“My great-grandfather said, ‘Life is on the wire, and everything else is just waiting,’” Nik Wallenda tells me in our interview.
Nik Wallenda, who has been walking on wires since the age of 2 — following in the 200-year, multi-generation tradition of his famed family — recounts his great-grandfather’s saying when he is asked why he does what he does. And what he does is thrill audiences with incredible feats of high wire walking, including a year ago when he walked across Niagara Falls on a wire.
“It’s what I do,” says Wallenda. “It’s kind of life to me. Although you can’t relate to it, I can’t not relate to it because I’ve done it so long.”
Nik Wallenda’s latest step forward in his life on a wire will come this week, when he attempts to walk over part of the Grand Canyon without using a harness. This feat will be chronicled in a live Discovery Channel special called Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda.
Wallenda admits that this would be the longest that he’s walked on a wire (about 1,400 feet), and, at 1,500 feet high, “definitely the highest, as well. Nobody in the world has ever walked over the Grand Canyon, so I’ll be the first person in the world to do that over the wire.”
The area of the canyon that Wallenda will walk is about an hour from Flagstaff, Ariz., on Navajo land, over the Little Colorado River. While Wallenda’s walk over Niagara Falls last year saw him face difficulties in the form of mist and wind, for the Grand Canyon walk, he is most concerned about the wind.
“[Winds] are definitely hard to predict,” he says. “There’s always something unique about every walk that I do, and this one is definitely the winds, the drafts, the directions of the wind. … If the winds are too strong we would have to postpone, but the time of year that we chose, we chose because of the fact that winds are supposed to be at a low at that time.”
While the walk itself is a challenge, requiring training in directional winds on a cable of the same length (but low to the ground, in a safer environment), as well as mental prep, there are also technical challenges for how to film such an event for audiences.
“Discovery’s going to do an amazing job,” says Wallenda. “They’ve got a lot of really cool things going on with the way the viewers are going to be able to see it. … You’ll have my point of view, and — just like you see over a football game — we’ll have a camera floating alongside of me to get some angles, as well as helicopters.”
Wallenda himself will be miked up during his walk. “Willie Geist and Natalie Morales are going to cohost it,” he says, “and I’ll be talking with them while I’m walking, I’m sure.”
Of course, when not talking or thinking about his next project (he is currently working on permits to walk from Europe to Asia over the Bosporus), walking on a wire can offer a unique sort of peace on occasion for Wallenda.
“Depending on the situation, and depending on the wind and environment, it’s very peaceful and relaxing at times. Of course, very, very focused, a lot of mental preparation. But there are times when it can become very peaceful.”
Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda airs live on Discovery Channel June 23 beginning at 8pm ET/5pm PT.
UPDATE 6/24/13: Nik Wallenda successfully completed his walk and became the first person to cross over the Grand Canyon. “I’m incredibly grateful to the Navajo Nation for allowing me to accomplish my dream and the Discovery Channel for trusting in my abilities,” said Wallenda.
Nik Wallenda crouching photo: Jason Elias/Discovery Channel
Nik Wallenda crossing Grand Canyon: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images for Discovery Communications