Rise of Modern Parkour

One of the Storror members clears a roof gap while filming Roof Culture Asia.

Storror

One of the Storror members clears a roof gap while filming Roof Culture Asia.

“Freerunning and Parkour spawned out of the imaginations of street kids in Leece who didn’t see the confines of their urban environment as a prison, but rather as a playground to let their imaginations run wild” (Jimmy The Giant). Parkour originated in France, on the outskirts of Paris in the 1990’s and has matured into a vibrant street culture that flourishes in certain parts of the world today. The Pioneer of Parkour, David Bell, began by running, jumping and climbing over obstacles in the streets of Paris, developing the art of moving.

Simply put, parkour is a way of moving through one’s environment in a manner unintended by the developers, setting goals and taking on challenges. In this way parkour is great for those who wish to push themselves and have a good time.

These original developers of parkour called themselves traceurs and tackled the streets of France to develop new methods of moving as well as new ways of using the objects around them.

Their original Yamikasi group developed the original parkour style. This style has since been refined so that athletes do not have to take as much of a beating, limiting injury. When parkour began, athletes would use brute force, absorbing massive impacts in their choppy movements.

But even before the Yamakasi group there was Jackie Chan. In many ways Chan was an indirect founder of parkour. He would add his mixed martial arts background into chase scenes in movies, laying the groundwork for what parkour is today.

But after Jackie Chan, the first pure parkour film was Yamikasi, which laid the groundwork for the development of parkour, a practice that is only in its late 20’s.

At this time, Parkour was incredibly hard on the body. The safety roll had not yet been invented and the early movement style required free runners to take heavy drops. Due to this fact, freerunners used to be some of the toughest people on earth as they sustained heavy impacts over long periods of time.

The philosophy of parkour was one of creativity, pushing freerunners to think outside of the box and evolve physically. As the movement of parkour evolved, so did the perception of the human limit. Today, freerunners are casually taking on challenges that seemed impossible just years ago.

Parkour has flourished because of the people who have added their own unique perspective to what are for many of us, mundane spots. It is the innovators who have allowed parkour to progress and survive to this day.

The progression of parkour has actually benefited greatly from gymnastics. But while gymnastics has been limited to a set of rules and limitations, freerunners are free to make the most of their environment. While many of the aerial aspects of parkour have been influenced by gymnastics, freerunners generally mock gymnasts for having the advantage of sprung floors and mats.

Because of this difference in environment, the completion of gymnastics maneuvers in the urban environment have always been momentous occasions that have pushed the sport forward, taking moves originally done on mats outside onto the concrete.

While freerunners have taken inspiration from gymnasts and Jackie Chan, they are still constantly making new moves of their own. For example, Daniel Ilabaca was the first person to complete a Kong Gainer (a backflip while moving forward) outside. Freerunners, being freerunners, this trick was quickly leveled up as people doubled it or added a spin.

Moves that were originally secluded to the top levels of freerunning such as the castaway or the kong gainer, have since become much more accessible as the skill level of the average freerunner has quickly risen.

Freerunners today owe so much to people like Jason Paul and Jannis Schauer who progressed both the movement and culture of Parkour. For the last 15 years, Paul has been at the cutting edge of movement, constantly discovering new ways to move through his environment. During this time, Paul created one of the first Parkour brands: FARANG, which put out one of the first Parkour clothing lines.

Before this, free runners were easily recognizable because of their baggy pants and oversized tees. They represented your teenage hoodlums, taking on much of the same connotation that skaters had. But, with this evolution to Parkour culture, the door was opened to personal creativity not only in movement but in clothing.

In the breakaway from baggy pants and oversized tees, the clothing style became much more varied and personal. While Freerunners mostly stick to sweats and a tee shirt, other styles such as joggers, hats, vests, jackets, and pants tucked into socks have taken root. Despite the broadening styles of dress you will still never see freerunners in jeans due to how they restrict movement.

