Vail’s Davis Hermes slacklines between two hot air balloons over Brazil
Eagle County’s Davis Hermes took his slacklining to a whole new level — 2,300 meters to be exact — in Brazil. And he reached that elevation between two unusual anchor points: hot air balloons.
Hermes, who started slacklining after seeing a demonstration at the 2012 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, has been traveling the world for competitions and to explore new places to slackline. He is the current title holder for the world championships held in Laax, Switzerland, last summer and dazzled viewers by slacklining between Fisher Towers, a pair of iconic rock formations made of sandstone near Moab, Utah, in the fall of 2022.
As if slacklining between the Fisher Towers, with about 800 feet of direct exposure below, wasn’t enough, Hermes has once again achieved a feat almost unimaginable to the rest of us. As crazy as it seems to slackline between two hot air balloons, Hermes said this is not a new idea. Hermes’ friend and fellow slackline competitor, Rafa Bridi of Brazil, did it first along with a few other slackliners.
“I wish I could take credit for that idea, maybe I’ll come up with something in the future,” Hermes said. “But, I saw that and I knew that I wanted to try it. I knew the resources and the proper person to reach out to in order to make something like that happen. Not that it’s easy, but since it’s been done before it’s not like there’s the question of, is this even possible?”
Hermes went straight to Bridi to accomplish this goal. He traveled to Praia Grande, Brazil, and the wheels were set in motion. Hot air balloons typically lift off during ideal weather conditions early in the day, so they set off before sunrise on Aug. 4. The rigging of the slackline was done between the two balloons before they left the ground. They were also flying with regular patrons going on a hot air balloon ride, who had no idea what they were about to witness and that this would set a world record for the highest slackline between two hot air balloons, increasing the elevation from 2,000 meters to 2,300 meters above the ground.
“When you’re flying with the public, you’re up and you’re not coming down until it’s over and the slacklining was either going to happen or it wasn’t. So, those people actually had no idea that they were going to be on a balloon attached to a highline. It was super wild, I wish I spoke any sort of Portuguese so that I knew what was going on and their reactions. It was a very individual experience on my balloon for sure.
Once on the slackline, Hermes performed a few static tricks due to the dynamics of the line.
“This slackline was harder not because it is high up, it’s because the anchors were moving, the balloons were not the same height all the time, everything was constantly changing, so the line was tight and then it was loose and the anchors were shifting forward and backward, to the right and left. Those anchors can move in every dimension and they can move fast, especially when you’re at an altitude with a lot of wind.”
Although Hermes said it felt calm in the basket of the hot air balloon, it was very different when he got out on the highline.
“It felt pretty violent and not knowing really much about balloons I was very terrified at certain points. It’s funny, because it’s not because of exposure, I’m good with exposure, I know that headspace, but it’s the unfamiliar things that scare you,” Hermes said. “Everything with the balloons was good, they were doing what balloons do, but not knowing anything and feeling the commotion of the movements, it was very intimidating for sure. Super overwhelming. I thought I was going to throw up at one point.”
Even days after the experience, Hermes says it is still hard to put into words and describe it.
“There were so many emotions, I was feeling stress that I haven’t ever felt before. Honestly, thinking about it right now, I really still haven’t processed what happened,” Hermes said. “We were right by the ocean and I didn’t even see the ocean, honestly, there was a lot going on in my head,”
Throughout the high-flying antics and world travels, the reigning world champion stays humble. Once he got back into the balloon and the group was descending, he FaceTimed with his mom to show her the view.
“After it was all over the pilot told me some of the people in his balloon were joking that ‘this guy’s mom probably doesn’t even know he’s doing this’ and little did they know that my mom took me to my very first slackline competition and has believed in me ever since,” Hermes said.
Hermes has supporters who slackline and those who don’t slackline from all over the world and those relationships are key to him.
“It makes me almost tear up a little just thinking about it right now,” Hermes said. “Friendships are a super special thing and I know everyone can relate to what it feels like to have a good friend, at least I hope they do, but I am super privileged and blessed to be able to do the things I do and it’s still special.”