Highwire walker Nik Wallenda, who is part of the seventh generation of stunt performers known as the Flying Wallendas, famously does not use a safety net or a harness for his acts. Wallenda has said he prefers it that way because extra equipment can serve as a distraction.
But for his daring walk across the active Masaya volcano in Nicaragua on March 4, 2020, Wallenda was connected to a safety harness. ABC broadcasted the event and insisted Wallenda allow the safety tether, despite his objections.
The tether does not make the walk any easier and does not provide any extra balance. Wallenda expressed concern beforehand about whether the tether would actually cause him to fall due to the unique circumstances the volcano presents.
Here’s what you need to know.
Nik Wallenda Was Connected to a Tether That Would Support His Weight If He Fell, But Wallenda Was Concerned the Harness Would Pull Him Off the Wire
Nik Wallenda argued against using a safety harness for the volcano walk. But ABC executives insisted that he wear one as an extra assurance that if he were to lose his balance, he would not fall to his death. Wallenda remarked to his hometown newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, “That’s for ABC. It is what it is.”
The safety harness is the same type of support system ABC made him use for the June 2019 performance above Times Square. But he explained to the Maine Edge that in New York City, the tether was situated directly over his head. It was an easier set-up because he was walking between two solid buildings.
At the Masaya volcano, the tether was about 24 feet away from him instead of being directly over his head. Wallenda told the newspaper days before the walk, “My concern is that it could actually pull me off the wire. If I were to lose my balance and actually use that tether, I would be 24 feet out from the wire; I don’t know how my rescue team would get to me.”
But Wallenda completed the walk in 31 minutes without any mishaps.
Nik Wallenda Said He Was Taught Never to Trust the Harness
Nik Wallenda admitted in the days leading up to the volcano walk that he was nervous. He told Good Morning America his biggest concern was the wind. The powerful gusts could make the poisonous gases swirl around him and hinder his vision. He wore goggles and a mask, but Wallenda prepared for the possibility that the gases would fog up the goggles. He practiced performing the walk with his eyes closed.
Wallenda was not relying on the safety harness if something were to go wrong. Before 2019’s Times Square stunt, he explained to the Wrap that his family taught him to never “trust” the harness. But he said having the safety “does ease the concerns of others,” such as the executives at ABC.
Wallenda was more agreeable to the idea of wearing a harness during the June 2019 Times Square walk because he was performing alongside his sister, Lijana. It was the first major stunt she had performed since suffering a serious injury in 2017. Lijana fell and broke nearly all the bones in her face during a circus rehearsal. Wallenda was involved in that rehearsal but managed to grab onto the wire and did not fall.
ABC Made Nik Wallenda Wear a Harness When He Walked Across Niagara Falls & He Admitted Afterward It Was ‘Nerve-Wracking’
The first time Nik Wallenda ever used a safety harness was in 2012 when he completed the historic walk across Niagara Falls. ABC broadcast that walk as well and insisted he use the tether.
Wallenda explained at the time that the harness did not make the walk easier or assist his balance. “The way the harness works is it is attached to my waist and then there’s a cable that goes down to the wire and a trolley of sorts that follows me. That trolley weighs about 10.2 pounds. It actually just drags along.”
Wallenda trained using the harness in order to get accustomed to the feel. But he admitted after the walk was over that it had been “nerve-wracking” knowing he was connected to a tether.
Wallenda did not wear a safety harness when he performed a highwire act across the Grand Canyon in 2013. The Discovery Channel did not force him to wear a tether. Wallenda had to crouch down twice due to the strong wind gusts. He may have to do the same thing as he crosses above the Masaya volcano.
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