A member of Storror, Josh Burnett-Blake has been at the forefront of clothing in parkour as well as creativity in movement. His personal style event caught the attention of Nike, who he has modeled for a few times. Parkour and fashion have allowed Josh, as well as many other freerunners, to express themselves more fully. Josh has woven his personal interests into his fashion and movement, creating a truly unique style.

This uniqueness is a hallmark of parkour but has been something that is often under attack.
During this time, the budding sport of parkour came under attack by a rival group called “Trickers”. This community specialized in aerial techniques or “tricks” that could be done at ground level. Ultimately the parkour won out as it incorporated both what the trickers were pushing for, as well as the art of movement which was not limited to flips and spins.

Another group that parkour has been associated with but has ultimately broken free from, is the skate scene. In its early days, parkour took on the edgy, anti-establishment, anti-authority vibe of skate culture but has since evolved into its own culture. While there are still many common ties between parkour and skateboarding, the differences of what is physically possible in each sport, as well as the locations that they thrive in have separated the two cultures.

For much of the early 1990’s and 2000’s, parkour existed in the underground, but as parkour teams, such as The Motus Projects, Storror, and Farang began popping up, parkour began to lift itself into the mainstream. While much of the parkour community, like skateboarding, exists underground, it has pushed itself more and more into the mainstream.

In an exchange I had with Sacha Powell from the Storror group, he explained to me that “The Parkour community is very diverse – One end of the spectrum the culture is very gritty and underground – similar to skateboarding. On the other side, there’s a lot of people pushing the online mainstream side of things – sometimes to a cringey level.”

As parkour grew into the mainstream it picked up major advocates such as Red Bull. The Red Bull Art of Motion competition started in 2007 and operated as a platform for budding freerunners to show off their skills. The competition sits on the outskirts of the parkour community and is often criticized among the community for attempting to rank parkour moves and assign points to them. The competition somewhat misses the heart of the parkour community, that is, putting one’s of unique art into their movement.

In 2012, another parkour competition sprang up: World Chase Tag. The sport places one member from each team in a ring filled with different obstacles. One person plays the chaser and the other the evader. Teams score points by evading the chaser for 20 seconds in the ring. While World Chase Tag is not representative of the parkour community, it has brought the parkour more into the mainstream.

Through all of these major moments and developments in the parkour community, one group has dominated the last 10 years of parkour in the media and have proved to be one of the most innovative parkour teams to date. The team has pushed parkour into the mainstream through their feature length films, social media presence, their own personal yearly awards and their newly created podcast.

Team STORROR burst onto the scene on October 10th, 2010. Before this, the group’s members: Max and Benj Cave, Toby Segar, Drew Taylor, Callum and Sacha Powell and Josh Burnett-Blake had been training parkour for years under various titles.

Storror is now one of many parkour teams including Team Phat, Team Farang, Storm, and Marrero Gang among many others. The team element of parkour allows people to work with and learn from each other rather than having to train on their own. It also allows for group challenges to conquer obstacles that would be impossible alone.

Beginning with their North Point Group and later evolving into Team Agility the boys gradually came together to form STORROR. The North Point Group formed in 2006 after Max and his brother Benj had watched the Jump Britain parkour film which inspired them to hit the streets and start practicing.

The team’s name came from Max and Benj’s middle name: STORROR, which they thought sounded cool. Since their inception the group has been at the forefront of the parkour community, stretching its bounds, innovating style, and breaking the rules.

Each member of the group developed their skills across their parkour journey which began in 2005. From a young age each member showed their talent in both videography and parkour, putting together videos which were quite impressive for their age.

Despite their obvious focus on parkour the team highly values aesthetics in their videos, and have created a parkour culture around that style.

The Storror group played on these ideas of being seen as street rats in their documentaries which include: Roof Culture Asia, and SuperTramps Thailand. These films brought their parkour abilities on the ground to new heights as they would jump between skyscrapers and run and flip along walls hundreds of feet in the air.

