By Silvia Josipovic
This is the thought which crosses my mind as I lap Elder Park. I’m five minutes into my first Parkour class and I wonder if I’ve the physical capacity required to make it through the next three hours.
I had spent the lead-up to the lesson trawling YouTube and watching that episode of The Office where Dwight, Michael and Andy leap around yelling “HARDCORE PARKOUR!” I had then done much the same with obstacles I encountered. I thought this would be sufficient preparation. I thought wrong.
Parkour has gained a steady following since its introduction to Australia in 2006. Originating in France, Parkour is a non-competitive discipline which develops one’s ability to overcome mental and physical obstacles using only the body. Described as something which would be most useful in an emergency, its objective is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and safely as possible.
Inspired by an online video, Travis Ranson – now President of the South Australian Parkour Association – fostered its growth in Adelaide. Parkour is quite visibly the apple of his eye; he smiles as he recalls stumbling upon the clip.
“I remember seeing the video and it looked really cool so I had a search online – this was about 2004 – and nothing came up in Australia. I looked into it a bit, forgot about it, then two years later it popped back into my mind. I searched again and this time found a website. So I signed up online and here I am … here we are.”
Here we are; an overcast March day in Elder Park. What is most surprising is the turn-out; a 20-odd strong crowd, aged from their pre-teens to late twenties, and a handful of girls who join me in sticking it to the patriarchy. Travis divides us into two classes; those who have attended before and first-timers. I join three other young boys, bounding with energy and a degree of athleticism which for me remains elusive. I note the age gap and embrace my role as the mature-age student: I ask (and answer) the questions, make poorly received jokes, and laugh with our instructor, Jack.
As we warm up, Jack runs through rules and safety. If we’re to take international media coverage at face value, Parkour encourages reckless behaviour and its participants have complete disregard for their own safety and for the safety of others. This stereotype is quickly quashed, with Jack stating safety is paramount and encouraging us to speak out if we feel uncomfortable performing a manoeuvre.
The class begins with us crawling up and down a grassy slope in a cat-like fashion. Despite my coordinative prowess, the task is surprisingly difficult. As passers-by watch on curiously, I’m wary of the fact I more resemble Gollum than some sleek feline. It is with some relief we move on to running.
Jack is quick to point out the slapping sound of passing runners; noting that the heel strike places a great deal of stress on the foot. A more efficient method of running, he explains, is the forefoot strike; placing the weight on the ball of the foot.
As we jog to the outskirts of the Festival Centre, the difference is noticeable, and it is this drill which proves a fitting segue for our next exercise: jumping and landing. Jack reiterates the importance of landing on the balls of the feet, before pointing to a ledge overlooking Elder Park Cafe and stating, “So now we’re gonna put it all into practice by jumping off that.”
I glance at my fellow classmates and see they share the same dumbfounded expression. He chuckles sadistically, instead directing us to some steps around the corner. The task is simple enough and we’re quick to grasp the technique. I start to wonder if Parkour will present any real challenges. Good work Silvia, let’s jinx ourselves to high hell. Jack goes on to explain that sometimes additional moves, such as a roll, are required to land safely. All my years of somersaulting could not have prepared me for this. It so happens there is a lot of skill involved in perfecting the move and, as I teddy roll over the pavement, my shoulder and lower back are quick to alert me to the fact I’m doing it wrong. I hide my grazed arms while Jack gushes over one of the young boys’ ninja-like skills.
Collecting myself, and my battered ego, from the ground, we move to some railings where we work on our balance. From here, we hit the gold mine of Parkour drills: the wall climb. Standing by a wall at the entrance to the Festival Centre, we grasp at its ledge; right leg planted high near our chest, left leg dangling behind. We use the left leg to drive us up the wall. While my height proves advantageous in reaching the top, a severe lack of upper body strength sees Jack provide a sneaky leg up. Perched at the top, we make our way back down using the same technique in reverse.
As the class draws to a close, we undertake a series of strength and conditioning exercises, involving crowd favourites planking and phantom bench. My muscles are wailing like a banshee and the whole thing is about as painful as childbirth (or so I imagine). These are necessary in building the strength required for Parkour, Jack explains, coming out of a crunch with ease. A series of push-ups and squats later and we join the intermediate class for a warm down. Physically and mentally exhausted, I leave with a collection of bruises and a new-found empathy for Christopher Reeve.
So why subject yourself to such gruelling physical activity?
“I want to see how strong I can get – physically, mentally, and spiritually,” says Parkour enthusiast Thananthorn Toi Suriyasenee. “It’s a great way to keep fit and it’s also gotten me through some tough times – I’ve a new family with all the friends I’ve made while training.”
That, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
For more information on Parkour visit www.pointa.com.au