cj pais

Slackline Stories - Exuberance


This story means something to me, in fact it means quite a lot to me. I’d like to share with you some of its meaning. The story in some way is also a showing of aspiration of who I wish to be more of. The small things that I find curious or interesting. To grow as a person. To be less scared. To be in tune with nature. To share that experience and encourage others to as well. To share with those who may not have been able to experience that otherwise. To get in touch with my inner kid. To show up. To do more of what I believe to be good in the world.

I am often quite scared to share. The act of sharing this alone means a lot to me. It means an overcoming of fear. To push through that fear and let part of me know that it is okay to share. It is also one of the first pieces I’ve shared to friends in an intentional manner. Looking for feedback. And I am so grateful to all of them who have read the entire piece. I know it’s quite a lot. So thank you Chiaki, Jon, Kristen, Owen, and Dave.

I began writing this piece not knowing why I was doing it. I was just doing it because I felt I needed to. I knew that this experience meant something to me, but I didn’t know exactly what its meaning was. I did not premeditate a purpose in writing the story. Only through writing it did I find its purpose. That lesson alone is so important to me too. I often ask myself “why”, over and over again, to the point of indecision and inaction. This experience of writing taught me that sometimes you discover the why through doing. That you may not know in advance and that is okay.

This piece is an experience I had slacklining over a couple days. This experience comes at a time in my life where I am thinking a lot about wanting to have kids myself. What it means to me to be a father. The experience with the kids in the story brought such joy to my life. This joy only solidifies my own interest in having kids. This experience also brought confidence that I can be a Dad, and hopefully one that can share joy and experiences with my kids. The experience showed me a lot. It showed me the capacity for curiosity that kids have. That we all can still be kids. That I want to be more kid-like myself. That fun can be simple, wonderful, magical. The experience with the kids was powerful to me because in some way it changed the way that I see myself now, and aspirationally.

To me it is also a show of how easy it can be to have magical experiences when you are open to them. At least that’s what it is for me. All I had to do was put a string in the sky and try to walk on it. In doing this people, the community noticed. They were curious. I want to continue to be as open as I can be in this way, but it’s hard. Moments like these remind me that it is worth it. It can be scary, but it is worth it. I have some fear of kids, for the worry I don’t know how to be a kid myself. Or that I won’t be a good father. But this moment eased some of those worries, at least temporarily.

Slacklining means a lot to me in and of itself. It is an expression of flow. Being in flow. Experiencing what it is like to be in flow. Pushing my own physical limits, and getting in touch with reality. With nature. With people. The fact that slacklining puts me closer to nature, and that I now realize, I enjoy sports that put me in touch closer with nature. Rock Climbing. Surfing. Disc Golfing. Hiking. Each with their own flow, and ability to connect with nature in different ways. Not to mention all of the people I’ve had the opportunity to connect with as a result. Each one unique.


Slacklining is a strange thing. There is so much that can come from so little. The act of balancing on a thin line while walking between trees.

One thing about slacklining is that kids love it. I think often from a distance it looks like someone levitating. For a kid I can only imagine how awesome that seems. Even if not levitating, the slacklines I tend to set are a bit different than the ones you might normally see in a park.

You see, I want to learn how to highline. This is the sport of walking on a slackline over a gap, where if you were to fall without something to catch you, you almost certainly would die. Good thing you normally wear a climbing harness and a leash to catch the fall. These highline’s can be miles long l, so the sport itself is quite different from trying to walk 20 or 30 feet between two trees.

Example of a highline, falling, and not dying

So the slacklines I set up, in practice for highlining, are often over 100 feet long, and are set as tall as I can possibly reach. Ideally they are even taller than my reach - this way I can set the line with the least amount of tension possible, such that the middle of the line does not touch the ground.

Kids notice this. Often they notice me from the moment I begin setting it up. They’re so curious. I can only imagine they’re wondering, “why is this guy putting this weird rope in the air?”. Which is not too far off from the question I do get, “what are you doing?”. I tell em I am “gonna walk the line”. They are utterly surprised by this. So much so, many of them don’t believe I can do it. Surely enough though, I get on the line and show them I can walk.

This particular day I was noticed by a group of brown kids, both boys and girls, with the ages between 3-12. Maybe 7 of them total. They all knew each other, and seemed to be from the same family, or maybe a few close families. They speak perfect english, but also were speaking some language I can’t understand, and must be from somewhere in the Middle East. Writing this now, I wish I knew where they or their family was from. If I run into them again, which I suspect I will, I will ask.

