Wallenda takes sky walk on Cedar Point's Sky Ride

SANDUSKY Somewhere around 30 steps into this whole spectacle, there is the unmistakable sound of a f
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Somewhere around 30 steps into this whole spectacle, there is the unmistakable sound of a few thousand people simultaneously letting out a quick gasp.

"This guy is insane," says Jerry Wright, 41, of Norwalk. "Oh, he is definitely crazy."

It's minutes past 5 p.m. on Sunday. Wright and thousands of other thrill-seekers are packed hip-to-hip along the boardwalk inside Cedar Point, where every face is turned upward, staring at the man who's tiptoeing along the cables of the amusement park's nine-story cable car ride, the Sky Ride.

"He's still got a long way to walk," Wright says. "He's got to be doing some serious concentrating up there."

Thousands of eyes are locked onto the man as his feet wobble, for a brief second. The wind isn't terribly strong, but at 25 mph the breeze is steady and solid and the gondola cables are bobbing a bit.

The guy on the wire pauses and appears to mutter something under his breath, something only the seagulls could hear at that height.

A second later, the man settles his feet and continues walking. For the rest of the 400 or so steps, he doesn't falter. He pauses only a few times to bow on a knee and steady himself, and once to wipe some sweat from his brow.

He ends the journey by lying backwards on the wire and pumping his fists in the air triumphantly. As a finishing touch, he gets up and does a little Fred Astaire-like dance before he hops off the wire and into the hydraulic lift that's waiting for him at the other end of the cable.

It's an impossible and amazing display of dexterity and fearlessness.

"I think he's crazy, he's insane," says Jackie Findish, of Amherst. "But he's awesome. Awesome."

This is the life of Nik Wallenda.

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Thousands of Cedar Point visitors witnessed a dazzling display Sunday when Wallenda, 30, a world record-holding highwire artist from Florida, traipsed across a section of wires at the gondola's highest point. The breath-taking performance kicked off promptly at 5 p.m. as Wallenda was taken to the gondola wire by a hydraulic lift. He hopped effortlessly into position and toed his way across more than 300 feet of wire nine stories up, accompanied only by a curious seagull that flew within a few dozen feet of him.

Wallenda later admitted the winds were a little stronger than he'd wanted, and it caused his heart-stopping wobble about 30 steps into his 13-minute act.

"I definitely felt the wind," Wallenda said nonchalantly as he signed autographs after his performance. "They were gusts up to 25 mile per hour."

Robin Innes, Cedar Point's marketing director, said it was Wallenda's sixth appearance at a Cedar Fair park this summer, all part of a promotion the company has been offering to draw crowds. By all accounts, it did exactly that on Sunday.

"I'm scared just to get up on an extension ladder," said Roger Dearsman, of Green Springs, who watched Wallenda's act. "You wouldn't catch me up there, no way."

Dearsman's wife, Evelyn, said she looked away every time Wallenda paused.

"I can't watch it," she said. "I have to turn away."

There were no gimmicks like harnesses or safety nets to stay the concerns of the crowd, either. Wallenda walked across the entire section of wiring using only a balancing pole to steady himself.

The only assistance Wallenda received came from 20 Cedar Point workers on the ground, who were each harnessed to 20 cables attached to the gondola wire at 10-foot intervals. Every time Wallenda got to a 10-foot section, the workers pulled taut their own wires to help stable the gondola wire.

Save for the annoying wind, Wallenda said the biggest challenge came in walking on the thick gondola wire, which wasn't something he was used to. He said he typically uses his own cables -- thinner cables -- for his acts.

Wallenda has been a lifelong highwire artist, and comes from a family of level-headed types just like himself. The Flying Wallendas have seven generations of performers who are internationally known for their high-altitude feats.

The family's history is proof positive there's no backup plan or secret safety mechanisms to catch the performers if they make a mistake. Karl Wallenda, Nik's great-grandfather, died in 1978 in Puerto Rico when he fell to his death from a highwire. Bad rigging was blamed for the death, according to Wallenda's Web site.

Sunday's show at Cedar Point paled in comparison to Nik Wallenda's accomplishment last October in New Jersey, where he set the world record for the longest distance and greatest height ever traveled by bicycle on a high wire. He rode a bicycle on a wire that was attached to Newark's Prudential building, 20 stories high.