Analysis

The 'unbelievably insane' tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls

The scion of one of America's most famous acrobatic families, the Flying Wallendas, accomplishes a lifelong dream — and makes history

American Nik Wallenda is now the first person to walk across Niagara Falls on a high wire. (See a video of the bold stunt below). The hair-raising walk, viewed by more than 100,000 people on the scene late Friday night and millions more on TV, marked the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for the 33-year-old daredevil. How did he do it? Here, a guide to the extreme, history-making feat:

Who is this guy?Wallenda is the 33-year-old scion of the family behind the storied Flying Wallenda high-wire act. He says he has dreamed of crossing Niagara Falls since he was 6, inspired by his great-grandfather, Karl, who started the family act. "That's what this is all about," Wallenda says, "paying tribute to my ancestors, and my hero, Karl Wallenda."

How far did Wallenda walk?He crossed above Horseshoe Falls, the largest of the three giant cascades making up Niagara Falls. Carrying a 30-foot pole for balance, Wallenda slowly walked 1,800 feet, starting from Goat Island on the American side, treading carefully on a two-inch-wide wire suspended 200 feet above the churning water. The trip took him 25 minutes. He trotted the last few steps before hopping off, beaming, on the Canadian side, where he was greeted by his wife and three children... and a customs agent who asked, "What is the purpose of your trip, sir?" Wallenda replied with a flourish of grandiosity: "To inspire people around the world."

Has anyone ever tried this stunt before?Several daredevils have crossed Niagara Gorge on a wire — but not this part of the falls. And the last person to pull off a Niagara Gorge cross did so in 1896. Some of the 19th-century stunts were a bit more colorful — Jean Francois Gravelet, "the Great Blondin," once carried his manager across on his back, and Maria Spelterini strolled across several times, with peach baskets on her feet, blindfolded, or manacled. But they walked over calmer stretches of the Niagara River; Wallenda was the first to cross over the churning falls, which kicked wind and spray into his face. "He's absolutely crazy," tourist Karen Lane tells The New York Times. "I can't believe anybody would do anything so unbelievably insane."  

How was Wallenda allowed to do this?Canada has enforced a ban on performing stunts over the falls for 128 years, but Wallenda got a one-time exemption from Canadian authorities, as well as a permit from America. And ABC, which aired the feat live, and its advertisers insisted on clasping a tether onto Wallenda in case he lost his balance. 

What's next?Despite the fact that no fewer than five Wallendas have died while performing (including great-grandpa Karl, who fell from a high-wire in Puerto Rico in 1978), Nik Wallenda is eagerly scouting his next adventure. He already has permits to attempt to be the first person to walk a wire across the Grand Canyon.

Take a look at Wallenda's daring feat: 

Image removed.video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

SourcesABC NewsNew York Times (2), TIME

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