During these features the group was constantly on the run from the local authorities who often arrested them for trespassing, however due to the honor system of law in Asia, no group member was detained.

Out of these experiences the group crafted a film that dived into the culture of parkour while capturing the beautiful scenery of the Asian cities: Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Seoul. The film represents the reclaiming of parkour for the community after it had lost much of its meaning due to Instagram and Twitter.

Callum Powell recognized that “there are people that are just going on roofs for instagram just to, like, shock people that have no experience with height. It would be arrogant to say that we’re reclaiming it but we wanna show that it’s not about posing.”

The aim of the documentary was to show the world that rooftop parkour was not just performed by people who want social media fame for doing something dangerous. They wanted to prove that rooftop parkour is very calm and calculated and is not meant to be sensational but rather just a way of taking one’s abilities that they formed through ground training to the highest level.

Roof Culture puts rooftop parkour into context, highlighting the years of training and hours of preparation that go into each jump at height. Storror recognizes that the stunts that they perform on rooftops are often taken out of context, so they wanted to share the whole story behind their famous jumps.

Benj Cave broke down the process for the viewers, explaining that the group is “not taking that leap of faith that everyone thinks that it is. It’s so calculated, you break everything down into chunks.”

Despite what is often perceived there are hours of preparation that go into each jump. The group checks every surface to make sure it is safe. If their takeoff is too slippery or the landing is too fragile or if there are a variety of other variables that lower their ability to do the stunt, they know how to walk away from it. Yet, even before the moment of the jump, they are not solely relying on their few hours of prep work, but rather are leaning on years of training and experience.

Youtuber and freerunner Jimmy the Giant explains that “for every two second clip you see on instagram there’s probably like 10 years of actual parkour training that’s got them to that point”. A freerunner would never try a trick, especially a dangerous one, that he/she felt that they could not do.

A key part of parkour is mental, battling fear. When faced with a scary challenge freerunners always check themselves and calm themselves down, working through the process in their head and analyzing a fix for every possible risk.

By analyzing the risks and recognizing the limits of their own abilities, freerunners always work within a relatively safe boundary. While many may still argue that free runners are just adrenaline junkies, Jimmy argues that “when you are doing parkour the last thing you want is adrenaline. If you’ve ever been nervous before … you’re erratic, you’re not in control”

Parkour is always done within one’s abilities, therefore serious injury or death rarely occurs. Although others may perceive parkour to be a very dangerous sport, they miss the fact that the athletes who perform these stunts have been training for years and only work within their limits.

An anomaly in the general process of approaching scary challenges is Dom Tomato. Dom has ticked off many incredible, high impact, high risk moves over his career, but people across the parkour community tend to question his preparation. It is not often that you see someone go for a high level and risky jump without thorough preparation, but Dom seems to have a knack for taking on big challenges with minimal preparation.

In Team Storror’s Podcast with Dom Tomato, they discussed the unorthodox way in which he approaches challenges and the impact that he has on those around him. While Dom admitted that his style has brought him a lot of close calls, the strength and durability of his body has allowed him to take impact and move on.

Beyond Dom’s own safety, Storror was also concerned about how Dom’s style and mannerisms could push other athletes to try jumps that they are not ready for, leading to serious injury. Dom’s impact on the Parkour community stresses the necessity of a clear and focused mind when attempting a jump, to ensure the highest possible chance of success.

Beyond Roof Culture’s clarification of the nature of rooftop parkour and parkour in general, it also captures the anti-establishment culture that runs through parkour’s veins. The feature showed the group constantly on the run from authorities as they would have been charged for trespassing to get to their spots, which is an arrestable offense.

The film perfectly encapsulates the skater-esque attitude of the parkour community as they showed pure disregard for certain laws in order to perform the sport which they have devoted their lives to. While some may equate the actions of skaters to those of the parkour athletes, the two communities live in different worlds.