These kids saw me setting up, and asked questions different from the standard ones. The first question I remember being asked was “how much does this cost?”. Which I guess is a fair question. In some way, it might be obvious that suspending a line in the sky costs some money, and 125 feet is pretty far. I told them this setup cost me a couple hundred bucks. Which is true for the equipment I was using, but definitely too low given the amount of gear I have in total. This figure certainly surprised them, and that doesn’t surprise me too much, where I live is a fairly low income area, so a couple hundred bucks is a lot. And it is. I cannot overstate how lucky I feel to be able to do all of the sports which I do, and I wish that more people had the privilege to do these things too. There is a sense of magic and beauty to be connected to the world in such a playful way.

The kids then asked me some of the standard questions. They are often surprised that this 1 inch wide piece of material can even hold me. Even more surprising is that it can hold a car. The MBS (minimum breaking strength) of the webbing I have is 25kN or 5,260 pounds of force. Might not hold an EV, but can hold most standard cars and SUV’s. It’s remarkably strong for being a single inch wide and is always met with disbelief. One of my favorite things is to show the wonder of the world. What we as humans have been able to engineer. It is honestly hard for me to believe sometimes.

While they are asking me these questions, I’m finishing setting up, tying things off, tensioning things, etc. The kids wanted to help too, so I had them help me tension the line. They were so happy to help in any way, and I appreciated the help too. It’s funny counting down, “3…. 2…. 1…. pull”, doing it with kids and doing it with my friends feels so similar. At this point I was getting more questions as I finished up making the line safe, they couldn’t wait for me to get on the line and walk. The excitement was palpable, I was trying to move fast to wrap things up and get on the line.

This was my first time slacklining since I’d been to Japan, a couple weeks gone would definitely make this hard for me. I let the kids know I might fall. They didn’t care, they wanted to come as close as they could to the line. I took a few steps away from the tree where the line was anchored, jumped, grabbed the line, and mounted it. Mounting a line is not that easy. It’s a process of grabbing the line from underneath, putting my feet on the line, back to the ground. Then pulling up my whole body (and especially hips) to the line, raising my leg, and throwing it over the line. This flips me from under it to on top of it. I’ve gotten fairly comfortable doing this in the park now and it looks relatively smooth and easy.

The kids are blown away. They didn’t even really see what happened. All the sudden I was sitting there on the line. Right foot as close as I can get to my butt sitting on the line, and my left leg dangling off the line, helping me balance. I take a few seconds to just feel the line. I feel a bit nervous, but let that go quickly as I note to myself it’s a bit windy today, and the line is a bit tight. When the line is tight like this it can be hard to balance, this is because the harmonics of the line cause any vibration to amplify, and want to shake you side to side off the line. After noting this, I take another second to myself, breathe, lift my left leg, place it on the line directly in front of my right. I take another second here, feeling my newly changed balance, getting in touch with my body and the line. From here I rock forward gently, pushing into the tense line and letting it push me up. I’m standing.

For this whole moment, I had not a thought about the kids, I knew what I needed to do, focused and stood. Again, though when I stood I was reminded of their presence. They gasped, amazed that I was doing it. At this point I must be floating 5 or 6 feet in the air, standing, balancing there. I take my first steps, feeling the line. Feeling fairly good I think, zone out, and move. I do, taking twenty or so steps before I fall. I probably walked halfway on the line or more. The kids light up with a smile and I immediately go back for another round on the line.

I walked back to where I started last time, and went through the whole process again. This time the kids paid a lot more attention to how I mounted the line. I stood up and started walking, this time feeling much better, I knew this time the dynamics of the line. I made it fairly far past halfway, surely 10 or 15 steps beyond before I fell this time. Pretty good I think, not my best, but solid for having been gone for a couple weeks. Not to mention I’ve always found this particular line to be difficult. But by this point the kids wanted to get on the line. I couldn’t stop them from getting on, they are just too dang curious. The problem is they can’t really reach the line, so I pull it down and sit on it. I sit so they don't fall from 6 feet in the air, and protect them from the line hitting them if they fall.

One of the kids stood out to me as they played. She was a little girl, who couldn’t be any older than 12. She was directing and relaying information to the other kids. She was outspoken, and rambunctious. Speaking in her own language when necessary. She was the ringleader. I’ve noticed this pattern in groups of kids, where someone emerges as the natural leader. This is not to say they always get their way, but they are respected in a different way.

