Walk down any Provo neighborhood street on a warm day and it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone lounging in a hammock. It’s just one of the many ways BYU students love to “hang” out.
But one Utah resident has taken to extreme hammocking: suspending a 2,000 square-foot hammock made of woven rope across a canyon with a drop of more than 400 feet.
These woven hammock-like nets are also known as “space nets.” Andy Lewis, popularly known by the extreme sports community as “Sketchy Andy” and “Mr. Slackline,” calls the nets “thug mansion” in reference to the 2Pac song. And he believes he has every right to call them what he wants — after all, he invented them.
Space nets are an off-shoot of slacklining and highlining, both sports that found a home in Utah’s dynamic outdoors. A slackline is similar to a tightrope, but, as the name implies, has slack. The slack requires individuals to frequently steady themselves as they walk on the one-inch nylon webbing beneath their feat by waving their arms above their head.
Highlining takes slacklining one step further by stringing the line up at extreme heights. Highliners are often attached to the line with a rock climbing harness called a “leash.”
Lewis said he didn’t originally plan to use the space nets for highlining purposes. Rather, the invention began as backyard hammocks and nets in trees. Lewis describes his space nets as a “mix between a treehouse and a spider web.”
He began stringing the handmade nets in one tree and then worked his way up to weaving nets spanning as many as 20 trees. Perfecting this new and unique craft took Lewis about seven years.
Since then, Lewis has traveled across the world, taking his “thug mansion” to places like Spain, Portugal and British Columbia. At one point, Lewis took his invention to the Borneo rainforest in Southeast Asia, where he weaved giant rope nets in trees.
“We basically set up the nets like the monkeys set up their nests,” Lewis said.
One group of highliners didn’t wait for a visit from Lewis and recreated the space nets themselves. These 20 individuals, from Bandung, Indonesia, call themselves Uliners. Uliner Yusuf Maulana, said they recreated the space net because of their “obsession with Andy Lewis.”
“We in Indonesia want to socialize with this game (space net and highlining) because in Indonesia it is still rare,” Maulana said. “There are not many who play slackline.”
Maulana said his group weaved their own net from rock-climbing rope, similar to what Lewis does when creating space nets.
Highliners and slackliners in Utah and throughout the U.S. also revere Lewis as one of the best in the sport. BYU student Taylor Meadows said Lewis is “the man” when it comes to promoting the sport of slacklining and highlining. Meadows, who slacklined in 2010 when the sport was less known, attributes the sport’s growing popularity in the U.S. to Lewis.
“Andy Lewis was in the Super Bowl with Madonna,” Meadows said. “That was a big part of growing the sport.”
Lewis was in the 2012 Super Bowl XLVI and performed “tricklining,” a branch of slacklining involving bouncing, flipping and turning on the line. Between rehearsals and the performance, Madonna even kissed Lewis on the cheek a grand total of 27 times. Zak Hazlett, a BYU student and childhood friend of Lewis, said Madonna even offered Lewis an opportunity to go on tour with her.
“He got offered a lot of money — over a million dollars,” Hazlett said.
Lewis turned it down. Hazlett said it was because the regulation of the contract interfered with Lewis’s lifestyle by limiting tricks and what he was allowed to do.
“He follows what he’s passionate about and doesn’t care about the money,” Hazlett said.
Lewis’s passion took him to Moab, Utah. There, thug mansion spans across canyons. He said being in this particular space net is indescribable.
“The experience speaks for itself,” Lewis said.
Lewis also uses space nets for both highlining and base jumping. Meadows said it’s logical that slacklining branched off to create space nets.
“It’s a sport that’s always progressing,” Meadows said. “There’s always something more you can do.”
Lewis occasionally makes a profit from his space nets by weaving and selling them, but it costs nothing to get on thug mansion.
“It’s my gift to people rather than a way to make money,” Lewis said.
Many people don’t know about thug mansion, mostly because Lewis doesn’t market it. Instead, he waits for people to find him — then he knows they’ve done their research and know he stands for “slacklife.”
“One part slack, one part life,” Lewis said.
Slacklife can be difficult to describe to those who don’t know the slackline sport, according to Meadows. Meadows said slacklining and all of its off-shoots are more than just an “adrenaline rush.”
“It’s not about feeling the thrill; it’s about controlling the thrill,” Meadows said.
Meadows also said slacklife is the “closest thing to freedom.”
“There’s nothing but a 1-inch piece of webbing under your feet,” Meadows said. “You’re in a space where people aren’t meant to go, so it’s like you are doing something that’s more free than what seems possible.”
BYU student Carlie Derrick, who was also seeking that feeling of freedom, came across “Sketchy Andy” when she tandem skydived with him in August, unaware of his fame.
“It was terrifying jumping out of a plane with a complete stranger, let alone with one that called himself Sketchy Andy and was missing a front tooth,” Derrick said. “Then again, he has obviously survived millions of sketchy and dangerous situations so I guess my chances were pretty good.”
Despite the long record of professionals surviving dangerous stunts, the daredevil lifestyle of slacklife is still a controversial one.
Even the experienced meet tragedy. Lewis himself witnessed the death of his friend Daniel Moore in 2013 after a BASE jump gone wrong.
“Daniel Moore, I cried for you over your lifeless body last night,” Lewis wrote in a Facebook post. “As the car with your crying parents and absolutely crushed girlfriend rolled away at 7 a.m. this morning … I am only left with one question. Is this really worth it?”
Hazlett said Lewis is a little more reserved now than he was a few years ago since the death of some of his friends.
“I don’t think he’s thought about stopping,” Hazlett said. “He’s always been a cautious person, but he’s even more cautious now.”
Lewis isn’t out to convert people to the sport, either.
“I don’t think anyone should do anything. I’m not trying to force people to do this or say this is the best thing in the world,” Lewis said. “I’m just saying this is what I do, and I’m putting it out into the world and seeing what they think about it.”
Though Lewis remains mostly off the grid, he has broken the Guinness World Records for the longest highline, highest highline walked and the longest highline walked without safety protection. But he said he doesn’t do these things for the money or the reputation. Mostly, he just loves it.
“If I didn’t love what I was doing just for doing it, I never would have spent the time randomly in trees rigging highlines, making nets, and then eventually thinking of a portable net and then putting that in the highline — I mean, it’s just a ridiculous series of events,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he likes to keep his thug mansion under wraps. He wants the people who are interested to “work for it,” to get involved with the slackline community and discover his location. Lewis holds festivals involving slacklife and his space nets, but doesn’t give out the time or location — only vague clues requiring interested individuals to do their own digging and networking.
“The joy is in the journey, rather than the destination,” Lewis said.
As part of that journey, Lewis encourages individuals to go out and start their own adventure, like the Uliners did.
“What you should ask yourself is, ‘What do I do to build my own net in my own front lawn?'” Lewis said. “That’s what is going to be most fun for you.”