A Socio-Scientific View on the Slackline Community
For a recent project I did user research on a somewhat special target group: slackliners. Beeing a slackliner myself, I already had some insights into the sport of slacklining and its community but wanted to base my work on a more scientific approach. This blog post is an updated version of a paper (which you can download as PDF) that I wrote about my findings.
Only little research has been done on the still relatively young sport of slacklining, so far. There are some studies that examine the sport from a physiological or physical perspective. However, not much is known about the people, who slackline. This blog post aims to provide a socio-scientific view on the slackline community, e.g. the demographics, skills and motivation of slackliners.
The information found below is based on a survey conducted in May 2013. An online questionnaire in English was used to gather data from slackliners around the world. The survey ran for 7 days and got a total of 423 responses from 26 different countries. The recruiting for the survey was done mainly through Facebook but also through my personal network and various slackline-related online forums. When reviewing the findings below, it is important to keep in mind that the people, who answered the questionnaire, were mainly web-savvy Facebook users, who understand English and have a strong interest in slacklining. Had I asked random people on the streets of Brazil or Japan, the responses might have been somewhat different.
It is also important to know, that this study is not a strictly scientific one. My intentions, when conducting the survey, were not to turn my findings into a formal report. I decided to do it anyway, because I wanted to make the data available to the public. I hope this will spark discussion(s), encourage further research and benefit the sport of slacklining.
The chart above clearly shows that the majority of slackliners is in their 20s and 30s with 54% of slackliners being between the ages of 18-24 and 37% being between 25-34 years. Teenagers between 13-17 do not seem to be interested in slacklining.
Slacklining seems to be a very male-dominated sport. Only 11% of the respondents were female. When looking at the people, who rate their slackline skills “Expert” or “Professional” the number of women even drops down to zero.
The current World Ranking List (May, 23rd 2013) by the World Slackline Federation shows a similar distribution. It lists 12 women and 66 men, which equates to 15% female and 85% male.
When comparing male and female there are only a few notable differences. Spending time with friends and meeting new people is slightly more important to women than to men. Accordingly, women are more likely to go slacklining with friends than alone. Men tend to go slacklining more often and also rate their skills higher than women. Women prefer lowlining, men are drawn more towards other disciplines of slacklining.
ASPECTS OF SLACKLINING AS A SPORT
The majority of slackliners has been slacklining between either 1-2 years (43%) or 3-5 years (34%). They could be called the “slackline boomers” as they started slacklining in the last five years, in which the popularity of the sport grew almost exponentially. Of course by starting to slackline themselves they also helped to fuel this development. Only about 8% of the respondents have been slackling longer than 6 years. Those are likely the people who picked up on slacklining in its early days, through the rock climbing community.
Only about 15% of slackliners say they have been slacklining for less than a year. Reflecting on this number and looking at the chart above, yields an interesting question: Is the peak interest in slacklining over? Over the next years, slackliners will gain more experience and the bars in the chart will slowly shift to the right. If there are only a few people who pick up slacklining today, what about tomorrow?
Again, the numbers here need to be viewed with caution. People who have just started slacklining might not be part of the various online communities through which the survey was promoted. Also the concept of being and not being a “slackliner” is not clearly defined. There are probably many people who like slacklining and have tried it a few times but do not see themselves as “slackliners” (yet). From my experience and observations, I’d suggest the number of people who have been slacklining for less than a year is between 20-25%.
Frequency of Slacklining
The survey shows that the majority of slackliners (53%) exercises the sport 1-3 times a week. About 20% do so 1-3 times a month and 19% slackline only 4-7 times a week. Most people who rate their skills “Beginner” are likely to exercise only 1-3 times a month or less, while “Experts” and “Professionals” are likely to exercise 4-7 times a week.
How often do you slackline on average?
How do you rate your slackline skills in general?
Almost three quarters (71%) of all slackliners rate their skills as either „Intermediate“ (36%) or „Advanced“ (37%). Few people consider themselves as „Experts“ (14%) and even fewer as „Professionals“ (4%). The chart above looks similar to the one that shows, how long slackliners have been executing the sport (see “Experience”). Obviously, when gaining more experience people also improve their skills.
However, the same caution that is true for the data about experience also needs to be applied here. There are probably more people, who think of themselves as “Beginners”, they just didn’t take the survey. Also the various terms are not clearly defined and rating one’s own skills is very subjective.
The chart below shows, how often people exercise the various disciplines of slacklining. The left part of the visualization shows the amount of people who rarely or never exercise the corresponding discipline. The right part shows the amount of people who sometimes, often or always execute the discipline. The answers “Rarely” and “Sometimes” were considered somewhat neutral and thus are grey. The answers “Never”, “Sometimes” and “Always” show a clear tendency towards either end and therefor are marked red and green.
When you are slacklining how often are you …
The chart shows that the most popular discipline is lowlining, followed by longlining and trick-/jumplining. Highlining is only done by a small percentage of slackliners (14% often or always), probably due to the great deal of skill and knowledge, that is required to rig and walk on a highline. Lowlining, on the other hand, can be done almost anywhere and pretty much everybody starts slacklining on a lowline. Longlining and trick/jumplining are almost equally popular. Comparing the disciplines preferred by beginners and more experienced slackliners shows, that beginners almost exclusively do lowlining, while experts are drawn to all other disciplines, especially low-, trick- and highlining.
ASPECTS OF SLACKLINING AS A (SOCIAL) ACTIVITY
The chart below shows the reasons that motivate people to go slacklining. Neutral answers (“Neither agree nor disagree”) have been eliminated to clearly show a tendency towards one end. The right part of the visualization shows how much people agree the left part shows how much people disagree with the corresponding statement.
