Urban Adventure Called Parkour Takes Off

by  Blane Bachelor | Apr 8, 2010
Woman jumping in the air
Woman jumping in the air / tzf/iStock

You’ve always envied those people: the ones who can hop a pesky handrail with agonizing ease, while you and the rest of the sheep crowd down the stairs. Now, thanks to the exploding popularity of a physical pursuit called parkour, there's no reason to continue to seethe amidst the flock. Enthusiasts of parkour, which is also known as PK or freerunning, can explore a city in a whole new way: by vaulting, leaping, jumping and somersaulting through it.

In fact, one expert is making a cross-continental journey using parkour. Starting April 17, Johnny "Sticky" Budden of Nottingham is hoping to become the first person to travel parkour-style 1,000 miles from Scotland to Paris, where parkour was born. In keeping with the objective to move from point to point in the most efficient way, Budden will attempt to cover upwards of 26 miles a day, scaling or jumping over any buildings and obstacles he encounters (find out more about his journey, which he's using to raise money for a charity, at StickyParkour.com).

Thanks to ventures like Budden's and the Internet, with thousands of video clips of the practice in action, parkour (whose anglicized name comes from the French word parcours, for "course") has exploded in popularity across the globe. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal is a new convert, after training with parkour founder David Belle to buff up for his role in this summer's Sands of Time: The Prince of Persia. The cast of The Office even attempted their version of parkour in a hilarious 2009 episode.

And because there's minimal equipment involved – a pair of sturdy sneakers and non-constrictive clothing are all you really need – parkour is perfect for travelers who like to get outside and get moving in a new city. “It takes nothing in terms of equipment,” says Mark Toorock, a founder of the movement in the United States. “You throw on a pair of sneakers, and you start to explore."

But before you go all Jason Bourne over any buildings (remember that thrilling chase scene in Tangiers, Morocco, from The Bourne Ultimatum?), take note: Parkour is a serious physical pursuit that requires lots of training and working up to more complicated moves. Says Toorock: "You have to treat it seriously. You can’t go out and try it in one day and be good at it."

Fortunately, there are more places than ever to hone your skills. Gyms like Primal Fitness in Washington, D.C., (which also has a location in San Antonio, Texas) offer beginner classes, as do several Los Angeles-area facilities (LAgymnastics.com and www.PKcali.com). In Seattle, there are new women-only classes that have recently been added to the lineup at Parkour Visions.

But for a fast track to becoming a traceur (the insider term for a practitioner; it's traceuse if you're a gal), consider a weeklong training camp from Aug. 21-28. Hosted by Parkour Generations, a leading organization in the field, the camp is held at a resort in the French Alps town of Morzine and is open to participants of every skill level. Jump to it!

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