Who Was That Guy in the Toga With Madonna? And What Was He Doing?

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 5 2012 10:38 PM

Who Was That Guy in the Toga With Madonna? And What Was He Doing?

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Andy Lewis, aka Sketchy Andy, performs with Madonna during the Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show.

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Among the many odd moments in Madonna's epic, Roman Empire-themed halftime performance at this year's Super Bowl, perhaps the oddest came when the Voguing queen walked up next to what appeared to be a makeshift limbo pole or maybe a low-lying tightrope and watched a man who looked like he maybe could have been Will Ferrell or possibly a younger and svelter Richard Simmons (someone, in any case, with a lot of hair) bounce up and down as though that little rope was a trampoline. Oh, and he was wearing a toga.

What in the world was going on?

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Well, the short answer is: slacklining. Or, if you want to get technical and specific, tricklining. According to California's Adventure Sports Journal, slacklining was invented in the early 1980s by two rock climbers:

While rope walking has been around for thousands of years, the familiar art of slacklining along a taut length of tubular nylon webbing was invented in the early 1980s by two Yosemite rock climbers, Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington. The pair picked up on the idea after walking along loose chain fences on rainy days in the Valley. Hooked on the challenge, they strung up old climbing webbing between trees around their campsites at Camp 4, the traditional campground for Yosemite climbers for over 40 years. Voilà! The slackline was born.

Voilà indeed. As you may have guessed, the Super Bowl halftime cameo was a big moment for the young sport of slacklining—and for the talented, curly-haired slackliner who got the spotlight: Andy Lewis, aka Sketchy Andy. If, like me, you had never heard of slacklining before, you may be surprised to learn that Sketch Andy has a sponsor: Gibbon Slacklines. Given what I have written so far about the sport's history, you may be less surprised to learn that said sponsor is based in Boulder, Colorado, where the sport is reportedly popular.

In any case, if the halftime show didn't give you enough of Sketchy Andy's slacklining virtuosity, here's a clip of some of his derring-do, much of which makes performing at the Super Bowl look like a piece of cake.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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