The parkour community has always been much quieter in their communication with the police which has allowed them to keep returning to different spots where they know they are not allowed to be. From their perspective, as long as they are not hurting anyone or damaging any property they are fine, and most of the community is innocent of these accusations.

While athletes will ultimately respect the authority of police officers who are patient and understanding of them, they still hold a great dislike for certain civilians and how they approach parkour. The last thing that a freerunner wants to hear from a person walking down the street is “Do a backflip!”. The parkour community does not want to be simplified to the level of one-trick ponies who perform for people on the street, instead they want their vibrant and diverse culture to be recognized and celebrated.

So in many ways the group is misunderstood, but also recognize that they are stepping outside of many societal rules. Callum explains that part of Parkour is to “question things that are told to be absolute and 100% true.” This open defiance often lands them in conflict with the authorities.

In many ways, parkour athletes, especially those who train outdoors and not in a gym, are feared by the outside community. This is not due to displays of aggression or violence, but rather because people do not trust them to take care of themselves.

For many, the natural instinct when seeing someone run and jump across a rooftop is to fear for that person’s safety, but Roof Culture highlights that freerunners do not just run across roofs in an uncontrolled manner but rather weigh the potential consequences of every step before deciding whether or not to commit.

By its very nature parkour is a dangerous sport especially when performed at heights. Youtube, recognizing the potentially dangerous impact such content could have on its young viewers, decided to demonetize a variety of Parkour channels due to their content. Storror was one of the most vocal parties in reaction to their demonetization.

In 2019 the group was demonetized without warning just as they had quit their jobs due to the success of their channel. Toby Segar reported that YouTube did a “Blanket wipe of all advertising on our channel six months ago now … we rely solely on our clothing and the bonus jobs that we do”.

The STORROR group has taken this idea of parkour culture and have translated it into fashion as well. The group has created their own style of street clothing, even making their own pair of shoes: The Storror 10s. This was the saving grace for Storror as Youtube revenue had become their sole source of income.

Many videos from these channels such as Storror’s infamous powerline cable crossing were age-restricted by youtube, due to their dangerous content and their lack of explicit disclaimers.
While it is true that Storror’s videos, as well as the content of many other parkour creators, does inspire many young people to explore the sport, YouTube recognized that this may also have some adverse effects. Most notably, YouTube is afraid that children and teens, after seeing such content, may try to do it for themselves, attempting dangerous and high level tricks without proper practice and preparation.

There is a definite fear within the community of the effect that parkour may have on their children, but there is also a disconnect between the mind of a freerunner and that of the average person. The two groups see the world around them in a drastically different way.

While the freerunner sees the city as his playground, most still see it as a place of order and organization that is not to be messed with. Parkour urges people to think outside of the box, leading freerunners to break the rules in order to carry out their visions of what they can do with a certain piece of architecture.

Parkour represents a rejection of the rules of the world. Freerunners do not listen to what they are told they can and can’t do and as a result, they are often confronted by the authorities. Parkour athletes simply do not see things the same way as the average person, but rather see lines and patterns of movement through certain scenes.

Our back alley or ramp complex is their playground, a place where they take what is given and take it beyond its intended purpose, simply not doing what they are told to do.

Locations such as IMax, a subway exit in the heart of London have become iconic spots for parkour due to how their architecture lends itself to the sport. Unfortunately some “holy sites” for Parkour such as the famous Vauxhall location have been destroyed or remodeled in recent years, making parkour an ever evolving scene.

London has always been one of the hotspots for progression in parkour with spots such as Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall, Junkies Jungle, Imax, Oxo and more. However, despite its many parkour locations London had actually waged a war on parkour in recent years. Because freerunners in the 2010’s were often considered as street rats, there was mounting pressure from certain neighborhoods to tear down parkour hotspots. 3 parkour havens: Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall and Junkies Jungle were torn down because of this pressure, leaving the London parkour scene with the wind knocked out of it.

