Filmmaker Feature: Grant Thompson (Highliners)

Grant Thompson had no connection to slacklining or highlining until about 4 months ago. By utilizing modern technology, he was able to contact some of the world’s best, dive head first into the sport, and experience something that would quickly change his life. He was hooked from those first steps along the webbing. And now he wants to share that gift he was given with the rest of the world and so begins his first film, Highliners. In this in-depth and personal interview, Grant shares his experiences in his new found community, what standing on the line can do for you mentally, physically and even spiritually, and how you can help his dreams become a reality (although it doesn’t seem like anything will stop him). And who knows, maybe getting into slacklining will improve your surfing…

Tell us about your film. What is the goal behind it? How did you get inspired to create this film?

About 4 months ago, I didn’t even really know anyone who slacklined or highlined. I had known about highlining for a few years, watched many videos on the internet, but when you don’t know anyone doing it, it feels difficult to approach and understand. I finally got fed up with the fact that I had no idea how to make this sport apart of my life. So I emailed probably about thirty people with cool videos on Vimeo and YouTube asking where I should start. Brian Mosbaugh, a highliner from Oregon, responded kindly and ended up inviting me to meet him and his friends around Smith Rock State Park. My first day there, I walked my first highline, and then rigged and walked another one the next week. I started walking longer slacklines on the ground and lines made from different materials. I felt so moved and inspired by this sport, the kindness of the people who practice it, and the natural beauty of the places where it is practiced. The combination of these three things have completely changed my life. They have made me clear on a life I want to live and work for. Parts of myself that used to feel anxious, fearful or depressed now seem to feel calm and whole, and all I want to do is be able to share this feeling with as many people as possible.

This film will share the stories of different people who practice this sport, leaving the viewer feeling like they have met the highliners themselves. My goal is to document and share highlining in an honest, inclusive and engaging way that will impact the viewer long after the credits have run. I want people to be inspired by these stories and the pristine beauty of the world we live in. I want to remind the audience that there are many kind, generous people out there who are doing incredible things. The film will be engaging for anyone, people who slackline and those that don’t. Regardless of their interests, it is my goal to get the viewers psyched on dedicating themselves to whatever they care deeply about.

Grant's first step on his first highline. Photo: Jacqueline Harrah

Where is it being filmed and who is involved?

Thus far I have been working mainly with Jerry Miszewski, who currently shares the world record for longest slackline walked (1260ft) and shares the world record for the longest highline walked (375ft). In addition, he designs and distributes different slackline webbings and devices through his business, Balance Community. And most importantly, he is a kind person who is sharing something he cares deeply about. Up to this point, I have mainly been shooting with him and Chris Rigby, a highliner from Arizona, in different locations throughout California. There are other highliners I am planning to work with in California, Nevada, Utah, and possibly Oregon. The different people all manage to incorporate this sport into their lives in different ways while balancing it between the demands and responsibilities of adulthood.

What’s your background in film? And where do you hope that this film will take you?

I grew up making skateboarding videos with my friends and was into photography throughout high school. I also took film classes in college and wanted to pursue a degree in film, but I figured making this film would likely be a better way for me to approach this career.

I see this film as my first solid step towards a career that revolves around working with stoked and motivated people.

For those who don’t know much about slacklining or highlining, can you please explain a bit about the sport and what is involved. What is the difference between the two? And what happens if you fall?

Slacklining in a nutshell is generally stretching a flat, 1-inch-wide strip of dynamic webbing between two anchor points. You can anchor it between trees, rocks, just over water, very high off the ground, or where ever you see fit. Varying pulley systems are used to tension the lines. You can walk on the line, jump, flip, bounce, do yoga poses or dynamic movements with the line. When you rig a highline, redundancy is critical. You can rig two lines together or a line and a rope to make sure if your main line fails you don’t die. Ideally, you want every aspect of your rigging to be backed up, so there is not one single point that your living existence is dependent on. You run both lines through rings, and join yourself to lose rings with a climbing harness and a rope. So if you fall, you are attached to the line and essentially just get whipped around from your momentum. It’s actually an incredibly draining process falling, then climbing up your leash and getting back on top of the highline. Ideally, when you fall you catch the line.

How long have you been slacklining/highlining? And how long did it take you to get it wired (no pun intended)? How has it changed you?

