The world of action sports is transitioning from the early adolescent stages to a global phenomenon. Parkour is in a unique space by itself, as many have heard of it, but simply don’t know enough to grasp the concept.
Parkour is first and foremost a discipline and the word itself derives from the French “pacours,” meaning “route” or “course.” The development and evolution started in the 1930s as a form of French military training.
Recently, I spoke with two generations of parkour enthusiasts. Gus Franklin, a senior at Ponte Vedra High School who has been in the parkour scene for roughly four years. Slowly, they taught themselves with online tutorials. A year later, they formed their team, Evasion Freerunning.
When first talking about the sport, most people’s first thought or reaction is why do it? So we wanted to find out.
“I do parkour because of the mental and physical challenges and achievements involved,” Gus said. “It only requires the body and the obstacles you’re moving over. The mental game is one of the biggest aspects to practitioners of any level.”
The lifestyle is relatively young in its infancy stage, Gus explained where it’s headed.
“I want to see the sport pushed and officially recognized in the U.S. like in the U.K.,” Gus said. “I want there to be more competitions for the community as a whole, instead of being looked at as a dangerous hobby. Eventually, I would also like to see it included in the X Games.”
Getting hurt is inevitable when lunging your body over concrete, asphalt, brick and other outdoor surfaces. The high schooler told us how he got banged up recently when attempting to perform a trick.
“I was doing a 360-dive roll over some bushes and landed flat on my shoulder, later realizing I had dislocated it. After the injury I had to take two weeks off serious training. Slowly, I worked back and eventually made a full recovery.”
Navigating oneself into this peculiar world of action sports requires time, dedication and a good support team. Gus suggests getting started by learning some of the basics, and also finding like-minded individuals.
“Take it slow and learn each step. It also makes it less likely for a new athlete to suffer an injury, which would diminish their training,” Gus said. “Also, find a training group to encourage you and push each other to achieve the goals you would like to reach.”
Eric Price, a 23-year-old senior at the University of North Florida who is majoring in sports management, explained how he first got involved in the scene and what made it so intriguing to him years ago.
“I’ve known about parkour for a long time, probably going back to 2008 when I saw my first video online,” he said. “Also around that time the video game “Assassin’s Creed” came out featuring similar mechanics. Seeing videos of people doing similar moves, but in real life was crazy. Immediately, I went outside and started trying to learn the basic, singular moves.”
Three years later, Eric began to take the sport more seriously, dedicating himself to the craft. A gym opened up in Gainesville for fellow parkour enthusiasts and he soon became acquainted with the staff. Ultimately, they introduced him to “Florida parkour,” which would become the largest parkour/freerunning collective in the state.
The philosophy of parkour is important to understand, as there is no physical start and end point.
“Parkour has been around in its elementary roots since the 18th century,” Eric said. “It began with Georges Hébert, a French naval officer. Story has it that he was on an island that saw a massive volcanic eruption and people died because they couldn’t get around natural obstacles. He developed ‘The Natural Method,’ which is a list of basic moves he felt every human being should be able to do. His motto was, ‘Be strong to be useful.’ That’s the mentality for parkour athletes.”
England recently became the first country to officially recognize parkour as a national sport. The UNF senior told us what that meant to him and what he hopes for moving forward, progressing the sport into new territory for the first time in nearly 200 years.
“That made my day honestly, like ‘Alright we made it guys, we’re here!’ I used to get into arguments with people all the time about parkour not being a sport,” Eric said. “What needs to happen now is for an organized governing body to legitimize the sport.”
The community is growing on a global scale, and people like Eric and Gus are exposing more and more potential athletes to the sport. Though initially parkour was seen as something strange to many, shows like “Ninja Warrior” have shifted the public perception to a more appealing light.
The threat of injury seems to be a recurring theme among parkour athletes. So what does someone like Eric who’s been in the game for awhile endured? Well … it isn’t pretty.
“I’m actually going through it right now (rehabbing) and it’s really weird,” Eric said. “In the last year, I’ve come to grips with my own mortality. Back in June, I smashed my knees going over a wall and tore both meniscuses. I’m still getting over that injury and haven’t had surgery. A lot of people told me not to because you’ll have arthritis by the time you’re 40. I’m taking it easy, laying off the big jumps and still working back to doing what I was once able to do.”
So, what are some parting words and advice for the younger generation of parkour up-and-comers? “I would tell them to find another veteran in the scene, get involved with the community, and don’t worry about age differences,” Eric said. “We are all very accepting.”
For those interested in learning more about the sport, or even those who want to give it a try, Florida parkour is an online destination for enthusiasts throughout the state. Stay connected at facebook.com/FloridaParkour or youtube.com/evasionfreerunning.