Suspended 200 feet above the Cosumnes River Gorge on a flat, 1-inch-wide line, Jerry Miszewski put one foot in front of the other and crossed the 451-foot-wide expanse to complete the world’s longest highline walk last year.
Unlike tightrope walking, Miszewski is a slackliner — an up-and-coming sport that uses flat, webbed, elastic lines that athletes walk across or use to perform acrobatic feats.
In the early days of the sport, Miszewski wouldn’t have been able to complete the world-record walk. He had to design his own equipment first.
“I had outgrown what was available,” said the 26-year-old entrepreneur, who was instantly hooked by the challenge the first time he slacklined. “Slacklining used products from other industries like climbing or industrial lifting. At a certain point, those become unusable.”
Due to weight and length limitations, Miszewski was breaking his line and realized something had to change; the future of slacklining needed safer, longer lines for the sport’s community to thrive.
“I started designing my own stuff for my own use,” he said. “And then I got to thinking, other people will eventually need to use this stuff.”
Balance Community Slackline Outfitters was born in Miszewski’s bedroom, while he earned his mathematics degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before he and his wife moved to Davis two years ago.
Miszewski also holds the world record for longest slackline, having crossed nearly a third of a mile — 1,620 feet — in Davis. As a professional athlete, Miszewski travels the world to slacklining festivals — including Poland, Germany and China last year.
“His slacklining astounds me,” said Tyler Shaffo, Miszewski’s only employee. “He has a freakish balance ability.”
According to Shaffo, Miszewski’s investments in safety, longer slacklines; stronger American-manufactured equipment; and his relationships with customers make Balance Community unique.
“Jerry interacts a ton with customers,” Shaffo said. “He helps them personalize their order. That way, they know what they are getting and the proper way to use it. I think that is what makes our company special.”
Miszewski, who has always had an interest in design, says seeing others receive the same enjoyment out of gear that he developed brings him joy.
Aside from improving his products and supporting his customers, Miszewski finds inspiration for improving his business by looking to other outdoor-based industries as they develop their brand, product safety procedures and testing.
Miszewski sponsors a Balance Community slackline professional team with competing athletes based worldwide.
Since moving to Davis, Miszewski has seen the sport explode in popularity as athletes from other sports cross over to form new niches. One such niche is tricklining, whose athletes perform aerobatic stunts on the line.
Brenden Gebhart, a gymnast of eight years, asked to be on the Balance Community pro team to help Miszewski develop a high-quality trickline after experiencing poor quality lines from other companies.
“I knew people would be interested in a high-quality trickline,” Gebhart said after returning from Esslingen, Germany, having won the 2013 Trickline Cup. “Tricklining was a sport that he had not touched in yet.”
“Most (retailers) are businessmen that are producing gear that will sell,” Gebhart said. “Jerry is producing gear not only for himself, but everyone else.”
Another niche group are yogaslackers, who perform yoga positions on slacklines for increased balance and body awareness.
“I see a lot of people coming into it from a lot of different sports,” Gebhart said.
Although Shaffo started working for Balance Community six months ago and is new to slacklining, he sees the reason why people come to the sport.
“There is this strong mental component. Staying focused and breathing is a big part of it,” Shaffo said. “There is a lot going on. You’re using a lot of minute muscles in your core, legs, feet and making very fast adjustments with your arms.”
Though Miszewski is not a yogi, he says slacklining forces you to clear your mind.
“It centers you,” Miszewski said. “It takes full concentration to be able to maintain your balance.”
Even though he has established his own business and has broken a few records, Miszewski does not consider himself competitive.
“The thing about slacklining is that it is supposed to be you versus the line,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing, the line is going to respond. The way I see it is, the slackline is pretty much like a mirror. (Competing) with someone else kind of conflicts the very nature of the sport.”
Miszewski plans to host Balance Community events in the future to share with the public what slacklining is all about. Due to the relative newness of the sport, Miszewski wants to see the tightly knit slacklining community grow.
“We want to keep that alive,” Miszewski said.
For more information on future events by Balance Community, visit www.facebook.com/BalanceCommunity.