By Shawn Campbell
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Nik Wallenda has called Western New York his “second home.”
A high-wire walk over Niagara Falls two years ago propelled the daredevil into the international spotlight.
He’s become a mainstay at Darien Lake this summer, performing show after show at the amusement park.
Wallenda loves Western New York. And those who live here love the performer, as well.
So it came with little surprise that thousands of spectators turned out Sunday evening to watch the King of the High Wire become the King of the Fair.
Wallenda’s wire walk during the 175th Erie County Fair at Hamburg was his longest skywalk of the year.
A 1,400-foot stroll at 125 feet in the air on a tightrope five-eighths of an inch wide?
Probably a piece of cake compared with traversing Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon, Dee Lute of Lockport thought.
“He’s awesome,” Lute said of Wallenda. “I wonder what he thinks about when he walks across the wire.”
Wallenda, 35, walked Sunday evening on a wire anchored by two cranes, passing through the midway and finishing in the grandstand. The walk at the fair was 100 feet longer than the Sarasota, Fla., native’s Niagara Falls skywalk in June 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 sure it would be that easy, though.
“That’s much higher than we thought,” she said, glancing at the suspended tightrope. “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 a more intimate setting than Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.
“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?”
Many other spectators agreed.
“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!”
Chelsea Wheeler, 21, of Orchard Park, said she went to the fair specifically to see Wallenda. She thought it was a great event for the fair’s 175th anniversary.
“I just think it’s exciting to see all of the people coming to watch,” Wheeler said. “It’s a different day at the fair. ... I think it’s awesome that he’d come back to Buffalo to do something like this.”