The kids must have played for an hour or so just jumping around and having fun. I let them play, let them ask questions and just have fun. Smile and enjoy. I got on the line every 10 or 15 minutes, chatting with kids while I walked. After a while I was tired, the sun was going down and I knew it was time to wrap up. I detensioned the line. Still all of the kids wanted to help me. A few of the kids didn’t know how and they started to pull webbing out from my bag and onto the grass. Bummer. The webbing needed to be in the bag, not on the ground. But one of the other kids ran to the other side of the line and brought it over to me. It’s so remarkable to me what kids are able to pick up. I didn’t have to explain anything, but they can still figure it out. Maybe not always correct, but they have some idea. Pretty cool.

As I was wrapping up with all of this, one of the moms came over. She was a woman in her thirties I imagine, wearing some kind of traditional dress. To me it reminds me of something like an Indian saree, but I don’t think it was. She smiled at me and clapped quietly . I smiled back and said “thank you”. She has been recording me occasionally on her phone, and I appreciated that. She showed some of the curiosity the kids showed, and I love that. She did not speak much English to me, but I could tell she was impressed and happy that the kids had fun. That makes me happy too.

The mother walked away, but a few of the kids were hovering still, and one of them asked me “will you be here tomorrow?”. I said “yeah, I can be, when should I come?”. He said “4” and immediately walked away with the other kids. This moment was so amazing. I just scheduled with some kids in the park. Unbelievable. How lucky I am. Or how lucky I feel. I can be seen almost as if I were one of them. I am seen just as a big kid. This joy almost brings me to tears. I can only wish and hope that I continue on in this spirit of a kid. I wish and hope to have more of that in my life. To be able to have the wonderful opportunity to treat the world as a giant sandbox. And I hope to bring the idea that the world can be a sandbox to more people. To more adults. That we can see the world in playful ways. To see the world in the way a kid would. That we are allowed to play, and we can all play together if we want. That is a choice.

I walk home smiling. Laughing.

“I have a park meeting with kids tomorrow”

“What a trip”

And as I walk, I begin to reflect a bit on the whole situation. One of the first things that came to my mind was that first question about the money. Well, one thing I already knew was that I was going to bring a slackline for the kids tomorrow. But that got me thinking too, I could give them this slackline I was bringing. I considered that directly. But being a bit selfish, this line was one that I use quite frequently for travel and I am not quite ready to give it up without a replacement. I didn’t and still don’t want to spend that money now.


At the same time I was walking by all this trash on the street. I hate trash. I had just come back from Japan where trash is significantly more scarce. Not to mention the park I was at also has a lot of trash. I quickly looked up the value of recycling bottles in California. I think it’s $.05 a bottle. Might not be much, but with as many kids as there are, and as much trash as there is, not only can an appreciable dent be made on the trash in the area, but a way to offset it, and give them an opportunity to buy a line for themselves. My plan was simple, if the kids wanted a line, they could pick up some trash and I would give them one. I had some figures in my mind about the number of bottles and whatnot, but ultimately that didn’t matter too much to me. This would be an interesting experiment. I told Chiaki and she also seemed to think it was a good idea and encouraged me to follow it, which is something I definitely needed support on.

I came back the next day, armed with my trash bags, and a bit nervous. I was late because of my nervousness. I don’t really know what the nervousness was about, and in hindsight, there was nothing really to be nervous about. I think I was thinking that maybe the kids don’t show up. And what would go wrong if they didn’t? I think I knew I would be a bit sad if they didn’t show up. I was nervous about a future possibility. Maybe that’s anxiety.

But I showed up. I started setting up, and I had prepared my bag with a second slackline. Sure enough after I had started tensioning the line, one of the kids came over and said “you’re back!”. I said “yeah, and sorry I’m a bit late”, he said something to the effect of “no worries, you’re back!”. Ha. My nervousness melted away immediately. I was overjoyed instead. The kid briefly left and came back with all of the kids, this time there were more. Maybe 10. I immediately dropped what I was doing and started setting up a short line just a few feet off the ground for them. While I was setting up the ringleader girl asked me “are you muslim?”, and I told her I’m not and asked if she was, she said “yes”. They wanted me to set it much higher, like the line I had, but I told them, “it’s too dangerous to learn on”. They didn’t care. They like danger. They haven’t experienced danger the way adults have, or the perceived dangers of the world, which in fact aren’t always that dangerous. I think the media can brainwash people into believing the world is more dangerous than it is, but that’s a different story.

