Women Slacklining The World
Faith Dickey Is a Woman On the Wire
By Mackenzie Lowry
Faith Dickey has set the world records for highest free-solo slackline ever completed by a woman. Only thin air stands between the line and the ground. There’s no net, no harness, nothing to catch a fall. It’s just a single human body, breathing, maintaining mindfulness, and hopefully keeping balance across the line.
What made you first decide to try the slacklining?
I tried it because of a friend of mine had done it before. I never dreamed I would be highlining. I went to Europe to travel and met some guys who were doing it in the mountains, so I tried it and that’s what really ignited my passion.
Did you wear a harness at that time?
Yes, I wore a leash and a harness but it was so scary. I was probably 60 feet high, but it was such a foreign experience. My whole body was shaking and resisting. I was sitting on the line trying to stand up and it was like my body wouldn’t even listen to me. You may fall four feet below the line and you’re dangling from a rope. You have to climb back up the rope and get back on the line. Once you walk one highline you can’t stop.
Do you always slackline barefoot?
I prefer barefoot, the majority of slackliners and highliners walk with no shoes. It’s better because you can feel the line. The line is only one inch wide so it’s really nice to center it under your foot. It provides good friction.
When you went to Europe, it was originally just for travel?
I went because I wasn’t sure what I was doing in life and I wanted to see some of the world. I’d never been outside the US. I didn’t meet any other slackliners until I went to Germany and went to a slackline festival. I discovered they have festivals all the time and slacklines in every park.
Slacklining became the reason for my traveling. I’ve seen amazing places because of this sport. It’s incredible and I get to experience them in a really unique way. Whereas people just walk to the edge and take a picture, I get to be out in space with exposure all around me. It’s really amazing.
Do you still get scared when you try highlining in new places and new heights?
I definitely still get scared every time I go to places like Yosemite, Utah, Moab or the Alps. You just have to be careful, focused and diligent. There’s a big difference between walking a line a couple of hundred feet high as opposed to a couple of thousand feet high. They’re both hard, but just the knowledge that you’re a couple thousand feet high is a totally different experience. It’s almost like this space underneath you is sucking you in. I recently helped my friend set up a 1,000 feet high and 960 feet long highline. When the wind blew, it was shaped like an S. It was terrifying.
Are you exhausted by the time you get to the top of the mountain?
In Yosemite sometimes the hikes are so brutal. You hike with heavy backpacks for four hours and then we set up the line and then you’re supposed to walk it. It’s definitely exhausting.
Do you think there are differences between being a male or female in slacklining?
I don’t think there’s a biological difference. The whole reason I created the Girls Only Slackline Festival was to give women the opportunity to be a majority because we’re never a majority in slacklining or highlining.
What does a highlining team entail?
Taking trips. It’s pretty much impossible to set up a highline alone so you have to go with friends. We went to Morocco, France, and the Alps together to establish new highlines and work with sponsors. The past couple years I’ve been on a girls team called “G for G.” We created the team to show other women there are girls doing this stuff.
Is there any one place that feels most like home to you?
Calling me a nomad is probably the easiest way to describe me. It’s been hard to decide where I would live for a long period of time. California has been my home base for the last three years, but I go to Europe every summer for three months and then I go home to Texas periodically. Austin has always felt kind of like home because it’s where I’m from, my family is there, I’m registered there, my car has Texas plates.
The Czech Republic has always been my home away from home. I speak some Czech words and phrases and I can order food and drinks. It’s a small country with a lot of climbing, highlining and a really big slackline community. There’s this one place called Ostrov where I spend the most time and it’s this tiny village. That’s where I hold the Girls Only Festival every year. That place is a sanctuary for me. No cell phone service, just nature and good people. I love it there.
Do you feel these different travels and experiences give you a new appreciation of the world?
Yes. Europe was my base for almost four years and I lived in Poland and Berlin. Traveling is a necessity for me. I love hitchhiking and it’s been so eye opening because you meet all these people you would never normally meet. I’ve hitchhiked with ultra-religious people, with a neo-Nazi. I’ve hitchhiked with every type of person under the sun. Not that I agree with every single person that I come across, but it’s helpful in accepting the differences between human beings.
I spend most of my traveling time in natural beauty. It’s interesting to be in different areas and become more aware of how big of an effect we have on the planet. Culturally, it breeds tolerance and open-mindedness when you’re constantly exposed to different cultures, belief systems, food and languages. That is part of what has changed me as a person.
Do you have a most memorable travel experience?
I hitchhiked with my team from Poland to Greece and back again to do a highline trip. We went through all of these Balkan countries that I’d never experienced before – Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria. We had 80 pound backpacks and had to deal with gypsies in Serbia and crazy wild dogs in Bulgaria. We hitchhiked through Albania with a guy who drove towards on-coming traffic and then bribed the police.
We later slept in a gas station and then we hitchhiked through Croatia. We almost got arrested because my teammates decided we should make a fire on a hill. The whole village saw the fire and the police took our passports and decided we needed to hike to a campsite. We luckily got rides back to Poland, but the whole trip was the biggest adventure of my life. The whole trip was so wild.
Have you had any particular big scary falls?
I’ve trained myself to catch when I fall. It’s very likely that if I did fall, I would catch the line that I was walking on.
What else have you been up to outside of the highlining and slacklining?
I do have my skydiving license. I was aiming to be a base jumper, but the amount of risk compared to the reward wasn’t worth it for me when I have all these other activities that I love doing. I play the ukulele, surf, garden, meditate and paint. Yesterday I went to a driving range for the first time in my life and I whacked some golf balls.
Photos courtesy of Faith Dickey