Parkour Part 2: Culture and the Mainstream

Team+Storror+pose+for+a+photo+after+shooting+one+of+their+weekly+videos.+Left+to+Right%3A+Drew+Taylor%2C+Callum+Powell%2C+Toby+Segar%2C+Sacha+Powell%2C+Josh-Burnett+Blake%2C+Max+Cave%2C+and+Benj+Cave.

Team Storror pose for a photo after shooting one of their weekly videos. Left to Right: Drew Taylor, Callum Powell, Toby Segar, Sacha Powell, Josh-Burnett Blake, Max Cave, and Benj Cave.

When Parkour was born, it was influenced not only by the work of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but also by skate culture and other action sports that were rising up at the time. Today, people often group Parkour and skateboarding into the same category of action sports and rebellious teenage spirit.

But while many perceive the two communities to be incredibly similar, there are many notable differences between the two, especially recently, as Parkour has come into its own.

One aspect of skate culture that carried over into Parkour was the group culture of skateboarding. Just like skaters would host jams at skate parks, freerunners would host jams at popular Parkour locations. However, while skateboarding is often done alone, Parkour is always done in a communal setting.

This tendency of Parkour was built on the need for support and constructive criticism to help each person reach their highest potential in a practice that praises personal growth and progress. Due to this fact, Parkour teams quickly popped up over time, with the more successful brands hitting the mainstream.

Despite the limited number of well known Parkour brands, the practice is more prevalent than it seems to be. Parkour was originally an underground culture, similar to skateboarding, and while Parkour purists still fly under the radar, much of the scene has transitioned to the mainstream.

Through the use of social media platforms, freerunning has become very popular, but much of the content posted to social media is only a glimpse of what Parkour really is. During a recent exchange, Sacha Powell noted 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.”

While Parkour has seemingly flourished through social media, many of the freerunners who got their start before that time would argue that the platform is detrimental to the community. This is because Parkour on social media is trimmed down to stunning images and short clips that neglect the context that all flashy Parkour moves reside in.

On YouTube, the Parkour scene consists of long form compilations or vlog-style videos. Parkour vlogs, the style often used by Storror in their weekly videos, shows much more of the context that Parkour resides in, a feature that does not appear in social media.

The social media clips that people often associate Parkour with, proliferate the false belief that freerunners are simply adrenaline junkies, but that could not be further from the truth. What those six second clips miss are the years of training and extensive preparation that go into each jump.

In Vlog style Parkour videos, the preparation that goes into each and every jump becomes apparent, from recreations of scary challenges in a safer space, to checking every surface used in the challenge, ensuring that the entire trick is safe. If a freerunner is trying to develop a line (a complex set of moves that takes the athlete from point A to point B), they first practice each movement individually to ensure that each part of their line is safe and well planned.

Aside from regular vlogs, Parkour teams will often create long form Parkour features in the form of documentaries such as Storror’s “Roof Culture Asia”, which made a big splash in the Parkour community upon its release, or Capstone Projects which incorporate the best athletes from that year.

Capstone Projects are ways in which Parkour teams showcase their progress in a year or after a certain trip. The heart of Parkour is personal growth and progress and capstone projects are excellent ways to show off one’s development over the past year. Major Parkour brands have sent out invites to the best freerunners in Europe to do joint Capstone projects to showcase Parkour at the highest level.

In and of itself, Capstone is a direct counter to the Parkour culture of social media as they are not posted everyday but rather every month of every year as testaments to one’s growth. Capstone represents Parkour in its purest form, a practice that requires patience and goal setting to develop one’s skill, a testament to one’s work ethic and commitment to their training, rather than a daily splash to get views.

If the practice of Parkour is described as training, what are athletes training for? Nobody really knows. The purpose of Parkour is up to whoever adopts the practice. For many, Parkour is a way to grow physically, mentally and even spiritually, getting more in touch with their bodies and minds, and developing a strong work ethic through goal setting and constant practice.

