The first time Ryan Robinson set foot on a slackline, he swore he’d never do it again. An Ironman competitor and rock climber who grew up near Sacramento, California, he ventured onto a line at his local climbing gym, waiting until everyone had left.
“I didn’t want anyone to see me do it and fail,” he says. “I got on it once, and I fell off and [cut] my leg. I just figured, ‘this is the stupidest sport.’”
Fast forward to 2018, and Robinson is one of the highlining’s most recognizable faces — a sport in which participants aim to cross slacklines suspended hundreds of feet in the air, often hundreds of feet long. He has starred in campaigns with Red Bull, GoPro, and National Geographic, and appearing on American Ninja Warrior. He has “travelled the world walking one-inch bridges across the sky,” and has his sights set on walking 1,000 metres blindfolded.
All it took was a change in circumstances. After a period of intense transition — marked by the ends of a relationship, job, and college degree — he came across a clip from the Flight of the Frenchies documentary, following two of the sport’s pioneers. He was enthralled.
“I was just always searching for more […] I really wanted to see how far I could push myself until I broke.” – Ryan Robinson
“I found this and just stuck to it so hard that I think most of my family and friends thought I was going absolutely crazy,” Robinson laughs. “All of a sudden, I’m selling everything I own and buying a bunch of ropes so that I can learn how to balance on them.”
A chance meeting with Jerry Miszewski — a man Robinson describes as “the Michael Jordan” of highlining — came after Robinson started researching the sport in earnest, trying to find the right gear to buy. He had emailed Balance Community, eager to learn more about highlining. It just so happened that Miszewski was the man behind Balance Community. Miszewski invited him out to the gym to slackline together.
“Of all the places in the world, he’s in Davis, 45 minutes away from me,” says Robinson.
A determined student, Robinson began training on longer and higher lines, eventually earning his place as a professional. Still working a day job at this point, he was faced with a tough decision.
“I had just landed a really great marketing job I went to school for,” he says. “I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. I was talking to my brother and he said, ‘Look, man. You can always find a marketing job, but you can never go back to being a professional highliner.’ The next day, I walked right to my boss’s desk, interrupted a meeting, and told him I had to quit.”
These days, it looks like Robinson’s gamble paid off. No longer a rookie, the California native has become a leader in the sport — amassing an ever-growing following online. Still, the humility persists.
“I am a huge failure. It’s the only reason I’ve been able to do this,” says Robinson. “If you fail enough times, it starts to look like success.”