Share this article

print logo

Wallenda wows crowd with fairground feat

There was no roar of Niagara Falls in the background.

The depths of the Grand Canyon were not below him.

Thirteen million viewers weren’t watching his every move on their television sets at home.

Regardless, Nik Wallenda was in his element Sunday night, standing on a tightrope no wider than a nickel and wowing a crowd of thousands in a place he calls his second home.

At 8:01 p.m., Wallenda began his 1,400-foot skywalk at the 175th Erie County Fair.

He stood 125 feet above the midway, near one of two cranes anchoring his wire.

A Ferris wheel illuminated with bright lights and the setting sun served as the picture-perfect backdrop.

By 8:25 p.m., Wallenda stepped into a cherry picker inside the fair grandstand and waved to those below him. Fireworks boomed. The audience roared.

For the 35-year-old daredevil from Sarasota, Fla., it was mission accomplished.

“I’m happy to have my feet back on the ground,” Wallenda said with a laugh as he met with reporters following his longest skywalk of the year.

“I approach every event I do the same. I’ve lost seven family members doing what I do. So you can’t take anything for granted,” he added. “The end, whether there’s cameras there or it’s Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon or the Erie County Fair, it’s my life that’s up there.”

Sunday’s event marked a return to the same fairgrounds where Wallenda performed with his family as a teenager.

But Western New York is also where Wallenda’s performance career took off. A high-wire walk over Niagara Falls two years ago propelled the daredevil into the international spotlight.

He’s also become a mainstay at Darien Lake this summer, performing show after show at the amusement park.

“Western New York’s been so good to me,” he said. “The truth is, the Wallenda name was known around the world for generations. ... I had broken six world records already, but that Niagara Falls walk is what really put Nik Wallenda on the map, as well. I feel as though I’m indebted to this area.”

Wallenda said the fairgrounds setting offered an interesting dynamic for the walk.

With the old Chicago Bulls intro song playing on repeat, a microphoned Wallenda calmly traversed the tightrope and interacted with his fans.

He answered questions, including one inquiry which asked what he thinks about when he’s alone on the wire.

“I’m very focused on what I do. I’ve done this my entire life,” he said, adding that he looked at the “beautiful faces” in the grandstand as he walked.

Wallenda also said, “I love you,” to an adoring fan, pumped his fist to elicit cheers and even offered some words of encouragement as he closed in on his destination.

“Work hard and never give up,” he told the crowd.

“I enjoy talking with the audience,” Wallenda said afterward. “I enjoy communicating with them.”

Wallenda described the view from above as amazing.

“It’s awesome to be able to see all the people, see the masses of people, look down, see their reactions,” Wallenda said.

Halfway through, Wallenda even removed his tether, a state-required safety device that drew much controversy during his journey over the falls. Crews of volunteers stabilized the tightrope during his walk, while a safety net followed him on the ground – just in case.

Following his feat, Wallenda concluded his address to fans by saying, “Goodnight! I love you, Western New York.”

Wallenda loves Western New York. And many of those who live here love the performer, as well.

So it came with little surprise that thousands of spectators turned out to watch the King of the High Wire become the King of the Fair.

Wallenda’s stroll at the fair would probably be a piece of cake in comparison with his skywalks at Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, Dee Lute of Lockport said.

“He’s awesome,” Lute said.

The walk at the fair was 100 feet longer than the Niagara Falls skywalk in June of 2012.

“He’s pretty good,” said 10-year-old Cole Banks of West Seneca. “Niagara Falls ... that’s probably tougher than this with the mist blowing in his face.”

Banks’ mother, Rebecca, wasn’t so sure it would be that easy, though.

“That’s much higher than we thought,” she said, glancing at the suspended tightrope earlier in the day. “I’m really interested to see if he’ll make it without slipping.”

Tammy Kline of Eden and her two sons, Sean, 13, and Aaron, 9, said they were looking forward to seeing Wallenda perform in person and in an intimate setting.

“We’ll be able to be a lot closer to him,” Tammy Kline said. “It doesn’t seem quite as dangerous, but it’s still dangerous. It would hurt to fall that far. It’s a great, traditional fair thing to see.”

Watching the “Nik Wallenda: Beyond the Falls” show at Darien Lake prompted Dan Purpura, 27, of Rochester to attend Sunday’s event.

“That’s part of the reason I came here today,” he said. “I just started to become a fan of his. I think he’s crazy – how could you not be a fan of that?”

“I wouldn’t do it,” said Ignatius Golombek, 28, of Derby.

When asked what he thought of Wallenda’s acts, Tim Jachlewski of West Seneca simply tapped on his head with his index finger and smiled.

“He’s crazy,” he said with a laugh.

But Jachlewski and his wife, Cindy, couldn’t pass up attending the edge-of-your-seat performance.

“It’s entertainment,” she said. “Just please don’t fall!”