Like anyone taking a walk on the beach, Nik Wallenda on Thursday found sand in places he didn’t want it. For Wallenda, it was on the tightrope he traversed some 100 feet (30 meters) over the beach.
“It felt really slippery,” he said. So slippery that he considered doing the 1,300-foot (396-meter) walk barefoot.
But ultimately, Wallenda decided to keep on the buckskin and suede shoes his mother made him, and he completed the walk without any real difficulties. For Wallenda, a member of the seventh generation of the famous daredevil family that’s been putting on shows for two centuries, it was another in a long line of death-defying feats. In June, he walked farther -- and higher up -- over Niagara Falls.
This time, though, he was unharnessed as seagulls flew by, a couple of banner-pulling planes zipped around, boats came to shore so their occupants could watch and all eyes on the beach - save those of a few diligent lifeguards -- were looking at Wallenda high above. Local officials estimated that 150,000 people saw him make the half-hour stroll, step by careful step, in person. There were expected to be a boon for Atlantic City and the Tropicana Casino & Resort, which put on the event.
The crowd got a preview of the Wallenda Family Experience show opening at the casino on Sunday and the city got a spectacle of the sort it wants as it continues to deal with declining gambling revenue caused largely by the opening of casinos in nearby states. Noreen Saggese, a teacher from Washington Township, New Jersey, was staying at the Tropicana with a cousin to celebrate her 59th birthday. “There’s no net and there’s no harness,” she said as she prepared to watch the walk. “It’s thrilling.”
After the walk, Wallenda, 33, had a rehearsal for his family’s show. But first, he made time for a quick, calm news conference. That helicopter buzzing overheard? Not an annoyance at all, he said. The wind gusts, a couple of which he figured hit 20 mph or so? No big deal. Where this walk ranks among his greatest hits? A diplomatic dodge: “I’ll always remember this walk because of the crowd that turned up, that beautiful boardwalk and the sand.”
His faith in the 90 or so helpers, most of them Tropicana employees weighing down support ropes to keep his high wire tight: Unwavering. The same couldn’t be said, exactly, for their faith in him. After he gave them instructions on their task, he asked if there were any questions. Just one man shouted out a query: “Are you nuts?” Wallenda didn’t answer that one.