Nik Wallenda has been walking on tightropes and setting world records for pretty much his entire life. His most recent record setting stunt was for the highest blindfolded tightrope walk ever. We couldn’t believe our eyes when he sat down to talk with us!
BTM: I know in your case, you were pretty much born into tightrope-walking, since your family’s been performing for generations. What was it like growing up as a Flying Wallenda?
Nik: The funny thing is, I was walking the wire before I was born – my mom was still tightrope walking when she was 6 months pregnant with me. But I really started walking the wire on my own legs at around 2 years old, on a rope about 2 feet off the ground. I never did anything up high until I was about 13 years old, and then I walked at about 30 feet, and from there, I kept going higher and higher.
BTM: How you think up world-record setting stunts that you can pull off?
Nik: Most of the time it just comes to me – I’ll be sitting there at night, or even sleeping, and I’ll think of a stunt that would be an amazing walk. The blindfold walk actually happened because I was having Lasik surgery – I wondered if I would still be able to do what I do if I lost my vision. So I started to challenge myself to train with my eyes closed, and eventually was able to prove that I could do it, and broke a world record doing the highest blindfold walk ever.
BTM: And once you have an idea for a walk, how do you use math to make it happen?
Nik: There’s a lot of mathematics, science and engineering in walking a wire, and I have an amazing team of engineers that help me plan my walks. I go to them with an idea for a walk, and they go out there with a survey crew. The survey crew uses geometry, trigonometry, all kinds of fun math so that they can tell me the height of the buildings, the space between the buildings, and the incline of the wire between those two buildings. Then we can set up a wire at that incline so I can test it out, and we can adjust the tension and sag in the cable based on those tests.
BTM: And then when you’re walking, is there math in the speed you need to move at?
Nik: You know, we’ve gotten all the math worked out beforehand, so there’s not a lot of math as I’m walking –
BTM: We would be counting the steps until it was over, because we’re not nearly as comfortable with heights as you are.
Nik: (laughs) Yeah, that makes sense. One math skill I have to use while walking the wire is accounting for wind gusts. I’ve trained in winds of up to 120 MPH on the beach in Florida, where I live. When we’re planning a walk, we find out what the strongest winds are going to be on top of buildings based on averages for that time of year, and then we plan for the wind to be worse than average.
BTM: So if a kid wants to grow up and set world records with stunts, what type of math will they need to know?
Nik: I encourage kids to do whatever they set their minds to. A lot of any job is training and preparation, and in my line of work, engineering comes into every aspect of it. I’ve got friends like Robbie Madison and Travis Pastrana that do amazing jumps, and there is so much math in those ramps, with calculations of speed they have to go on their motorcycles, angles of the ramp to clear gaps, and the force that they’re going to take when they land. So the math used in engineering is very important for any daredevil, for sure.