Exploring by leaps and bounds
Parkour participants jump over obstacles in Vancouver’s west end
Special to The Globe and Mail
June 19, 2007
WEST VANCOUVER — Three young men warm up along the oceanfront in Ambleside Park in the fading heat of a bright Wednesday evening.
They try forward rolls on the pavement, with leader Rene Scavington teaching them the best way to fold in their shoulders and somersault.
Next, the trio “climb” horizontally along the ground for 10 minutes.
The sequence is completed with jumps on top of two granite pillars, and a leap onto a tree branch 2.5 metres off the ground. This is repeated until the motions are almost fluid.
Mr. Scavington, 22, and his students are practising the basics of parkour, also known as free running. With the aim of getting from point A to point B, participants jump and climb over walls, bus shelters and even buildings.
This occasional use of private or public property as a vertical promenade sometimes brings the traceurs – as parkour athletes are called – into conflict with security guards and police, which has proved as attractive to some participants as the sport itself.
One of Mr. Scavington’s students, Justin Neumeyer, jumps down from a park building on which he has been practising. He joined the program six months ago with three friends from Seacove Secondary School in North Vancouver. The 17-year-old said he first practised indoors for three months.
“My technique has improved greatly because of the classes. It’s a lot harder than it looks in videos, and we’re advancing faster because we practise,” he said, adding that his parents were pleased he had taken up such a “neat sport.”
“They’re happy I’m getting exercise,” he said.
The District of West Vancouver decided to offer a “parkour academy” as part of its recreation program, starting last September.
Derek Lowe, the city’s outdoor program co-ordinator, said the aim was to take parkour away from conflict with authority and property owners. He said West Vancouver’s course in Ambleside Park was the first of its kind in Canada.
Mr. Lowe first met Mr. Scavington at an outdoor sports event and drafted him to be the teacher.
“There’s obviously a need, and we’re happy to help. We became interested in it as an emerging activity, similar to the way skateboarding was regarded 20 years ago,” he said.
Mr. Lowe added that he has received calls of interest from as far away as Whistler and Langley.
“We think parkour is a lower risk than skateboarding or mountain biking because [participants] are not moving as fast,” he said. “Parents like the course because they know their teenagers are learning the safest way to do it.”
The academy offers Monday night indoor sessions at a local gymnastics club followed by Wednesday outdoor sessions at the park. Mr. Scavington said they also practise in downtown Vancouver every couple of weeks, usually in public areas.
He said he had been stopped by police many times since taking up the sport in 2005.
“We know how to handle them a lot better now as far as respect goes. If police tell us to take off, we don’t argue,” he laughed.
Parkour was founded in France over a decade ago and brought to Vancouver around 2002. The James Bond film Casino Royale opens with a 10-minute parkour chase through a building site. Advertisements and Internet sites like YouTube show clips of traceurs on the run.
Mr. Scavington says many people wrongly believe that the sport is dangerous.
“Whatever little you’ve heard about it, you’ll want to forget it,” he said. “From the time it started, parkour was about finding an efficient way to move. There are different levels for that. It wasn’t so much a way to rebel as it was trying to develop a new outlook on fitness.”
Mr. Scavington, who has a background in gymnastics, conceded that he was attracted by parkour’s perceived dangers when he first tried it. “At first, [my interest] was more based on the creativity and rebellion,” he said. “At first I thought it was crazy and dangerous, but it was good that I was afraid at first because I tried to learn more about it.”
He said that taking the program to a gym or park doesn’t take away the rebelliousness.
“It’s not a contradiction. Some people like the idea of trying parkour in a controlled setting,” he said. “And while that might not be the way everyone would like to learn it, the people I’ve trained are getting fit and learning the safe way to do it.”
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