NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – No one else in the world has had the view of Niagara Falls that Nik Wallenda had Friday night as he stared down into the churning waters 60 metres below and was enveloped in the mist from the thundering falls.
One careful step at a time Wallenda battled winds and near-blinding spray to make history, becoming the first person to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Others have crossed the water on tightropes, but over the gorge downstream and not for more than 100 years.
Nothing can beat that view, he said.
“Just staring at the falls from here is breathtaking,” Wallenda said after successfully completing his daredevil act. “To be directly in the middle, directly above the falls…it takes your breath away. It’s just unreal.”
Wallenda was unbelievably calm as he slowly, painstakingly, proceeded step-by-step along the steel cable stretched across the falls. He even found time to give an interview as he was perched precariously over the raging waters below.
“Oh my gosh, it’s an unbelievable view,” he told ABC, which was broadcasting the spectacle live.
“I’m so blessed to be in the position I am, to be the first person to be right here and to be the first person in the world who will ever be right here.”
A crowd of tens of thousands of people packed onto the roadway by the falls — some waiting more than 12 hours to watch the historic performance — and they erupted with cheers as Wallenda ran the last few steps to the safety of the platform anchored in Canadian turf.
“The most amazing part was when he was on the line and he was waving at the people,” said eight-year-old William Clements. The boy, who came with his family from Dresden, Ont., jumped up and down with excitement as Wallenda knelt down on the wire toward the finish, took a hand off his balance bar and waved.
Wallenda started his journey on the American side of the falls and finished less than half an hour and 500 metres later on the Canadian side, where his passport was promptly checked by border officials.
“No I’m not carrying anything over, I promise,” a tired but happy Wallenda told the customs agents.
The distance and the heavy mist made it difficult for those watching in Niagara Falls, Ont., to see exactly when Wallenda set foot onto the wire, but eventually his red jacket came into view.
“When you first started to see him it just looked like he was floating in the mist,” said Greg Cooper, who came from Mississauga, Ont., and snagged a front-row view.
Wallenda has been walking wires since he was a child and had dreamed of this exact stunt since he was six years old. He comes from a long line of aeralist daredevils as a seventh-generation member of the famed Flying Wallendas.
He has performed many death-defying acts in his time, but was clearly not used to the literal strings that came along with signing a deal with ABC to live broadcast the event.
His father Terry Troffer, talking him through the whole walk, asked Wallenda about his biggest bone of contention — the safety tether that ABC insisted he wear.
“How’s that harness, it’s not cutting off any circulation?” Troffer could be heard asking Wallenda at one point. Wallenda wore a microphone and an ear piece during his walk.
“No, I just feel like a jackass wearing it,” Wallenda replied.
Placing one steady foot in front of the other, trying not to get distracted by the raging waters below, Wallenda was “in the zone,” he said. That is, until ABC had a request.
“Actually, I had a producer in my ear saying, ‘You know what, you need to slow down a little,’” Wallenda said later. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to slow down. I want to get across to the other side.’”
The deal with ABC allowed Wallenda to recoup some — it hasn’t been revealed exactly how much — of the estimated $1.3 million the stunt cost him in permits, technical set-ups and marketing.
Normally, Wallenda said he focuses on the movement of the wire to guide him through a walk, but when he looked down to see fast-moving water and looked up to see rising mist, it posed a “very unique, weird situation.”
He could see the thousands of camera flashes as he approached and heard the roar of the crowd only once he was almost safely across, he said.
The throngs of people came armed with lawn chairs, umbrellas, snacks and sunscreen to stake out the best viewing spots.
Muriel Marsh, 81, came from Paris, Ont., about 120 kilometres away, Thursday night and snagged her spot on a hill at 7 a.m. Friday.
“To see this fellow walk across on the wire, I think that’s fantastic and very brave and very clever,” she said. “You’ll never have a chance again.”
Bert Dandy and his family arrived at 10 a.m., about 12 hours before Wallenda started his walk, and zeroed in on what he deemed the best seat in the house. Sitting in a lawn chair a few down from Marsh, perched on a hill with an unobstructed view of the whole wire, Dandy said people had offered him $20 per chair — he had five — to give up his spot.
No dice, he said.
Dandy loaded up the family van Thursday night in Niagara Falls with supplies, went off to work overnight then arrived at the falls. He should be unconscious by now, he said, but he is just too excited.
“I told my kids, I said, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime event — for free,’” Dandy said, holding a “Go Nick Go!!” sign.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to get our buns down here. We’ve got to camp out for many, many hours and get a good spot and see history in the making.”
For Wallenda, the walk was all about honouring his ancestors’ legacy and fulfilling his personal dream. He spent years preparing for the walk, both by practising on a wire and filling out endless paperwork, and he said he hopes people can take inspiration from it.
“The impossible is not so impossible if you set your mind to it,” Wallenda said. “Reach for the skies and never give up.”