Parkour A-Go-Go

Let’s talk parkour for a minute, mostly because Casino Royale was on the other night and the opening chase scene still demands a viewer’s attention even six years after the movie was in theaters.

Parkour and free running have the honor of being two of the most unique and physically demanding sports in the world: unique because they combine the strength and agility of gymnastics with a kind of physically-demanding steeple chase mentality, mostly because the practitioners perform these acrobatic maneuvers at various altitudes, including off the side of really tall buildings. The sports, which started in Europe back in the 1990s, have become very popular in the bay area (witness the Red Bull-sponsored Art of Motion tour that came through Ybor City back in 2010, and bear in mind some of those practitioners can jump from even higher places).

Start with the basic act of running or jogging, which people do everywhere in the Tampa Bay area: on the beach, along Bayshore Boulevard, through the city streets (while avoiding traffic, of course), around neighborhood roads, and just about anywhere one cares to look. Now suppose during your average jog down the road, one decided to leapfrog over a traffic cone, dive roll over a hedge, and hurdle a park bench. That would be the beginning of freerunning. Parkour, by contrast, would be about finding the fastest way to move over the obstacles. Anyone interested in moving through their environment in physically unique ways can do these sports, as the movements in either discipline are  only be limited by the practioner’s imagination.

Despite the astonishing moves displayed by the professionals of these sports, the basic philosophy of freerunning is to move from Point A to Point B and over the obstacles along the way in whatever method feels best for the person, be it bouncing off a wall, doing a walking handstand, or leaping over a street pylon like a cheerleader. In that sense, a person wanting to participate in this sport does not need to be a world-class gymnast who sniggers at gravity.

Aside from not requiring a gym membership to participate, the fact that it can be done anywhere has been a major selling point in the popularity of these sports. Urban areas that offer plenty of structures to leap off tend to be the most popular places in Youtube videos, but this is not a requirement. Playgrounds, parking lots, parks, and anyplace with trees will do. The Xcel 360 gym in Odessa offers parkour and free running training and a motion park, which is like a skateboard park for people that flip off walls.

So what are the benefits? For starters, studying parkour might allow you to evade a British secret agent pursuing you through a construction site. Likewise, studying freerunning can teach you how to vault off a wall and over a parked car. If, however, your ambitions drift more toward the physical gains, practicing either sport allows for heightened fitness without a gym membership, as any park, building, or structure becomes a fitness apparatus and/or playground.

What about you, readers? Ever jumped off a building and kept going?

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