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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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It's okay to call them slackers
By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
Published May 28, 2007
Chris Galbraith steps onto the flat, inch-wide nylon line and edges forward like a tightrope walker, one foot at a time. Beneath him, the line vibrates like a large rubber band.
Then Galbraith, 23, takes a breath, launches himself and spins 180 degrees, landing on the line.
He wobbles for a moment, then hops off, victorious.
It's Slackline Sunday at Edgewater Park in Dunedin, where a group of slackers - the term used by those who pursue the emerging sport of slacklining - practice what they say is the Next Big Thing.
It's a sport where gravity is the rival and success is measured in terms of balance and symmetry.
"It's definitely going to be huge, " said Jason Kubb, 26, of Tampa. "And we don't know of anyone else doing it in Florida. We pretty sure we're the only ones in Tampa Bay."
At a gathering last week, nearly all the slackers had some kind of tattoo or body piercing. Most grew up surfing, skateboarding or figure skating. Now they're young adults with jobs, trying to maintain friendships and stay fit.
The slackers set up four lines, each 2 to 8 feet off the ground, for their balancing act. Unlike the taut rope used for tightrope walking, these lines are left a little loose and bouncy, enabling slackers to walk, sway, flip and perform a variety of tricks. Their webbing - purchased on the Internet - was wrapped around trees whose trunks they took care to protect with clothing and towels.
"We make protection of the tree bark a priority, " said Kubb, who works with computers for Nielsen Media Research and is an artist.
Still, the slackers have not been welcomed everywhere. They've been thrown out of several county parks around North Pinellas.
Kubb is called the "King of the Slackline" by his friends. He introduced the sport to them and he is among the best. His hair is dyed burgundy - to match his girlfriend's - and buzzed short to keep it out of his face when he slacklines. He is trying to learn to do a back flip on the line.
Even on the ground, Kubb thinks back flips. He runs up the trunk of a tree, nearly making it over backward.
"That's my little monkey boy, " said his girlfriend, Jennifer Humphrey, 26.
Humphrey is a former figure skater who says she's lost 22 pounds in the six months she's been slacklining.
Lean and trim, she extols the health benefits of slacklining, all while smoke from her cigarette curls into the air.
"It works every muscle in your body, " said Humphrey, who describes herself as an aspiring undertaker with an interest in cremation. "It's awesome for your stomach, back and legs."
It's is almost like meditating, she said. "Everything leaves your head except being on the line."
Her mother, Kathy Humphrey, 45, of Tarpon Springs, came to hang out with her daughter and ended up on the line herself.
On her third attempt, mom made it all the way across successfully. "Apparently I found my balance, " she said.
The slackers took turns practicing their jumps, turns and yoga positions on the lines. One made up a new move - the "penguin."
The group started out that day with about a dozen slackers, but soon the number grew to about 20. As newbies stopped by, they were given tutorials.
"Focus on your destination, " Jennifer Humphrey said, guiding one young woman across.
Slacklining is said to have started in the 1980s by rock climbers in Yosemite Valley, Calif. Thanks to videos such as those on YouTube, it is spreading across the globe.
It's a sport that can be performed in a back yard or on a mountaintop, where it is called highlining and is definitely more dangerous.
But even at low levels, the sport has its perils.
At the park, the slackers line up to show off their battle scars.
A rope burn here.
A bruise there.
"Severe injuries are possible, " Kubb said, "but that's usually from doing the extreme stuff.
To see video of local slackerliner Jason Kubb, visit www.myspace.com/punkbass1945 . For other videos, visit www.youtube.com and type "slackline" into the search box. Or go to Google and search videos for "slackline."