In just five years estonian Jaan Roose has become one of the best trickliners in the world. He’s not much of a talker, but he doesn’t need many words to prove who’s the boss on the slackline.
It’s easy to hide in the woods in Estonia because half of the country is covered with forest. Years ago, after World War II, these woods were the perfect refuge for the Forest Brothers, Estonian partisans fighting Soviet rule.
Today, the woods serve as training grounds for Estonia’s biggest export since Skype: Jaan Roose. He has all the space he needs in these woods to come up with new tricks and perfect them on the slacklines he’s run between the trees. No matter whether summer or winter, but definitely not before noon.
It’s almost as if Jaan wants to stay out of sight, though he has nothing to hide. The 23-year-old is one of the best trickliners in the world. Yet he’s modest about his achievements. He’s almost embarrassed by the fact that there’s a trick named after him.
For Jaan, competitions aren’t just about the trophy; he’s more concerned about staving off boredom—both his own and the audience’s. “Sure, winning’s better than losing. But for me it’s really about the show. I like how people react when they see my tricks.”
In 2012 he got the chance to show the whole world just how impressive his slackline talent is. “I was asked to go on world tour with Madonna. Back then I was still studying and my slackline technique was really sharp. And I didn’t have anything planned for that year.”
Andy Lewis got the same offer—and turned it down. But Jaan saw it as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel around the world for seven months and perform on the world’s biggest stages at 88 concerts from Tel Aviv to Córdoba.
Practice for the show started four months before the tour went on the road: slacklining, dancing, parkour—from first thing in the morning until late at night, six days a week.
“Madonna had a bunch of choreographers,” Jaan says, “I was just in charge of the slacklining parts. But of course she always had the last word. She would look at what you’d come up with and if she liked it, then ok. If not, you’d have to start all over again. It happened three times.”
Madonna’s standards were very high, but even she was impressed by how hard Jaan worked on his choreography. She nicknamed him “The Machine” and he taught her how to slackline.
Just a few years earlier he wouldn’t have even dared to dream of all this. As a teenager, Jaan had to ride his bike 20 kilometres when he wanted to meet up with his friends. Back then he didn’t even know what a slackline was.
It was all about parkour for him and his friends—until Jaan watched a slackline clip on YouTube for the first time in 2010. “It was a slackline competition. I remember that Andy Lewis was there and that he landed on his face trying to do a double backflip. I’d never seen anything like it. I just thought, wow! I want to do that, too! But back then I couldn’t afford a slackline.”
Still, he had the chance to balance on his first slackline at a parkour event that he and his friends organised. He was a natural talent. His knees stopped shaking after just half an hour. And because Jaan tried to do his first backflip that same evening, someone gave him a slackline.
“On my second competition I was knocked out by Andy Lewis in the first round. I didn’t feel bad about it. It was an honour to compete against him.” Jaan Roose
Jaan’s mind has been set on slacklining ever since. He usually comes away with a few bruises, but so far he hasn’t broken any bones. He used to train eight hours a day, but now he allows himself time to relax. His body needs time to recover. But you have to train regularly if you want to stay on top of the game.
Was it easier to develop new tricks in the early days of the sport? Jaan doesn’t believe so. “The level was lower in general. The hardest tricks today will seem like basics in five years. People sometimes work by themselves for months on a new trick. And as soon as the first person lands it, it gets easy for everyone else. All you have to do is watch the video in slow motion and copy the movements.” Would the sport have progressed so fast without YouTube? Hardly.