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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Guest Opinion: Reconsider slacklining policy

On occasion you’ve likely seen a handful of people relaxing outside on campus, doing what appears to be tightrope walking. We are not members of the circus, we are not performing stunts for spare change, we’re simply a few students that love to appreciate Davis sunshine.

What we’re up to is called slacklining, and I’ll give you the crash course description so that you can understand why anti-slacklining policy is unfounded. Slacklining was created some seven years ago by climbers in Yosemite as a pasttime, consisting of climbing equipment and the desire for a new way to unwind.

Around Davis, the typical slackline is essentially a span of nylon webbing (ranging between 20 to 60 feet long and 1 to 2 inches wide) connected to two trees and tensioned to be able to hold a person’s weight.

From that description, you’re probably thinking two things: 1) “Isn’t that going to hurt tree trunks?” and 2) “Isn’t that super dangerous?” These are the two questions that UC Davis Facilities Management and Campus Counsel went ahead and answered for themselves before being informed.

Here’s why the answer to both the questions above is no, and why prevention of campus slacklining needs to be replaced with regulation.

Yosemite Camp 4, the very origin of slacklining, where the activity has been going on longer than anywhere else, allows it to this day. That’s right, Yosemite National Park recognizes that with proper use of padding around the tree, the circulation of the tree is not restricted and the bark is not abraded.

Tree padding is not something that slackliners argue against, it just makes sense to protect equipment from rough bark, and the bark from equipment. Additionally, slackliners take consideration to set up using large hard-bark trees, which are the vast majority in Davis, because after all, it is in our best interest for the trees to not be harmed.

Born from a community of people that trust their lives on the strength of equipment, slacklining harbors the same discipline. Every type of equipment involved in the setup has been tested to its breaking strength, which is multiple times the force being applied while slacklining. My personal equipment combines webbing rated at 4,400 pound-force and carabiners rated at 5,300 pound-force, while the tension applied very rarely exceeds 1,000 pounds. Given the use of reliable equipment, which is always used, the likelihood of injury that presents liability to the campus is almost nonexistent.

Let’s not forget that slacklining occurs only a handful of feet off of soft ground and at a pace slower than walking. A student biking on campus or in a chemistry lab is under higher likelihood of injury, but these are both allowed within safety regulations like speed limits and protective gear. Slacklining, on the other hand, is met with heavy-handedness regardless of existing precaution.

Additionally, the assumption that an uninstructed person will spontaneously approach a slackline and injure themselves is an unrealistic dramatization. Would you yourself walk up and jump on a slackline without preparation? Of course not, and that is why people never give it a shot without being taught how. Plus, a slackline isn’t exactly cheap, and simply out of concern for my property I wouldn’t allow someone to use it unsafely.

I urge that given the innocuous nature of slacklining, policy regarding its presence on campus be revisited.

What the campus needs are simple rules to ensure that slacklining continues to be done in good form, such as requiring the use of tree-padding and preventing the obstruction of walking or biking paths (both practices that are already in place).

Slackliners really are just looking for a peaceful atmosphere, and it’s unfortunate that instead of approaching slackliners to reasonably discuss policy, the administration chooses instead to use the police department as a tool of intimidation.

For more information on slacklining, there are boundless resources online.

SAM RUSOFF is a second-year evolution, ecology and biodiversity major. He can be reached at serusoff@ucdavis.edu.

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