As soon as I set the line up, all the kids were jumping on the line immediately. Wanting me to help them. Sure enough the ringleader told everyone to get in a line. I thought this was a tremendous idea, and I certainly was not going to suggest it. But once she said it, I encouraged it. And then there were 10 kids in a perfect line. Patiently waiting and understanding they would get their turn on the line. One by one I helped them onto the line and had them balance using my shoulder. One of the little boys partially climbed the tree to stand on it. He was good too, he took a few steps without using my shoulder. Nice. The ringleader girl was also helping, trying to lift some of the smaller kids, and holding their hands for balance.

One thing blew my mind. I didn’t explain any of the systems to set up the slackline in any detail. At one point while finishing setting up the line, I did tell the kids “I’m making it safe right now”. At some point I needed to make it safe again. This time I just started doing it, without saying anything. One of the kids noticed this and said, “he’s making it safe again, everyone get off the line”. What tremendous capacity kids have for observation and learning. Unbelievable.

Now everyone had gone on the line at least once, but a few more kids came over and they wanted to get on the line, so I helped them too. After I had the ringleader girl told me, “go have fun on your line”. What an incredible capability for empathy she showed in that moment. Knowing I did come here to have some fun myself, and it wasn’t my job to only provide them fun. I followed her instructions. I started to walk over to my line.

As I walked I had a few trailing kids, maybe 3 or 4 following me. I heard them whispering “he’s gonna do it now”. Ha, yeah I was. “He’s gonna walk it without anyone helping him”. Oh yeah I was. Amazing how the ego can be pumped up by these kids. Little do they know I have highlined, and little do they know I think I’m bad at it. But this was comfortable for me. Highlining made it way more comfortable. That was the place where I pushed myself now. All of this was just practice. Training.

Sure enough though, I got on the line. I mounted it as effortlessly as I could, showing the kids the possibility. I sat there, got my basic balance, took a breath, and stood. Again as effortlessly as possible. I heard some small gasps at this point. I started walking and the kids were asking me some questions, I don’t remember about what, I was in flow. Sometimes it’s easiest to be in flow, when something is distracting you. Funny how that works. I let the kids distract me, and suddenly I had crossed the full distance of the line. This was the first time I had walked the full distance in this park. Between these trees. I was beyond stoked already. I tried turning around, but fell at this point, but it didn’t matter to me. I was happy. The kids were blown away. So fun.

I continued to walk back and forth for a few minutes, making sure the kids were standing a reasonable distance away from the line. More started to come over and ask “can we try this one”, “we want to try this one”, and I told them, “no, it’s too dangerous”. But kids aren’t good at listening, nor am I good at not being persuaded by them. Soon enough they had grabbed the line while I was sitting on it. Now I wasn’t going to stand for the fear of hurting them. So I let them play. They wanted to be lifted into the air while they were holding the line. And so I let them. They wanted to jump and bounce and walk it while it was on the ground. And I let them play. I encouraged it, smiled, and made sure they were safe. I was not going to let this line hurt them, or do my best to make sure it wouldn’t.

They asked me to show them how I mount the line. And I went through the motions slowly. After this all the kids wanted to try it, but none really succeeded. I showed them a couple times, and they tried, but it’s a tough movement, and quite frankly they weren’t interested enough in it. They had so much other fun to be had, and they focused on having that. I respect that. Regardless, watching them monkey around warms my heart. The amount of joy in these kids is immeasurable compared to what I see in the world regularly, it’s awesome.

Eventually they want me to walk the line more and I do, a few times. But the kids get a bit bored of this once they’ve seen it, I think they know I can do it, they want something new, exciting. I understand that. I show off a bit, bouncing on the line, turning, etc, but it’s not really enough for them. Eventually one of the kids is looking through my gear on the ground, and asks me “can we zipline on this?”. And I say “oh yeah we can”.