However, the film Resurgence, created by The Motus Project and Run London breathed life back into London parkour. The film featured new, incredible moves at some of the most trained spots in London. It was a major moment of creativity and physical prowess that encapsulated what parkour was at the time and pushed it to a new level.

Thankfully for many freerunners, the measurements of Vauxhall were taken while it was being torn down, allowing it to be rebuilt in the Fluidity gym and enjoyed today as the parkour Heaven that it was.

The most famous parkour spot of the era was the manpower gap in Jean Juares France. The name of the jump is fitting because although it is only a 10 ft gap, the drop is 15 ft, which takes a toll on the body.

The gap is a testament to the durability of freerunners as it is not the distance but the drop that makes this jump so scary. Moreover, spots such as these are remembered by the ability of the people who courageously took them on.

Even today amid a greater acceptance of Parkour, freerunning is becoming increasingly difficult in the modern city as old meccas of parkour are being torn down and replaced with architecture that is unusable for freerunners.

To counter the growth of parkour, cities have also implemented deterrents such as anti-climb paint and anti-parkour spikes which make parkour nearly impossible in some areas. However, some workarounds have been found for these measures, but the conflict between the authorities and freerunners will continue to grow.

This was the case at the famous Lyon 25 staircase, first made famous by Ali Boulala who attempted to ollie a skateboard down the 25 stair set. Unfortunately Ali failed and badly injured himself on his last attempt and so the trick was considered impossible. However, in 2016, the jump was completed by the skater Jaws (Aaron Homoko). This achievement solidified his place in skating history as he became the first person to conquer a seemingly impossible task on a skateboard.

Unfortunately, after he completed the jump, the city commissioned anti roll spikes at the top of the stairs to prevent people from jumping down them. This did not stop people on scooters, BMX bikes and even motorbikes from trying.

There was one group that anti-skate spikes could not stop. Freerunners. Legendary freerunner Dom Tomato took one look at the giant stair set and said “it’s on” and proceeded to front flip down the stairs with minimal preparation. Dom severely bruised his ankle on the landing but was back to training a few short weeks later.

Each person who showed up to attempt Lyon 25 was met by security guards who made it incredibly difficult for anyone to attempt the jump, but in true parkour fashion, they always found a way to make their dream happen.

Much like the anti-skate spikes that made the lyon 25 much more difficult for skaters to attempt, anti-parkour/anti-intruder measures have begun to pop up all over the world to stop both freerunners and intruders.

In their video on Feb 7 2022, the Storror group went around the streets of various British cities, making a mockery of the anti parkour instruments that were being used. They found that everywhere they went there was an easy work around for the anti-parkour devices, which sometimes actually helped them.

The implementation of ant-parkour measures has mainly served to make British cities look more like prisons without reducing the activity which the city deems to be an issue. Despite those naysayers who work to limit the practice of parkour, much of the population has become accepting of the sport as it has risen into the mainstream.

During my exchange with Sacha Powell he noted that “I believe the more people learn about what Parkour is, the more accepting they get towards it. These days it’s common for a member of the public to see people training and not feel the urge to call the police because they know it’s just people training their sport rather than assuming it’s some sort of criminal activity.”

So while it is becoming more and more difficult to practice freerunning in some areas, more people are becoming more understanding of the lifestyle.

Parkour will remain invincible against all these societal pressures because it is not based in feelings of discontent and disagreement with societal systems, but is more often than not, a form of expression. The main aim of parkour was never to rub society the wrong way but rather to push oneself to the limits, physically and mentally and to display one’s movement as an art form.

Although parkour has taken on certain connotations over the years, its true message can be distilled into a small set of feelings. Storror’s Josh Burnett-Blake explains that “if you got parkour, you got–you’ve got fear, you’ve got freedom, you’ve got expression, all of those feelings, emotions, and disciplines, get rounded off into one form, and that is roof culture.”