HSU grad performs at Super Bowl with Madonna

Millions of Americans watching the Super Bowl were treated to a slackline performance by Humboldt State University graduate Andy "Sketchy" Lewis, who got to show off his agility skills alongside Madonna.

Lewis, 25, balanced on a one- to two-inch stretchy line strung across the stage and bounced up and down on the apparatus during the halftime show, eventually dismounting in a backflip. Madonna danced next to Lewis -- identifiable by his curly red hair -- as he introduced football enthusiasts to the sport of slacklining.

Reached by telephone Monday as he waited in an airport for a flight home to Utah, Lewis said people have been approaching him and asking to take photos with him ever since the performance.

"I didn't expect to get such a huge response," Lewis said. "I guess people are saying I stole the show from Madonna. I hope she doesn't feel that way."

Humboldt County residents may have recognized Lewis, who attended the College of Marin for two years before transferring to Humboldt State University in 2008. Lewis said it was at HSU that he began focusing on slacklining, stringing the flexible nylon webbing between trees on campus.

"I started slacklining at HSU, and I slowly got better at tricks," Lewis said, adding that he used to practice acrobatic tricks on the line between classes.

Lewis was a recreation administration major and graduated from HSU in 2008, delivering a commencement speech as 

the class valedictorian.

HSU recreation administration professor Craig Riordan, who was Lewis' advisor and taught some of his classes, said Lewis created a slackline club on campus while he was at HSU and has since taken the slackline world by storm.

"He actually became a world champion while he was here," Riordan said.

Lewis won the Slackline Masters International Competition in Fort William, Scotland, in 2008. Since then, he's won the Gibbon Slackline World Cup, a three-part contest in Munich and Friedrichshafen, Germany, and Brixen, Italy.

Riordan said Lewis was not just an award-winning athlete but also a great student with a dynamic personality.

"He was a leader among his peers and one of those people you never forget," he said.

"He was a leader among his peers and one of those people you never forget," he said.

Lewis' TV appearance was a complete surprise, and Riordan said his phone began to light up as others figured out who was dancing with Madonna.

"I couldn't believe I was watching it, and within seconds I was getting texts from his classmates," Riordan said.

Since graduating, Lewis has been able to enjoy slacklining full-time and is sponsored by the Colorado-based Gibbon Slacklines company, which makes the equipment used for the sport.

Jaime Klinetob, marketing and events manager for Gibbon Slacklines, said the company was first approached about featuring Lewis at the Super Bowl after Madonna saw him perform at a trick slackline event last November.

"She's been curious about the sport," Klinetob said.

Representatives with the Cirque du Soleil entertainment company were soon calling to track down Lewis.

"We're really excited to support him and expose the sport," Klinetob said.

She said the Gibbon Slacklines company started in the United States in 2009. While slacklining is newer to Americans, she said, citizens in other countries are already familiar with the sport.

"It's been a mainstream sport in Europe for quite a bit longer," Klinetob said. "It's used by all kinds of athletes as a cross-trainer."

Klinetob said training on a slackline improves one's core and is an exercise used by a lot of Olympic skiers. A slackliner herself, she said the sport has a small learning curve.

"It's akin to learning to ride a bike for the first time," Klinetob said.

The Super Bowl gave Lewis and Gibbon Slacklines the chance to expose more people to the sport. Lewis said he hopes the TV spot will get more people excited about slacklining.

"That's pretty much been my goal for the last seven years," Lewis said.

He said people can see more of his stunts by watching an adventure documentary film called "Reel Rock VI" that features him. More information about the documentary is available online at www.reelrocktour.com.


At a glance: What is slacklining?

Slacklining involves balancing on a small tightrope-like line that is stretchy and typically low to the ground. Acrobatic stunts and tricks are performed on the slackline by those truly advanced in the sport. Slackline competitions are held all over the world, and it's a popular sport in Europe.