Have you ever taken in a natural vista, say the soaring ranges of a national park, and thought: Three thousand feet of nothingness between me and the ground would really improve this.
For Breannah Yeh, a 24-year-old professional slackliner, such an experience is quite literally a walk in the park. Ms. Yeh shares her aerial escapades regularly with her 1.7 million followers on her TikTok account Yeh Slacks, often while dressed in overalls and polarized sports sunglasses (which she says she loses regularly).
Slacklining is growing in popularity thanks to video platforms like TikTok and YouTube, and differs from tightrope walking; it uses a flat piece of webbing with some elasticity, instead of a steel cable or rope.
Ms. Yeh’s most popular TikToks tend to show two kinds of slacklining. One is the gleeful bouncing on a slackline stretched a few feet above the sand, often on a sun-drenched beach in Santa Monica, Calif. The style of slacklining in these videos is called tricklining — performing maneuvers on the line — that she sets to buoyant pop choruses (one, to the soundtrack of Cardi B’s “Up,” was reposted by the rapper, and has so far gained 45 million views on TikTok).
The second type of slacklining favored by Ms. Yeh is highlining. Ms. Yeh will walk a taut line anchored hundreds of feet up between two cliffs. She has walked over crashing waves in San Luis Obispo, Calif., against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and with Hong Kong’s cityscape behind her, peeking behind fog. If your stomach flips watching it, know that she always highlines with other experienced slackliners while hooked to two safety lines. (She falls, a lot.)
To understand how she developed such a passion for aerial antics, we recently talked to Ms. Yeh in a video chat from her home in Los Angeles. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
How did you get into slacklining?
When I was 13, I saw it at my local rock-climbing gym in the Bay Area. One day I just saw someone doing tricklining, so they are basically bouncing up and down, and I was immediately like, ‘I have to do that.’ Then, next thing you know, I am training every single week all throughout high school. Within that first year, I think by the time I was 14, I was sponsored by the biggest slacklining company out there [Gibbon Slacklines, then Slackline Industries] and traveling the U.S. and the world and competing.
Children cycle through many different hobbies. How has slacklining held your attention for 11 years?
Growing up, I always did a lot of different sports. I skated, I snowboarded, I dove in high school, but I was always a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. But slacklining was one of those sports where it really taught me that any person can be good at anything, if they put the time into it.
When you’re looking at a slackline, it’s one piece of rope. And every single person who starts out slacklining can’t walk the slackline. I couldn’t even walk the slackline the first time I started. Then, within a couple months, I was able to walk it.
What is a common misperception that people have about slacklining?
That they don’t have balance and that they can’t try it. I don’t expect anyone to get on the line for the first time and be able to walk it, because there are these stabilizer muscles in your legs that you don’t really use for anything else other than a sport like slacklining. So when you put the time and effort into it, you’ll build up those muscles and you’ll be able to walk it.
Do you need a super strong core?
It’s a lot of upper body strength. My arms will actually get really, really tired. When I fall I have to climb up the leash and use these maneuvers to try to get back up on the line. And then core muscles, when you’re trying to balance.
Describe your experience taking slacklining out of the gym and onto the highline.
When highlining, everything in your body is telling you not to do this, because it doesn’t make sense. You’re dangling yourself hundreds of feet above the air. What about that is normal?
Once you’re able to walk and be able to take in the surroundings from this crazy angle that nobody else in the world has been able to do, it’s the most magical feeling. It’s this euphoria. You’re focusing on your breath. It’s like meditation, almost.
How did the pandemic disrupt what you were doing?
When you’re slacklining, you’re out in the middle of nowhere, right? So you don’t have to worry about being around large groups.
So, how do you actually rig a highline?
Never go highlining unless you’re with an experienced person who knows how to rig highlines, ever. Always go with a team of people that you know, you can trust and have done this before.
Where is a special place that slacklining has taken you?
I think the most special line that I was able to get on was in Yosemite, it was rigged approximately 3,000 feet in the air. That was the highest one I’ve ever done.
The idea is like, if I were to fall from a hundred feet, I’m still going to get really, really, really hurt, or I’m going to die. So maybe just think of it as 3,000 feet is not a big deal.
That makes sense but that’s a weird rationalization.
That’s something we joke about. But I would never get on a highline if I know I’m not 100 percent safe, if I’m not with people I trust. And there’s a main line and a backup line. So if the main line ever fails, there’s a backup line to catch you.
I was studying abroad in Chengdu, China, and I get a message from a guy saying, “Hey, we’re rigging this highline in Hong Kong, you should join us.” We hiked up Lion Rock mountain, rigged this line and I walked it. After, they said, “I think you might be the first woman to successfully cross a highline in Hong Kong.” My mom’s from Vietnam, but we’re Chinese and my dad grew up in that area. So that was a really awesome experience for me to be able to say that I walked the highline above the place where my dad grew up.
What’s your advice for people who see your videos and want to try slacklining?
You can do it. Don’t look at me as someone that’s untouchable, because I’m not. Go buy a slackline online, go set it up in a park and try to walk it. If you want to do something, go do it. Always search for fun.