Nik Wallenda’s tightrope walk across Niagara Falls set for June 15

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

Back in 1974, French high-wire artist Phillippe Petit riveted the world by walking across New York City's Twin Towers on a tightrope suspended 417 m in the air.

Fast-forward nearly four decades and a Canadian daredevil is hoping to one-up "le coup" by taking a high-wire stroll across Niagara Falls.

As CTV News reports, Nik Wallenda announced that both the Niagara Parks Commission and the New York Legislature gave him the green light to mount the stunt on June 15.

"Nothing like this has ever been done before anywhere in the world. This is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime thing," the 32-year-old told reporters at a conference in front of the Falls.

Wallenda comes from a long line of acrobats and stunt performers known as the Flying Wallendas.

Patriarch Kurt Wallenda came from an old circus family in Germany and discovered his talent for defying gravity after answering an ad in his teens that sought a "hand balancer with courage."

The senior Wallenda set the family standard by performing numerous high-wire stunts, including a famous stroll across Georgia's Tallulah Gorge in 1970.

He fell to his death in 1978 at age 73 during a promotional walk in Puerto Rico.

Nik addressed his great-grandfather's death by suggesting age, physical ability and rigging quality played a role and stressed the importance of taking every walk with equal seriousness.

"We've learned for sure that I can't ever take that attitude of, 'Oh, this one's no big deal.' Every single one is serious, every single one is dangerous," he said.

With that in mind, Wallenda admitted that his Niagara Falls stunt will represent the pinnacle of his career.

"I've done walks longer. I've done walks higher. I've done walks in the rain but none of them will compare to this. This is the walk of my lifetime," Wallenda said, adding that he had permits to walk the Grand Canyon but he wasn't sure that would be a bigger deal that the Falls.

"This is it. Which is kind of a scary thing when you are my age and as part of your career you want to keep doing bigger events," he said.

Although the Niagara Parks Commission has a policy that normally refuses these stunts, spokesperson Janice Thomson said the board considers requests like Wallenda's every 20 years.

CTV noted that a study estimated live television coverage of the event could draw $120 million in revenue for the Niagara region.

Though Wallenda won't be the first person to walk across them (that distinction goes to The Great Blondin), the Falls have a long history of attracting brave — and occasionally crazy — stunts.

On October 4, 1901 a courageous woman named Annie Taylor was the first person to shoot down the Falls in a barrel. The air pressure in the barrel was compressed with a bicycle pump before she went over.

Other modes of transportation have included a jet ski, a parachute and a large rubber ball.

A Michigan man decided to take the Falls in 2003 with nothing but the clothes on his back… and alcohol in his system. Though he survived with nothing more than bumps and bruises, an intoxicated Kirk Jones was fined $2,300 for his actions and banned from entering Canada for life.