Fall protection27 October 2016
In all workplaces, careful planning, expertise, and the right equipment choices, are key to avoiding accidents. For Nik Wallenda, one of the seventh generation of the famous family of tight-rope walkers, safe rigging is paramount.
Ask Nik Wallenda about his life and profession and you can’t help but feel compelled to pursue your own passions. “My mom has always said it’s in our blood, and I truly believe that,” he explains. “You know, there was never a point where I didn’t want to do what I’m doing. It’s what I love. This is my passion. This is about a man living his dream, not about impressing people. If you’re doing what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” He exudes positivity and it’s absolutely contagious, as is his deeply anchored love of rigging.
Tracing his roots back to the Austro- Hungarian empire of 1780, Nik Wallenda is the seventh generation of Great Wallendas, world-renowned high wire performers.
The family moved from Europe to America in 1928, when Nik’s great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, brought them here to join Ringling Brothers Circus: The Greatest Show on Earth. For Nik, high wire performance has been a lifelong calling. In fact, his mother, Delilah, was still walking the wire while six months pregnant with him. “Which means that I’ve been performing since even before I was born,” Nik points out.
Officially, his first circus performance was at the age of two. Toted out to the center of the ring in a pillowcase, he was presented to the crowd donning a full clown outfit and makeup. That same year, he also began walking on the wire, although he was not permitted to perform the stunt professionally until many years later. At age 13, in upstate New York, he made his high wire debut with a routine consisting of an incline walk without a balancing pole and riding a bicycle on the wire, at a height of around twenty feet. Just two years later, he began holding pyramids on the wire, a long-standing family tradition.
The power of rigging
“I have such a passion for rigging, I love that part of what I do. I enjoy the challenges that come along with it,” explains Nik, when asked what his favorite part of the job is. “People often don’t realize that I, along with my internal team, am hands on with designing the rigging for everything that I do.” For every single setup he uses, Nik designs it all with the help of his close-knit team: his father as his safety coordinator, his uncle as his head engineer, and his best friend as his head rigger. Nik began learning proper rigging techniques from the very beginning, with information passed down through seven generations of family. Relying on the proper use of rigging equipment to ensure their safety, the Wallendas are long-standing experts in the field. Nik’s personal enthusiasm for this aspect of his work has only grown stronger over the years.
“We use a little bit of everything. We’re looking at lots of new product right now. The Crosby Trawlex chain we’re looking at for a brand new rigging setup, anchoring around a beam, and we’re looking at the swivel hoist rings. That’s a little bit of a unique application, the way that we anchor in some arenas to stabilize some of our riggings. We’re always looking at Crosby and seeing what is new out there, how can we use it and how can we apply it? I love new products!
“Even right now, I’m currently designing a new rigging with some brand new Crosby product. It’s so fun for me to figure out new ways of doing things, and safer ways. Through the generations, technology has advanced so much. My great-grandfather used to go to do the walk, and he would literally look at the wire and go, ‘Yeeeaah, that’s tight enough…’ But now we have tools and equipment, dynamometers to tell us to the ‘T’ how many pounds of tension are on the wire, and we have safety factor of 5-to-1 in everything that we use.” Nik pauses for just a moment, then adds, “My great-grandfather lost his life, truth be told, due to a rigging error. So we take that part extremely seriously. It’s the reason that my father and I always oversee every aspect of the rigging ourselves.”
It was during a high wire walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March of 1978, that Karl Wallenda, age 73, fell to his death due to bad rigging. Years later, on June 4, 2011, Nik and his mother successfully recreated and completed his performance. The 135ft long high wire walk took place between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel, and served as a beautiful tribute to Karl’s legacy and lasting memory. “Recreating that walk with my mother was probably my favourite walk, because of the emotional connection. My greatest inspiration is my family, and what they’ve been able to overcome to do all this, generation after generation. But it’s actually really hard to pick a favourite walk, there’s something unique about each one that I’ve done that makes each one special.”
Making the right choice
The Wallendas have relied heavily on Crosby’s quality rigging supplies since the very beginning. When asked what he looks for when selecting product for his carefully designed rigs, Nik says, “Crosby has always been the cream of the crop as far as rigging supplies. As a matter of fact, for generations, it’s always been that if we’re going to order rigging it has to be Crosby—because of the quality and the safety factors that are built in. It’s the best, most reliable product on the market. It’s a brand that is recognized clearly worldwide. If you’re risking your life, you want the best, and that’s why we’ve always leaned on Crosby. I literally trust their products with my life.
“Crosby is the Mercedes of rigging. I truly believe their quality control department is a huge part of that. For example, I’ve seen product from other brands where the shackle pin won’t screw in because it isn’t threaded right, and with Crosby I’ve seen much more consistency of product. We will never use anything but a Crosby rope clip, we’ve seen so many of the competitors’ rope clips fail. “When new equipment comes in, we look over every shackle in the order with a microscope and the consistency of Crosby products far outweighs any other brand on the market. They are THE brand in rigging, and I think really that’s recognized throughout the rigging world, they are the best of the best. There have been times where I’ve seen product where it seems like ‘oh, this is the same,’ but then when you really look at them side by side you realize that they just don’t compare. When you’re trusting a product with your life you just can’t justify cutting corners.”
With eleven World Records under his belt, and a lifetime of stunning performances across the globe, Nik Wallenda continues to astonish crowds worldwide with fresh concepts and a true devotion to his craft. Even after accomplishing so much, he remains humble and exudes a genuine gratitude for life that is both uplifting and tremendously motivating. So what exactly drives a man like Nik to keep moving forward after already achieving so much? His answer is simple:
“The opportunity to inspire other people. I receive letters from people every day and there’s a lot of fulfillment in knowing that people are touched and inspired by what I’m doing. It seems like a great big challenge at the beginning, when I look out at the Grand Canyon and think about walking across it on that wire. The analogy I like people to take home from what I do, anyone who’s facing a challenge, is that ‘anything is possible’. Whether you’re opening a business or battling an illness, anything is possible, against all odds you can make it too. Pursue what you love, no matter what it is.”