Exploring the GGBY Highlining Festival
Unhooking the hangover, his knuckles turn pale holding his dangling weight. The highline bounces, whipping continuous waves from one end of the canyon to the other. As the crest above him peaks, he tosses his leg over the line so that he is lying stomach-down looking 400 feet into the abyss.
Smoothly sitting back, he rolls up his sleeves and turns his backwards cap around to block the glare from the sun. Lifting his feet onto the line, he takes a moment to look across the 900 foot chasm, shaking out any distracting nerves. With a steady exhale, he rocks forward and stands. Now, one step in front of the other- it's as simple and complicated as that.
GGBY, Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah, is a five day highlining festival held the last week of November in Moab, Utah on public territory run by the Bureau of Land Management. Adventure sports (i.e. BASE, skydiving, rock climbing, off-roading, highlining, etc.) that are frowned upon or deemed illegal by the federal government have found a home in BLM regions as such.
What began in 2008 as a small gathering of friends rigging a single line has morphed into a bash consisting of over 400 attendees and 14 highlines ranging from 15 meters (47 feet) to 274 meters (900 feet). In just over a decade, athletes from an unheard-of adventure niche are now splashed across the vast world of social media, demanding the sweaty-palmed attention and heart-racing admiration the sport truly deserves.
If you are not one of the handful of vehicles with parking passes for a spot near the Fruit Bowl, location of the main festivities, your walk in takes 30-45 minutes. In recent years, an official shuttle has been offered.
Tents and camping hammocks scattered along the way begin to multiply and cluster as you approach the canyon. At first sight, the bowl appears to be in anarchy, with lines zigzagging back and forth along the cliffs, but drawing closer, you notice a system of organized chaos.
Although highlining is usually a solo sport taken on by small groups, the process of setting up and operating a festival of this size demands a decent amount of manpower; therefore, it is vital that everyone completes tasks with acute accuracy.
Trust is important, and things are generally ran through channels of respect for the sport, safety, and Mother Nature. Knowledge and suggestions are heard. Steps in the process are not taken for granted. Everything is checked multiple times by several people.
There is a rhythm to it all.
Despite what many people would assume, highlining is generally safer than most ground sports due to intense levels of precaution taken. Bolting is a serious process, highlines are equipped with backup webbing, and walkers wear a harness and leash that is securely attached to the line.
What makes highlining particularly challenging, aside from overcoming mental blocks, is how much looser the lines are compared to tightropes. Wind can curve the webbing out yards away from the ideal path, and the bucking usually bounces the walker off the line.
Another well-known icon of GGBY is the Spacenet. Consisting of several miles of rope and bungee, it was introduced to the festival by a long time veteran of highlining for various sport uses and is now used for acro activities or a spot to curl up with friends.
Extreme sports are not the only talents that finds their way to GGBY. Most attendees bring multiple skills to express, entertain, and teach. From music to fire dancing, there is something awesome to watch whatever direction you look.
Community- one of the most beautiful aspects of the highlining and extreme sports world. While most athletics thrive off of competition, this pastime sees participants aiding their peers with beta and encouragement to push their skills to new heights - pun intended.
With its quickly growing popularity, one must be ready for some continuous changes to the festival itself.
As mentioned before, GGBY began as a group of friends sharing a unique avocation but has exploded into a sponsored, ticketed event that seems to be heading down the same path as other community gatherings, similar to Burning Man, that open their doors to the public.
The 2017 event was the first that the BLM had to speak up regarding safety and numbers - pulling several activities such as BASE and rope swings off the table due to issue with insurance. Growing attendance will again have to be addressed in the near future as 2017 saw ques long enough to be cut off by sunset each day.
More importantly, there is a growing concern for safety. Working with average group numbers, one can see that the core of this community is built upon safety, passion, communication, and teamwork. Alas, as with most things, the greater it is saturated, the further it stretches from its core principles.
Whichever path the GGBY Festival takes, highlining has already begun to push itself into view of mainstream audiences. With such a supportive, resourceful, and innovative community of individuals backing these extreme sports, it is clear that these Outdoor Outlaws are here to stay.
For my personal experience, check out the GGBY Festival highlight story reel on my @She_Breathes_Fire Instagram account.
Thank you to Ryan Robinson for photo contribution and general Lost Boy shenanigans.