I started getting into slacklining last spring, but I couldn’t really find anyone who was doing it. I had a very basic set up and it wasn’t as enjoyable doing it alone. Consequently, I put it on hold until I got better equipment and started meeting highliners a few months ago in July. But I was watching so many highlining videos before that I would say I have been hooked on it for about two years. So just the process of going from deeply yearning to be apart of this sport, to avidly pursuing it, to being so warmly received by these wonderful people has been absolutely inspiring. After walking my first two highlines, I immediately shifted all of my focus into being able to create this film, so walking lines quickly went onto the back burner. That said, rigging and walking long and high lines has had a profound impact on me. Rigging highlines demands huge amounts of integrity. You have to trust your decisions with your life and the lives of your friends. Then actually walking requires huge amounts of faith and trust in yourself. I’ve learned that even if I feel terrified, sometimes taking a step forward is the best course of action. When the line shakes, it is because of your own unsteady thoughts, feelings, and actions. So in order to walk lines successfully you must own the responsibility for any unsteadiness of the line. You must correct yourself to bring the line back into a peaceful state. Life on earth is exactly the same way. Walking lines has taught me to take full responsibility for my life and my actions. It has reminded me to make a constant effort to work through my patterns and tendencies that have resulted in any negative repercussions. And for me, that mindset has given me a sense of freedom.

Talk about the devotion it takes to be good at slacklining and highlining. What kind of mind frame must you have to be successful? What are some of the steps a slackliner must take in order to mentally prepare themselves? And how do you stay calm?

The way I see it, the mind frame of walking a line is based in the nature of experience. You can sit on a highline and look across it forever and never want to get up and try it because it looks so scary, even though falling is harmless. When your in that mind set, your preconceptions of what you think is possible are governing you. Your not actually getting up and trying it, your letting your fear come between you and your experience of life. When your able to work through it, stand up and start walking, it starts to feel easier. I think to successfully walk lines you must be immersed in your experience of life and let go of what think it is or what it should be. You must fully cultivate your senses and become aware of what is going on inside and outside of yourself. How to stay calm is the hardest part of it all for me. If I get freaked out or upset, it is extremely difficult for me to call upon a calm state of mind. That seems to be a huge part of it all, developing the skill to summon a calm state of mind in any and all circumstances.

As far as preparations go, I think it varies person to person. If Jerry can’t cross a line one day, he goes as far as trying to force himself into dreaming about successfully walking it during his sleep. And he said it has worked almost every time.

What are some obstacles you have faced while making this film? I would imagine you must be a climber of sorts to get some of your shots…

Honestly, I have been amazed how smoothly everything has been flowing. Although this is my first serious, full length film, it seems to have gone from being just an idea to having a life of it’s own rather quickly. I would say the biggest challenge is being responsible for every aspect of the production and to always focus on making sure the different phases run smoothly. Right now the main obstacle I am facing is how to be able to continue working on this project full heartedly with no funding. As far as shooting goes, I am not a climber. I love shooting this sport so much and am always working as hard as I can to get as many different angles as possible, which often requires some hiking and occasionally some serious bush whacking.

How can our viewers help?

We have recently launched a fundraising campaign through Donations are met with rewards like digital downloads of the film, slackline friendship bracelets, photographs, and signed DVD’s. Even if you can only afford a small donation it helps so much! Readers can also help us share what we are doing and get others stoked Being that we are a surf website, how does slacklining/highlining relate to surfing? Do you see this is a good training tool for our sport?

I absolutely see a connection. I think that slacklining is the only other sport where one actively interacts with large, visible energy waves. When I first started sitting on long lines, I would feel awkward and not know how to sit on the line and be comfortable with the oscillations. It reminded me of when I first started surfing and felt so uncomfortable sitting on my board in the ocean. As far as training goes, slacklining and highlining gets you in shape! You really get a full body work out, and it helps a lot with posture. I also have found that highlining is great training for bigger surf because it makes you cultivate a calm, logical, and confident state of being in situations that appear terrifying. Slacklining is a great way to stay stoked when there’s no waves.

What’s next for Grant Thompson?

I am leaving today for an international highlining gathering in Utah. It looks like we will have some new world records by next week and I feel so stoked and honored to be a part of it and document it. I’m excited to hop on some lines myself too. Beyond that, I look forward to being able to share this sport with you the way I see it and feel it in my heart.

For more on the film, check out the official website at

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