This mindset has led to an incredible trait to develop among freerunners. Once a gap is first completed, that is rarely ever the end as freerunners will come along and level up the jump with flips or spins to add difficulty.

Beyond the personal aspect of Parkour, the practice has spilled over into the social arena. Parkour, just like skateboarding, has been associated with social rebellion and the anti-institution movement of the underground characterized by trespass, vandalism and violent confrontations with the police.

However, freerunners such as Sacha Powell would argue that that is not the case anymore. He feels that “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.”

In the early years of Parkour, jams (large gatherings of freerunners to train together) would often turn violent as public mistrust for the rebellious teenage freerunners ran high and the police would often be called to disperse jams. Now, as Parkour has gained more exposure many people are no longer afraid of freerunners but there are still tensions over issues with their use of public and private property.

Even after the evolution out of its teenage years, Parkour has maintained a strong anti-establishment culture. However, it is not a question of respect but rather a question of vision. Freerunners simply do not see their environment the way the average person does, instead they see possibilities for jumps and challenges all over and will break the rules in order to complete them.

Still despite what it may seem, free runners are not adrenaline chasers. Rooftop Parkour especially has been labeled as an activity for thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. Rooftop Parkour is actually used as an extension of ground training, a celebration of what freerunners have achieved. Given the risk, everything done at height is always done with the utmost caution and preparation.

So, while it is natural to fear for the safety of freerunners, exposure to the practice has helped people to learn that they are rarely doing something that would put them at serious risk of injury. Parkour is not happy go lucky – it is a gritty community that progresses their skill with extreme caution and preparation.

This culture is embodied in the distinct style that freerunners wear. Similar to the early days of skating, freerunners would wear baggy sweats and shirts for maximum movement, but as the sport progressed the style of Parkour became more sophisticated. When the first major Parkour brands, such as team FARANG, started popping up the clothing style for Parkour began to shift away from the underground baggy style to more modern street wear.

The current Parkour style still consists of oversized tees but the size has been reigned in, creating a slimmer look that still aids movement. Despite the correlation between skateboarding and Parkour, you will never see a freerunner in jeans due to how the material restricts movements. Instead, free runners stick to joggers and sweats that protect the legs from scrapes and cuts but also allow for free movement.

The culture of Parkour is hard to pin down. The practice can mean something different to each person who trains it. The spectrum is incredibly diverse today due to the Parkour subculture that has spawned on social media, but at the roots of what Parkour really is, everyone can find something perfect for them.

For some Parkour is simply a hobby, like skating may be a hobby for others, but for others, especially those on teams, pParkour is their life. However, whether it is a hobby or not, Parkour is a way to grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, working to become more in tune with one’s body and minds with a focus on positive energy.

Victor Bevine, a Parkour photographer, argues that Parkour is mental,not physical, and that at its best, Parkour is “a culture of free expression”. Any freerunner would agree. Half of the battle in Parkour is convincing yourself that you can do what you know you can do.

For example, Team Storror’s Josh-Burnett Blake faced this phenomena a couple of months ago. Storror was doing a series of challenges over water and one of which was a 12-foot jump to a wooden post sticking out of the water. Josh has a fear of water, but he knew that he could do the jump, leaving him to fight through his fear to complete the challenge. Josh pushed through his fear and went for the jump but unfortunately he could not stick the landing and he fell off the post into the water. However, Josh mustered the willpower to attempt the jump two more times, sticking it on his third attempt.

The real challenge of Parkour is knowing your ability and pushing through mental barriers to believe in yourself. Parkour has the power to shape people into strong, confident, individuals who know their abilities and continue to progress and grow.

This is the secret of Parkour that is often not seen in social media or in the mainstream, but it is the reason why the practice has caught on. Because despite how the public may view freerunners to be miscreants and threatening to society and how social media makes Parkour out to be effortless and adrenaline pumping, the practice is really so much more.