Sketchy Andy talks slacklining, tech gadgets

January, 30, 2013
1/30/13
8:00
AM ET
Andy LewisAl Bello/Getty ImagesLast year's Super Bowl halftime hero relies on technology when seeking new adventures.
As Beyonce’s performance during the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show approaches, some of us are still fixated on the most memorable character from last year’s show, headlined by Madonna.

His name is Andy Lewis, aka “Sketchy Andy.” While wearing a toga, Lewis stole the show in Indianapolis by jumping and even doing backflips on what appeared to be a tightrope, as effortlessly as if he were on a trampoline.

That performance, which transfixed 111 million of us, was a demonstration of slacklining.

Lewis says that Super Bowl XLVI gave the sport incredible exposure, and he hopes the experience will be what he calls “a stepping-stone to progress the sport on a mainstream level.”

One thing is certain: The exposure was a stepping-stone for Lewis himself.

It turns out that Sketchy Andy impressed not only all of us watching at home, but also his on-stage collaborator -- Madonna actually offered Lewis a spot on her tour. After much consideration, he turned her down. Lewis recently told me that it was one of the hardest decisions he’s made in his life. But, he says, if he travels the world, he wants it to be on his own slackline.

Lewis is known as the king of slacklining, which incorporates a nylon rope that has enough slack to allow for the extreme bounce height we saw at last year’s performance. He first tried the sport in 2004, and eventually got good enough to win consecutive world titles from 2008 to 2012.

Styles of slacklining including tricklining (which is low to ground), waterlining (performed over water) or urbanlining (performed in streets and parks). Lewis, whose stunts can be considered extreme eye candy, has done all of the above, as well as base jumping. He mixes things up on a regular basis to keep it interesting.

“My typical week is a couple of base jumps and a few highlines,” he says. “Maybe some climbing, tricklining, tree netting and biking.”

Sometimes he attaches a leash to the slackline in case of a fall, and sometimes he doesn’t. The highest he has ever been without a leash is 3,000 feet.

[+] EnlargeGuide Ten Adventure Kit
Courtesy of Goal Zero The pocket-sized Guide 10 Plus kit can charge just about any electronic device.
For a guy involved in a sport that seems relatively low-tech, Lewis surprised me by revealing his interest and need for technology. After turning down Madonna, he ended up with a sponsorship by GoalZero, a portable solar-power company. As he explains it, the connection makes sense.

“The phone can be life or death in the sport I do,” he says. That’s because he finds himself in all terrains in extreme circumstances, with nary an electrical outlet in sight. Solar-powered gadgets are a must for keeping his devices and gear charged, especially on multiday missions.

In addition to his GoPro camera, Lewis uses the rugged Rock Out Portable Speaker and GoalZero's Guide 10 Plus Adventure Kit (equipped with rechargeable AA batteries, USB charging ports, built-in LED flashlight and the Nomad 7 solar-charging panel).

But more than any gadget, Lewis' most valuable asset is his free spirit. If you happen to see someone nearly naked performing athletic stunts hundreds of feet above your head, it's a good bet you've witnessed Sketchy Andy in action.

That might be a good time to pull out your own cellphone and start recording -- assuming that you've kept it properly charged, like Lewis would.


Katie Linendoll is an Emmy Award-winning technology expert contributing to ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. She contributes tech segments to CNN and hosts a tech show on Spike TV. She has a degree in Information Technology New Media from Rochester Institute of Technology and is a diehard Buffalo Bills fan.

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