopted it as my beta for everything in life.
Are you sponsored by anyone right now?
My sponsors are Slackline Industries, Gnarly Nutrition, Huppy Bar, Native Eyewear, Mountainsmith, Hydroflask, and AdidasTerrex
What’s in store for the rest of the year for you?
Who knows what 2019 holds! I have been working with my local slackline community establishing more lines in Utah. I’m looking forward to events and performances this summer at festivals and looking to progress in all of my activities!