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Featured sport trend: slacklining

Merrit slackliners practice at the Lake every Saturday. (Michele Kilmer)
Merrit slackliners practice at the Lake every Saturday. (Michele Kilmer)

A crowd gathered to watch as men and women flipped, twisted and balanced in the air before bouncing back down on a thin line of webbing. They’re not at a circus — they’re watching Oakland’s very own Merritt Slackers.

Slacklining is a fast-expanding sport that has grown out of rock climbing camps at Yosemite and has  become a competitive sport in it’s own right. A 1 to 2 inch webbing line is hung between two trees and then used like a trampoline to bounce, flip and trick on.

On Saturdays, from about 1:30 p.m. until dark,  you can find the Merritt Slackers teaching their sport to kids and adults alike, learning new tricks of their own or playing chess.

“Focus for the body, and focus for the mind,” said Jamala,  a chess player who is learning to slackline at Lake Merritt.

Alex Garcia, a slackliner/trickliner, is the group’s instigator who started setting up on weekends and attracting attention.

Tricklining is slacklining with tricks, such as bouncing from standing positions, to sitting, flipping, twisting onto their chests and back again.

Demetric Jones, who started slacklining a few years back when the sport was first starting, said he’d set up a slack line in his back yard but had never seen tricklining.

“I saw Alex doing tricks on the line, it was the first time I’d seen tricklining,” said Jones. “That’s when I started doing air and tricks and stuff and I’ve just been trying to progress ever since.”

“It’s for the community,” Garcia said. “The kids come out; we put up a bunch of low lines. I started coming here about a year ago and setting up lines. People going to the farmers market were like ‘whoa what’s that?’ and now it’s like this whole community grew out of it.”

According to Garcia most people who try slacklining are concerned about hurting themselves and  can be a little afraid to try it.

Drayton John, another regular whose interest grew out of rock climbing, has been slacklining and tricklining for a about a year. He said starting on the beginning line is “no big deal” because he is only about a foot off the ground.

“If you can walk forward and backward you can slackline,” said John.

“It’s like stepping on and off a curb,” Garcia said. “I mean sure you could get hurt but not that bad.”

The Merrit Slackers can be seen on Saturdays, weather permitting, at the park on Embarcadero Street between Grand and Lake Merritt Avenues practicing their sport between the trees.