Bros on A Rope and Other Swingers

There has been some controversy around the “World’s Largest Rope Swing” video, posted on YouTube by the videographer Devin Graham, aka “devinsupertramp.” The video, filmed at the Corona Arch in Moab, Utah, shows a group of adventurous, smartly-dressed youths cavorting about in an orgy of sun, fun, and death-defying stunts. It is easy to imagine the few minor tweaks that would render the video a perfect Mountain Dew commercial. (Might we expect to see a Red Bull Rope Swing Freestyle competition in the near future? I would watch that…)

The above-mentioned controversy centers around the rope swing’s safety rigging and possible impact on a natural arch. In both cases, it seems like the crew is in the clear, however, as the Arch is on relatively unrestrictive BLM land, on which climbing and other activities are technically kosher. (A local guiding concession even runs tours that include rappelling off of Corona Arch.) Also worth noting, the viedo crew did not place the bolted anchors used for these rappels. The safety issue is also less than clear. The swing looks to have been relatively well rigged, with rope protectors used where the rope would rub against the stone during the pendulum swing. And to my eye, all the biners in the video were locked.

This is NOT a rope swing
This is NOT a rope swing. Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT. Photo: © Justin Roth

More dangerous than the act portrayed in the video is the suggestive influence it and the other devinsupertramp videos might have on the squishy, unformed brains of the world’s impressionable youth. Like the Jackass movies, in which highly sketchy stunts are elevated to the level of commercial art, the World’s Largest Rope Swing video glorifies a stunt that requires serious rigging know-how. Watching the video, a gullible crew of local college students might get the impression that the Corona Arch rope swing is a great afternoon activity, and a good way to impress a harem of female onlookers. Heck, how complicated can setting up some ropes be?  In short, the video’s glib attitude, played up in shot after shot of laughing and dancing bros and brodettes, is more problematic than the actual stunt performed.

And more problematic still is the inaccurate title of the video, smartly selected to maximize Web traffic. In fact, many much larger rope swings have been performed. Below are just two examples, though admittedly the production quality of World’s Largest Rope swing is much, much higher than either.

Dan Osman, aka the Phantom Lord, was one of climbing’s most polarizing celebrities. His speed free-soloing segment in Dean Fidelman’s Masters of Stone was hard to see as anything else than a balletic death wish set to a heavy metal soundtrack. He was irresponsible, a bad example, a slo-mo train wreck… and of course, the world never failed to watch his exploits with morbid fascination. Osman tied into ropes and  jumped out of tall trees, swung through sandstone arches, and hurtled through the air in what he called “controlled free-falling.” Eventually, on a thousand-foot leap in Yosemite Valley, his luck ran out and his rigging failed. He was 35 at the time of his death in 1998.

On a happier note, there’s “Sketchy Andy” Lewis, who gained a little fame via the recent Reel Rock Film Tour DVD and then a LOT of fame with his toga-clad slack line performance in Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show. In the above video, you can see Andy do all kinds of crazy stuff, including a two-person rope swing, at the 3:25 mark, that appears to be several hundred feet long.

In the end, the best thing about the “World’s Largest Rope Swing” video is the cinematography. Graham used DSLRs  and GoPros artfully to create an energetic, visually engaging video that has been watched three and a half million times, in a matter of days, on YouTube alone. Though one needn’t be a total stick in the mud to wonder if this success may not be a great thing for everyone in the end. As one poster on Mountain Project commented, “Video was REALLY well done! Which is why this will not end well for the access to Corona Arch, methinks.” Is that the smell of a Dean Potter/Delicate Arch controversy in the making? Only time will tell. Until then. hats off to Mr. Graham and his gang. I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with them, but I’ll certainly spend a few minutes watching their videos.