Slackliners face tightrope walk in quest for dedicated park
by Ryan McDonald
Before they can test their balance in a park of their own, Hermosa Beach slackliners will have to walk a line even narrower than the ones they cross for fun: local politics.
Hermosa’s Parks, Recreation and Community Resources Advisory Board gathered information last week about slacklining and the possibility of creating a permanent park for it in the city. The evening brought out some of the growing sport’s devotees, but also some residents worried about noise and crowding associated with one proposal to build a park on the beach near the city’s southern end.
The item was intended to be purely informational, with no action taken. Staff will return at a future meeting with more information about possible locations for a slackline park.
Commissioners appeared skeptical of whether the emerging sport had a sufficiently large following to merit the investment of public resources that a park would require. Their initial idea, of holding a public hearing to gauge that interest, would not be possible until a specific project had been identified.
But commissioners also appeared sympathetic to Hermosa’s historical role of incubating once marginal sports that would later bloom, including surfing and skateboarding. Slackliners say that, along with a growing group of devoted practitioners, the sport fits into the South Bay’s beach lifestyle, and urged the commission to continue the city’s tradition of supporting active lifestyles.
“It’s not just about the people on the slackline. It’s about the people walking by and seeing people floating in the air, having the time of their lives,” said Hermosa resident Aiden Blood.
Slacklining involves walking a distance over a taut rope strung between two objects; participants can make it more challenging by walking over longer distances, or by trying maneuvers or tricks en route. Slackliners have been seen in the South Bay for more than a decade, often tying their line to trees in public parks or to posts on unused volleyball courts. (Before the next meeting on the subject, staff will also look at trees in city parks that could be identified as sufficiently sturdy to support slack lines without damage to their trunks.)
Recently, the slacklining community has sought a more permanent home. Last fall, Hermosa resident Ron Siegel and other slackliners presented a petition to the commission urging them to explore a park. Several months earlier, Siegel has said, he was slacklining on the sand near the Manhattan Beach Pier when an officer with the Manhattan Beach Police Department ordered him to stop. (City code there prohibits “hanging any items” from trees or other structures in the city’s parks and beaches.) Siegel, who designed the sample slacklining proposal the commission examined last week, said that he had occasionally been told to bring down slacklines he set up in Hermosa’s Noble Park, although not recently.
The reason for his advocacy for a permanent park on the beach, Siegel said, is that the beach is simply a better location. Walking over sand, slackliners say, is the safest way to practice. (One slackliner said that a friend had recently broken his arm after a tumble taken on grass.) And in places like Noble Park, it can be difficult to arrange ropes for the longer walks that advanced practitioners prefer, without impeding walking paths.
The closest permanent slackline park is in the City of Santa Monica. Since opening in 2013, the park, which is located on sand but east of a bike path, near the city’s downtown, has proven popular with slackliners, and no major injuries have occurred there. The project there cost about $9,000 to build, not counting labor.
Because of the tension placed on the poles on which the ropes are strung, the posts could not simply be fit into holes dug in the sand, and would need to be reinforced with concrete, Siegel said. The installation of concrete on the beach means that the project would also require approval from the state Coastal Commission, said City Manager Suja Lowenthal.
“This looks like a pretty significant construction project,” Commissioner Robert Rosenfeld said of Siegel’s vision.
Siegel and others said that they were willing to explore other locations, but that he had chosen the area because it seemed best suited to host the park. It would abutt the Crystal Cove apartments, and unlike other areas of the beach, would not obstruct lanes used by lifeguard trucks and police vehicles.
Residents living near the south edge of The Strand, who came out grumbling about the chosen location, felt differently.
“Just put it in north Hermosa if you’re going to put it somewhere,” said Hermosa resident Michael Fleischer, who lives on the southernmost block of The Strand. “I don’t have anything against slacklining, I just don’t want it in this particular area,” said another south Hermosan.
The area Siegel proposed, they said, was already impacted by its location near the Gateway Parkette separating Hermosa and Redondo Beach. And during the summers, it was also used as a meeting place for the Junior Lifeguard program. Whether those are fatal flaws, or if better areas can be found, remains unclear.
“That is the exact demographic of kids who would enjoy this project,” Siegel mused about the JGs.