It really was never a question that Nik Wallenda would do anything but walk on wires.
Coming from seven generations of circus performers — his great-grandfather was Karl Wallenda, who introduced the high wire to America in the 1920s with Ringling Bros. — Nik never was trained in any pursuits of a more mundane nature.
He started clowning at 2 (“I’d come out in a pillow case,” he says), but by the time he turned 13, after practicing “for his whole life” and proving himself to his family, he began performing on the high wire.
“I’ve never fallen more than 2 feet,” the 28-year-old daredevil said, speaking from Anaheim in a recent phone interview.
These days, he’s not working on a wire, but on the Wheel of Steel, which he says is like a giant hamster wheel. Wallenda joins the clown Bello running in and out of the huge contraption in the 137th edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which opens in Oakland this week, then travels to San Jose.
His wife Erendira, who has an equally impressive performance background (her father’s family, the Flying Vasquez, stunned audiences in Mexico with their trapeze work) is also in the show, although the pair today isn’t working side by side.
Erendira works high in the air on the sway pole, a 70-foot flexible steel apparatus that moves every time she moves; it’s an act that requires amazing control and strength.
Though they do have a home in Sarasota, Fla., Nik, Erendira and their three children, ages 4, 6 and 9, are on the road 49 weeks out of the year, now in the middle of a two-year, 450-show contract with the circus.
Nik pauses when asked if he misses having a “normal” life. He says “a little bit,” but quickly adds, “I’ve always had an interesting life. I was raised to do it. It’s what I know.” There are times, he admits, that it might be nice if his children could experience some stability.
He’s not necessarily looking forward to seeing his own children perform aerial stunts (right now they play on a low wire), but he hopes they grow up with good morals.
When he gets old, he’ll be happy to retire on the beach with his wife.
In the meantime, he continues to grow as a performer by creating new and different high-in-the-air, broad-scale challenges. (Through the years, he and Erendira have worked on sway poles, the cloud swing, motorcycles in a cage and sky walks as well as the high wire.)
Having learned from the best, and wanting to live up to what his great grandfather would expect of him, he says, “I don’t get scared. I respect what I do. If I do fall, I will die.”
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Where: Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 11::30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $95
Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com
Note: Show moves to HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose with performances at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22-24; 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25-26.