How important are the following reasons to go slacklinig for you?
The two most important reasons to go slacklining are “Being outside” (93% agree or strongly agree) and “Challenging myself and pushing my limits” (92% agree or strongly agree). Being with friends, relaxing and spending time with friends as well as general training aspects are also important. Only a small percentage of people do slacklining because they want (or need) to exercise for physical therapy or train for a specific other sport.
Spending time with friends and meeting new people rank relatively low. This shows that the social aspects of the sport are important but not the main reasons people do slacklining. In this regard slacklining seems to be different from most other sports. It is neither a team sport, nor an individual sport. It is both at the same time. Besides the line slackliners are with friends, on the line they are on their own.
Opinions & Views
Much like the previous visualizations the chart below shows how much people agree (right part) or disagree (left part) with certain statements about slacklining. Neutral answers have been eliminated to show a clearer picture.
How much do you agree with the following statements?
Almost everyone (99%, 1% neutral) agrees, that having fun is an important aspect of slacklining. On the contrary, only a small percentage (16%) of slackliners agree that competition is an important aspect of slacklining. In fact the majority (54%) disagrees with this statement. Most people agree that slacklining is a relaxed leisure acticity (77%) as opposed to an extreme sport (41%). However, 38% answered neutral when asked whether slacklining is an extreme sport or not. Probably because it can be, but for most people it is not.
The chart below shows how often people are with friends or alone, when slacklining. The answers “Rarely” and “Never” have been considered negative and are shown on the left side. All other answers are shown on the right side.
About three quarters (74%) of slackliners are sometimes, often or always with friends. About 19% are always with friends, while only 2% are always alone. Slacklining is clearly a social sport but not as much as one might think. Over two thirds of slackliners (66%) are sometimes, often or always alone when exercising the sport. However, even when slackliners are alone, they sometimes (36%), often (26%) or always (4%) meet others and get to know new people.
When you are slacklining, how often are you …
The chart above shows the places, which slackliners choose to set up their lines. Park areas within a town or city are the preferred slack spots with 95% of all slackliners going there sometimes (11%), often (56%) or always (28%). In contrast to that, only 14% of slackliners set up their lines in the mountains sometimes (6%), often (5%) or always (3%). However, the popularity of certain places changes with the skill level of the slackliner. Experts and professionals prefer mountains and urban spots to park areas. Obviously the preferred slack spots also depend on the area people live in. Most of the respondents live in the US and central Europe, where there are more mountains then beaches, for example.
What does the term „slacklife“ mean to you?
The word cloud above visualizes the most frequent words in the 262 textual answers, that respondents gave to the question “What does the term ‘slacklife’ mean to you?”. Common English words as well as words closely related to the term “slacklife” (e.g. “life”, “slacklife”, “slacklining”, “slackline” etc) have been excluded, in order to show only descriptive words. The five most frequently used words are: people (39), fun (38), friends (30), enjoying (27) and balance (27). The words “active”, “outside” and “pushing” have also been used several times. This corresponds with the reasons that motivate people to go slacklining (see “Motivation”). The word cloud also reveals, that friends and fun are the two main ingredients of the “slacklife”.
When reading all the single answers, it becomes apparent that there are multiple views on the term “slacklife” and thus on slacklining as such. Of course every person has an individual view on slacklining but most answers fall in one of three categories related to their skill level. Most beginners see slacklining as a fun backyard activity while having a barbecue and hanging out with friends. More experienced slackliners think of it more as a sport and for them, advancing their skills becomes important. Some slackliners also take the lessons they’ve learned while slacklining and apply it to their everyday lives. For example: living in the moment, finding inner and outer balance as well as focusing on one thing at a time. In this context, slacklining comes close to a philosophy and a lifestyle. For experts and professionals, slacklining is a vital part of their life and a way in which they can express themselves. They constantly push their limits and try to advance not only their own skills but also the sport of slacklining as such. At this stage slacklining is strongly connected to travelling and a lifestyle, in which freedom and self-fulfillment are more important than money and social status.
GLOBAL INTEREST IN SLACKLINING BASED ON GOOGLE
In addition to the survey described in the previous chapter, Google Trends (http://www.google.com/trends/) provides data about the global interest in slacklining, based on how often people search for the terms “slackline” or “slacklining”. The online tool can be used to estimate the nationality of slackliners, as well as visualizing the interest in slacklining over the last few years.
Nationality of Slackliners
The map below shows the accumulated search interest in the two terms “slackline” and “slacklining”. Unfortunately Google does not provide absolute figures such as the total number of searches. Instead the numbers are calculated relative to the country with the highest search interest (100). Countries with little interest in the search term do not show up on Google Trends at all.
The data suggests that the countries most interested in slacklining are: Germany (100), United States (80), Austria (72), Canada (59), UK (55), Switzerland (42), Brazil (34), Czech Republic (45), Chile (32) and Slovenia (25).
It is hard to estimate how close the map reflects reality but from my point of view it is more accurate than the data gathered through the survey (see “Nationality”). Google searches are independent of language (the world “slackline” is used in all languages, as far as I know) and location (Google has 65% market share around the world).
Development of public interest in Slacklining
Google Trends also provides a view on how the public interest in slacklining has evolved over the last few years. In addition to that, the tool also calculates a forecast and helps to get a glimpse of what lies ahead.
The graph above shows the interest in slacklining based on the search term “slackline”. There are two things to note:
- Interest in slacklining has been steadily growing from 2004 till today and will continue to do so, according to the Google forecast (doted line).
- Interest in slacklining varies throughout the year and peaks over the summer month.