Parkour, a movement sport imported from France, uses the streets as acrobatic props.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
On a Sunday afternoon at a Carmel playground filled with boisterous children, two teenagers appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Making an almost invisible leap, one is suddenly crouching on top of the bright blue play structure.
The other takes off running across the blacktop and flies over a wall. It’s a good-sized wall.
The kids in the playground stop playing to watch. “Hey, is that that new sport thing?” a mom asks.
Jerry Dudley, whose brown hair is bleached in the front, nods.
“Parkour,” he says.
His friend Nat Smith, a fellow senior at Carmel High, instructs Dudley to stand on the grass, leaning forward. Smith sprints, dives over Dudley’s back, somersaults and is standing seconds later. Besides the tiny cell phone that has fallen out of his pocket, it’s happened so quickly that it seems that gravity has been temporarily averted. That’s exactly the kind of flow that Dudley and Smith are hoping for.
Le parkour—the art of movement—was born in France a decade ago, when David Belle, then age 15, was bored with school. After experimenting with flying off trees in the woods, Belle and his friend, Sebastien Foucan, started figuring out ways to move over obstacles in cities.
According to a parkour Web site, “Belle describes parkour as a way of using the obstacles found in one’s path to perform jumps and acrobatics…everything must combine speed, fluidity, aesthetics and originality. Some participants in the activity [known as traceurs] associate it with a philosophy, embracing the freedom realized through parkour as part of a wider lifestyle.”
Sure, it does seems like a lot to attribute to a couple of teenagers jumping up on a jungle gym. But in speaking about parkour, Smith and Dudley appear utterly sincere. I can’t help but ask what’s the difference between what they are doing and what kids in my high school did, like jumping off roofs.
“It’s not pointless,” Dudley, a skateboarder and snowboarder, says. “There’s a big misconception that it’s jumping off things. It’s about learning how to flow through the environment—not about pointless movement. It gets really deep and weird. The guy who started it is hella crazy. It’s about being one with everything.”
Smith, who has a black belt in karate and also plays basketball, explains that it’s not a sport that works with the concept of winning of losing.
“It’s easier to explain being successful at other sports,” he says. “Like in basketball, you win or lose.”
Dudley agrees: “If you feel the flow of things and you get through then you accomplished it.”
But even when “flowing,” some injuries are to be expected. At the moment, Dudley says his leg is “hella sore,” from slamming it into a concrete wall he was trying to vault over the day before. On the other hand, Smith points out, after practicing parkour, a simple fall in “regular life” is no big deal.
“It’s about getting over fear,” Dudley says. “For really high stuff you get a little shaky, but you push yourself at the best pace possible.”
“If you’re trying something dangerous,” Smith says, “like jumping between roofs, you’ve been doing it awhile.”
Parkour moves touted on the Web include speed vault, king kong, concrete turnover, reverse 360 vault, lazy vault, rail spring, dash vault, rocket vault, thief vault, cat leap, 270 tic-tac, palm spin and wall flip—but Smith and Dudley aren’t that interested in the showier tricks.
“You don’t have to make it flashy,” Dudley says. “A lot of people are calling it ‘freestyle parkour,’ and they’re turning it into a trick circus act. They are shying away from the real purpose. A lot of purists are upset about that.”
Even without the flash, it’s compelling enough to watch Smith suddenly leap straight up into the air and land on a picnic table. And apparently it attracts the ladies too. Smith tells Dudley that the day before he did “a flying sidekick through a huge thing off a bank” and a girl from their school got the whole thing on video.
“Cool,” Dudley says, although he shakes his head blankly when Smith describes the girl. “The short one? She goes to our school?”
I ask them where they are applying to college. Smith’s list includes UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and Stanford. Dudley’s includes Long Beach, Pomona and Northridge.
“You gotta see Northridge,” he tells Smith. “There was a 13-foot drop off a ledge onto a grass landing. I tried to get in a little PK during the college tour.”
And if his parents noticed the parkour moves, it wasn’t a big deal.
“My mom is kind of confused by it, but mostly she doesn’t pay attention,” Dudley says. “It’s like everything else. She says, ‘Just don’t kill yourself.’”