This is where the fun really began. I picked up my Rollex (this is a carabiner with a wheel built into it, it's 1” wide, able to roll over the 1” webbing perfectly) and attached it to the line. I looked around for something nice to attach to it so we had a nice handle for the zipline. I didn’t have a lot of gear on me, but dug through some things and found a 6mm soft shackle. I figured this would work nicely. So I gave it a test in front of all the kids, to show them, we can zipline. I grabbed the makeshift handle, lifted my legs and I flew down the line towards the middle. As always the kids were stoked. (this could be more descriptive)

I ran back to the tree. There was a fervor in the air. 4 kids in a circle around me fighting to get on the zipline first. Surprisingly the ringleader girl didn’t fight for herself to be first, but one of the other girls. So I brought the makeshift soft shackle handle down to her, and she grabbed it. This was hard work, it takes nearly all my body weight to bring the line low enough where they could grab the handle. She grabbed it and immediately I let go of the line and she is floating above the ground beaming with joy. She slowly starts down the line and I give her a push to speed her up and make it more fun. It was.

This was the beginning of the whirlwind. The constant huddle of kids. Each begging me to get on the line because “they hadn’t gone yet”. Me running back and forth like a madman, giving them a push, and also having to grab the handle when they let go. Run it back to the other side, the kids running next to me. Encouraging me to run faster and jump. Some of the kids started to help pushing other kids and making them go real fast. One of the little boys was going through my gear and wanting to try different handles for the slackline. The makeshift handle was certainly not perfect, it caused them a bit of pain to hold on, they showed me their red palms, and I showed them mine. Regardless, they wanted to go again. They didn’t care. It was too fun. So we tried a few, a carabiner, a few carabiners, two soft shackles, and eventually landed where we started. A fun exploration and opening up of some creativity to work with the tools we had to make the best zipline we could. A kid collaborator.

After 30 minutes of this chaos, I wanted to get on the line and just hang out for a minute to myself. I asked the kids and they were so cool with it, a few hung behind to watch me and ask some questions, while others went to the other slackline. I just hung out for a few minutes and did my thing, finding balance, breathing, relaxing for a few minutes after the chaos. After a few minutes I get off the line and see how the kids are doing on their line.

I immediately noticed one of the kids trying to walk it without assistance from the others, really cool. But the kids were no longer satisfied with this line, they wanted it higher, like mine. I said I’ll make it a little higher, but I can’t make it as high as mine. I tell them too, “it’ll be less fun”. I set up the line at this newer higher height

At some point while helping some kids on the line, a mid fifties man comes over and asks me “are these your kids”. I said “no”. He said “well one of them was running in the street”. Hmmm, I think to myself “that’s dangerous… okay”. He then said “do you know where their parents are?”. Nope. No idea. Yikes. I think the woman who I saw yesterday was around somewhere but I hadn’t seen her in a long time.

I settled back into helping with the line, and more kids are gathering around. At some point in this process the kids were unhappy with the height of the line and wanted me to lower it again. I did…. (this whole thing seems a bit just for me to say “im right”, not sure if i want this in the story, though it did happen).

The new kids who gathered, hadn’t been on the zipline yet and asked me to get on. During this whole time, I was thinking about how I could integrate getting some kids to pick up trash. It didn’t feel right to offer them a slackline. So I kept thinking what could work. I realized that I could have an “admission fee” to the zipline. 1 piece of trash is one ride on the zipline. I told the kids and they signed up immediately. They started running all over the park picking up trash and showing me “I got 4 pieces, I get 4 rides!”. I said “yes, but you have to take the rides one at a time to let others on”. I was impressed at how well this system worked. The whole corner of the park that was near my line was nearly free of trash in just a few minutes.

Eventually all the kids had to go home, and they all said goodbye and thank you. Telling me I’m a real kind man. A few stayed behind for a few more minutes because they wanted to continue to ride the zipline. At some point I had to cut them off, and said “you gotta go with your mom now”. But all in all it was wonderful. So wonderful I wanted to spend hours remembering this moment and going through it vividly in my mind again.

Eventually all the muslim kids had to leave, they all said goodbye and thank you.

At this point some older Mexican man who'd been hanging out at the local ice cream truck (this older beat up green ford with ice cream stickers plastered all over it) came over. He mostly just smiled and watched me. He walked back and forth for a few minutes just watching me. saying some things which I forget and just enjoying. After a while he sees the other slackline and helps his kids play on it. It was such a pleasure as I walked into the sunset to see another family getting to enjoy the slackline I set up. I guess I will always set up a second slackline just in case someone wants to use it. It only takes me a second to do so.

I tore down, smiling, enjoying the evening I just had. An absolutely wild time. 3 hours had passed like that. All the sudden I was there alone walking through the dark back home.

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