Sarah Rixham - Highliner, Floating in the Sky
Sarah Rixham has walked some of the longest highlines in the world, seeking out adventurous lines in remote places. She was introduced to slacklining at school. “Our outdoor education teachers gave us slacklines and we went to the Botanical Gardens [in Sheffield] in free periods messing around. I wasn't very good in the beginning, I was probably the slowest out of all my friends... it definitely needs some persistence.”
Sarah is now one of the best female slackliners in the world. In 2015 she walked 122m on a line 2002m above sea level high in the mountains in Moleson, Switzerland. The walk is featured in a film, A Morning Over the Clouds, and she held the record for the longest that a female has walked on a highline for over a year.
A Canadian woman has since walked further, and the record currently stands at 200m. Sarah says, “I’m really happy other people are pushing that now and I think women will walk some much longer lines soon!”
“I don’t think [the record] really means anything, it’s more about personal goals and what you can achieve for yourself. Maybe I’m a bit stubborn, if I’m not good at something I want to get better, I won’t give up. Somehow I think it helps you if you find something difficult, you know how to work through a challenge and you keep going when you get to more barriers.”
“I’d like to think it’s adventurous, definitely! You can make it that way, or you can make it quite tame. I try to push it when I can.”
To Sarah, adventurous highlining would mean “Going out to a place you don’t know where you have a big walk in. Going there for a few days, so you have to carry all your camping stuff. Where you don’t know what the highline is going to be like, just finding out when you get there.”
“Highlining has the potential to be risky if you rig it wrong, but if you do it properly it can be a really safe sport. It has a massive perceived risk, it can be terrifying, but you're actually quite safe. “
“It’s cool in the mountains where you have big gaps that are really aesthetic. Any big cliffs or big rock features. In the UK there aren’t lots of different options, so we end up in quarries a lot.”
Slacklining (balancing on a piece of webbing to walk across a gap) can be done anywhere, in cities, parks, or mountains. Sarah explains that although you can make it as adventurous as you want, a lot of people are slacklining more socially, just to be in the community going out to nice places. “We have meetings, and there's also a lot of festivals in Europe where we’re camping in the mountains. Everybody really loves the outdoors, and that’s a massive part of it, just to be out there.”
Highlining is a more extreme form of slacklining, where the line is rigged high above a gap. Sarah believes that with highlining, there’s absolutely no reason that women can’t be the same as men. “Differentiating men and women is kind of pointless. There definitely are more and more women starting and getting really good, but there’s still a high proportion of men. I don’t know why. I get just as many girls as guys coming up wanting to try and they learn just as quickly.”
“The community for highlining is amazing, it makes the sport so much fun, everybody is so encouraging of every person, if they're new or if they've been doing this stuff for a long time. It’s always like that wherever you go.”
Regardless of their experience everybody has something they find hard. “Now that I want to walk longer lines I find it hard to find the concentration you need to keep going. It’s about getting into a flow and forgetting about what you're doing and just walking, which I find really tough.”
“When you’re up on the highline you don’t really have anything to do, you need to just forget everything. You have to get to that state where your body knows what it’s doing. When you're trying to balance on a highline there's really nothing around you, you feel exposed... I love that feeling, like floating in the sky. It's awesome to just be in space.”
To find out more, visit Sarah’s website and watch the film about Sarah’s longest walk, A Morning Over the Clouds below. If you’re inspired to give slacklining a go, check out the UK Slacklining facebook page.
Photos by Dora DC