“This is the first time this has happened in the world, ever,” said one of the announcers at the World Slackline Federation World Championships. New York had never before hosted a slackline championship, but this Saturday, eight competitors from across the world balanced and flipped backward and fell hard, with grace, onto a bright yellow mat in front of the Central Park bandshell. Beside them, New Yorkers and tourists struggled just to make it across the beginner slacklines. These side-by-side events were what the Adventures NYC 10 Year Anniversary Weekend was all about: displaying the high-caliber outdoor opportunities the city holds, but making them accessible to newcomers.
At Adventures NYC, you could kayak, rock climb, paddle-board, play wheelchair basketball, fly fish in the grass, try salmon jerky, throw an L.L. Bean Boot for the chance to win a miniature L.L. Bean Boot, and wait in line for free Ben & Jerry’s. Despite the corporate presence at the event, it was an introduction to forgoing the computer-bound workday of the city and getting outside.
Last summer, I lived in Alaska. I climbed mountains, ocean kayaked, and talked loudly when hiking alone so that I wouldn’t surprise any bears. I was thrilled to move to New York this summer, but not for its outdoor adventure. I imagined that I would spend a lot of time in an air-conditioned gym. I was wrong.
Beside the four climbing walls at Adventures NYC sat Kevin Jorgeson. Jorgeson is a professional, champion climber. He’s currently in the midst of a five year effort to free climb the world’s hardest big wall, The Dawn Wall, on Yosemite’s El Capitan. But Saturday he was in Central Park under the Adidas tent, signing posters.
Jorgeson’s girlfriend has a place in Brooklyn, and so when he’s not in California (where he’s from), or on a climbing trip, which is often, he is in New York. Jorgeson says to “withhold judgement of the city itself.” He doesn’t mean New York, but all cities, because if you look for it, every city can be wild.
He recently traveled to Reno and expected that it would be “a mini-Vegas in the middle of Nevada.” Instead, he found a clean mountain town. “You can climb, you can kayak, you can hike all in the same day,” Jorgeson says. “And it’s right there. You wouldn’t know it unless you went there and looked around a little bit.”
It turns out that there is climbing right in Central Park, even when there aren’t rock walls set up. Jorgeson tells me that there is a good bit by Columbus Circle, and then various opportunities throughout the park.
“If you live in New York and you’re not looking for outdoor stuff,” Jorgeson says, “you’ll stay on the streets and you’ll be inside all the time. But if you come to New York and you’re looking to be outside, you don’t have to look very hard.” Behind Jorgeson, a small child in a baseball cap takes careful handholds as he climbs a rock wall for the first time. The plastic rocks are spaced so far apart that it seems unlikely he can reach any of them, but he’s certain, simply looks up, and then grabs.
Frederick Law Olmsted famously designed Central Park as a place to get lost in. Within the funhouse paths and masses of sunbathers it’s easy to find something you’ve never done, ever. You can boulder or set up a slack-line. Because it’s New York, there will probably be someone around who can teach you how, or at least tell you what it is that you are doing wrong.
And once you get out of Central Park, there’s camping at Floyd Bennett Field, a collection of rivers to kayak, not so far away mountains, and an entire ocean, with many chances to wait in line for ice cream on the way.
“You’re gonna find what you look for,” Jorgeson says. “So look for what you want.”
Photos: Abigail Carney