On Oct. 15, 2008, Sarasota native Nik Wallenda walked 150 feet on a high wire suspended 20 stories over the streets in Newark, N.J. After reaching the end of the wire by foot, Wallenda, 30, a seventh-generation circus acrobat and high-wire artist, returned on a bicycle. The stunt, performed off the roof of the Prudential Center in downtown Newark, not only was broadcast live on “The Today Show,” it set the Guinness World Record for the longest and highest bicycle ride on a high wire.
Now, Wallenda, who will join Circus Sarasota next year as its featured performer, hopes to perform a similar stunt in Sarasota.
“This is where I was born and raised,” says Wallenda, whose great-grandfather was Karl Wallenda, the founder of The Flying Wallendas. “You always want to go the extra mile in your hometown.”
At a recent Sarasota County Commission meeting, Pedro Reis, founder and director of Circus Sarasota, asked commissioners to adopt a resolution to support Wallenda’s high-wire stunt, which, according to Reis, will occur in late January, just in time to promote Circus Sarasota’s February performances.
“The crazier the better,” Reis says. “The wow factor is very important. The stunt he did up in New Jersey, literally, got millions of hits on the Web. We want to do something of equal stature in Sarasota. It’s getting close to show time.”
County commissioners were receptive to the stunt, despite its risk factors. (Wallenda will perform it without a safety net.)
“It seems an appropriate event, given Sarasota’s history as a circus town,” said County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who expressed some trepidation over safety concerns.
Reis says Wallenda’s stunt will “dwarf” the one performed last year by clown Bello Nock, whose ascent up a 92-foot sway pole in Five Points Park generated big buzz for Circus Sarasota’s 2009 show.
As for where the spectacle will take place, Reis and Wallenda say they’re still scouting locations. Wallenda says he would love to leave from Bird Key and walk alongside The Ringling Bridge, but there are no condominium towers or high-rise structures from which to run a wire. However, Wallenda could perform the walk if cranes were set up on each side of the bridge.
“Logistically, it’s not really possible to do something like that,” says Wallenda, who will not be compensated for the stunt. “If it were up to me, I’d break another world record, but it’s extremely expensive to erect the equipment.”
Wallenda and Reis have approached management at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center and the Hyatt Regency Sarasota about the possibility of stretching a high wire between the two buildings. Other location contenders include Siesta Key and St. Armands Circle.
“We want to create an event that will get national recognition,” Reis says. “Nik was born on the wire. He’s been doing these incredible skywalk stunts around America, but imagine him doing it in Sarasota, a town with such a rich circus history. It would make a big statement.”
Wallenda, who lives in Sarasota full time with his wife, Erendira, and their three children, also holds the Guinness World Record for performing an eight-person pyramid on a high wire, which he set in 2001 with his family troupe at Japan’s Kurashiki Tivoli Park.
One of Circus Sarasota’s first acts, Wallenda performed with The Flying Wallendas back when Circus Sarasota’s big top was at I-75 and Fruitville Road. This summer, he performed 14 skywalks, 11 of which were nationally televised, including a 1,000-foot walk across the Allegheny River, in Pittsburgh, and a walk across the Sky Ride cable at Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio.
“If I won $100 million,” Wallenda says, “I’d be breaking world records every day.”
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