Stepan Novikov – Walk like a Russian

Russian-born ex-Moscovian now Sydneysider, Stepan Novikov (no relation to the nerve agent Novichok), is a slacklining and highlining maestro. He is also one of the nicest guys we know and we are stoked to have him at the GBF 2018. Stepan has been walking the line for Donkey’s Years and has established many fine and difficult highlines including the first ever highline on Mt Geryon in the remote Tassie Wilderness. You can watch it here. (

Stepan currently teaches slacklining classes in Sydney where he transforms even the most wobbly of beginners into competent line walkers. We asked him a few questions to get an idea of what Festival goers can expect.

How did you get into slacklining?
It was almost nine years ago. I saw some people slacklining in a park. At that time I was already playing another not well known sport professionally (white water slalom) and learning juggling on my own. So it wasn't surprising for me that I got drawn to some new strange activity. On that first day I had a chance to try it only once. Obviously I sucked, like most of us do. Then a month later while I was on a sport camp for a couple of weeks someone had rigged a line and left it there. There was no one around who could walk it or knew how it should be done, but I had a lot of free time and heaps of motivation. It took me about three days to successfully send my first 10m line.

What makes a good slackliner?
Like with everything else, your willingness and ability to train regularly will make you a good slackliner no matter what you are born with (of course there are some exceptions).

What makes slacklining and bouldering so compatible?
It might be surprising, but I don't think bouldering and slacklining are that compatible. I mean, learning to slackline won't make you any better in bouldering and vise versa. But the good thing is that since they are so different you can learn one of them while you are resting from another.

Stepan on a line at Mt Arapiles.  Alex Bog

Stepan on a line at Mt Arapiles. Alex Bog

What can beginners expect to learn in your Intro class?
It's all gonna be about safe and efficient way of training.  

And since we all learn with very different speed, I would only say that most of the people can expect to be able to stay on a line for 10 seconds with proper posture, many will learn how to do a step, some will learn to do multiple steps in a row. It's not unexpected for me that some may even be able to send a 5-10m line by the end of the session. But as I said, the class is not about sending, it's about learning safe and efficient way of training, so you can go and do it on your own.

What can the more advanced expect to learn in your intermediate class?
My philosophy is that highline is not a place to learn new skills – it's a place to learn to manage your fear.  

So to make your first highline experience enjoyable and as safe as it can be some skills have to be learned in the park. These skills are gonna be the main focus of the class and they are:

  • being able to walk 15-20m lines confidently and consistently;
  • being able to stand up from a sitting position on a line;
  • being able to get back up on a line from hanging under the line;
  • leash management.

What are the three most important things for slacklining?
I'd say having slackline equipment or a friend who has it would be number one – no matter how much you want to learn slackline or how good you are at learning, if you have nothing to train on, it would be really hard to get any better.

And having the time and will to train I think those two things should be enough to turn most of us into an insanely good slackliners.

Even photographers can learn how to slackline, Stepan giving Kamil Sustiak a few pointers on a dry lakebed in Tasmania.  Simon Madden

Even photographers can learn how to slackline, Stepan giving Kamil Sustiak a few pointers on a dry lakebed in Tasmania. Simon Madden

How is slacklining different from highlining?
Highlining requires a lot more knowledge of rigging to make it safe and is much harder mentally as it requires you to learn how to deal with a fear of heights, which is natural to most of us.

Do the participants need to bring anything with them?
Many people like slacklining barefeet, but in case it's too cold or you don't like being barefeet, it's a good idea to bring any low profile shoes with flat sole.

Is there any rivalry between slackliners and tightrope walkers? And, if so, why do tightrope walkers suck?
No, as far as I know, but I'm not a specialist on this subject. I know that some slackliners get offended if someone calls them tightrope walkers, but I don't know why they do it.= 

But personally I do think that tightrope walking sucks :)

In rigging a tightrope they use thicker ropes or even metal cables, they put a lot of tension and to tension it you need a lot of gear and then since there is a lot of tension you need a lot of gear to make a bomber anchor and so on. Even walking tightrope requires some gear – a balance pole (not necessary, but it seems like most of them use it). Another thing that I don't understand is that in tightrope walking it's allowed to sit on a line to rest while attempting a record.

So, all of that looks more artificial and less ‘pure’ to me. The comparison is probably similar to comparison between Alpine style assent in mountaineering and fixed ropes style. They do the same thing, but some do it in one go using less gear, which looks more appealing to me.


Stepan on The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the first highline on Mt Geryon.  Simon Madden

Stepan on The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the first highline on Mt Geryon. Simon Madden