Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Parkour at Balneáiro Camboriú

After leaving Kalebe’s I took a bus from Floripa to Balneáiro Camboriú, where I met Lucas, Felipe, Renato and some of the other guys from the Curitiba parkour scene. For those that aren’t familiar with it, Balneáiro Camboriú is the definition of a beach town, with a year-long population of 80,000 that is inundated around Carnival by around 720,000 visitors who own “vacation” property in the city. Since some of the guys from Curitiba had family vacation homes or girlfriends with in the area, they came out to take advantage of the beach and to train with Felipe, one of their teammates who is studying there. I got lucky in my timing, as I was able to stay in an extra bed at Felipe’s grandfather’s house for a few days (a really cool house on the edge of the river) and hang out with the guys at the beach.

The view from the back porch.  The only downside was that it wasn't swimmable...

One of the mornings Felipe and Lucas took me to a local beach that they liked to train at for an early-morning training session. The beach turned out to be covered with huge boulders that created a perfect place to train for a few hours before the sun got too hot and we had to retreat to the get food.

Felipe, Lucas, and yours truly.

Since it was Carnival, the guys also took me to see the nighttime activities that were happening along the beach. While the experience is tough to describe with words, and I didn’t bring me camera with me, I think it would be fair to say that Brazilian Carnival makes American block parties, Davidson Spring Frolics, and London’s Notting Hill Carnival look like parlour parties.

After a few days of enjoying Carnival in Balneáiro Camboriú, Lucas and I headed back to Curitiba to go back to “normal life”.

Parkour in Florianopolis

After an 18-hour bus ride from Rio I arrived in Florianopolis realizing that I had no idea what the guy I was supposed to be meeting looked like, and without any credit on my cell phone. I wandered around the station for a bit before deciding to hang out in the most visible place possible and hope that I looked gringo enough for him to recognize me. Thirty minutes later I saw a guy with baggy sweatpants and a parkour shirt walk into the station and knew that he must be Kalebe, my contact.

Kalebe is one of the more experienced traceurs Brazil and was among the first group of young Brazilian guys from around the country that was instrumental in making Brazilian parkour into what it is today. The week that I spent with him seemed to fly by and a lot of it was spent getting the “insider’s perspective” on life in Brazil. It certainly felt good to be in a “normal” living environment again after spending the past 4 months living in hostels. Even though we didn’t attempt any culinary masterpieces, it was nice to have a proper kitchen and not have to fight 50 other people to make a simple sandwich. Since Kalebe is in university at the moment studying physical education*, I also got the opportunity to tag along with him to see what Brazilian university looks like.

*Since this is a concept that comes up repeatedly during my stay here, I should elaborate. Here in Brazil, one needs a degree in physical education in order to coach or instruct sports at any level. While this creates a major barrier for the creation of parkour classes at the moment, it also means that the people that are teaching or coaching sports have much more expertise and better training than in other countries where one can essentially start coaching with no experience or knowledge whatsoever.

Kalebe spent a lot of time showing me around the city, especially the 40+ beaches that surround it. Since he’s a big surfer, he has a special affinity for beaches and it was really interesting to hear about the sport from a longtime surfer. As he also works as a surf instructor on the weekends, I went along with him on Saturday to spend the day at the beach climbing around in the rocks while he gave lessons.

Kalebe's "workplace".

This is why Floripa has so many beaches, it's surrounded by water.

As it was the week before Carnival (huge deal in Brazil), there weren’t many guys training in the area, so most of the training I did in Floripa was with Kalebe and his roommate Niko, or in the gym where Kalebe worked. Since Kalebe had work each night from 5-9, I spent a lot of time at the university gym hanging out with him and his boss, Wladamir, who also happened to be one of his professors at school, unofficial strength trainer, and good friend. Wladimir’s model for the gym was very different from ones that I have seen back home and the whole experience was very different from what I had gotten used to at Davidson.

The varsity gym at Davidson; yes, you could probably say that I was spoiled...

 I also I found that it did a much better job at guiding the clients in developing their general fitness than the local gyms that I’ve been to in Boston. Each client was given an account in the computer system upon registration and whenever they came in they would have a new workout waiting for them that had been prepared by Wladimir based on performance in past workouts and personal goals. Throughout the course of the workout they could access any of the computers stationed throughout the gym to input their progress and see examples of the assigned exercises. Kalebe and the other staff were on hand to make sure that they were doing the exercises correctly and to provide coaching/encouragement. Overall, I found the gym to be a much more friendly and inviting atmosphere than many of the testosterone-charged arenas that pass for gyms in the States. While I have nothing against this atmosphere and personally like the competitive air, I feel that many “normal” people may get intimidated or turned off by this atmosphere or the massive guy staring at himself as he does bicep curls in front of the mirror.

Kalebe's gym.

Due to all the time that he spends in the gym and the fact that he has the educational experience, Kalebe has developed a way to do a lot of his parkour training in the gym. While he was recovering from an injury a while ago he and Wladimir worked to develop different weight-lifting routines in order to develop or improve certain parkour movements, and although I only got a small glimpse of this training I was pretty impressed. I’ve been curious for a while about the potential benefits of weight-lifting for parkour, but I’ve found that most of the traceurs I’ve met, with the exception of a few in London, are convinced that all of their training can be, and should be, done outside. While I’m not saying that either party is right or wrong, I do think that there are a number of potential benefits to a properly designed strength routine for parkour. I will also admit that I tend to approach the strengthening and conditioning for parkour the same way as I’ve done for years with competitive athletics/track & field; with a lot of strengthening exercises and conditioning to keep strong and develop certain techniques.

In addition to the gym, Kalebe took me to a few of the parkour training spots in the city, although my parkouring was pretty limited during the week due to a wrist injury that has been plaguing me for the past few weeks and a feeling of general fatigue.

Great place for a morning's training down by the water.

Some of the city "picos" (spots).

My last night in Floripa (and the first official night of the Carnival weekend) Kalebe and I went out to a rodízio and decided that it would be much more cost-effective (and a challenge) to get the tower of beer to go with our meal instead of individual glasses. Two hours and 3.5 liters of beer later, we walked out of the restaurant very satisfied and slightly inebriated.

Since Carnival was now upon us and Kalebe had to work at the beach giving surf lessons for most of it I headed to Balneário Camboriu to meet up with some of the guys from Curitiba…

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Parkour parks opening in London, Sao Paulo, and LA

So for those of you that might not be following the Parkour Generations website, I wanted to publicize a bit of great news for the parkour community. 

Parkour Generations, in collaboration with the City of Westminster, will be opening the "world's largest parkour park" early this summer.  The park, to be called LEAP (London Experience of Art du Deplacement and Parkour) has been in the planning stages for a while now, and despite the usual bureacracy and municipal red-tape that a project of this size involves, it now looks like it's finally on schedule to be finished.

Photo courtesy of Parkour Generations.
Photo courtesy of Parkour UK.
 While I'm sure that there will be some debate over the title of "world's largest parkour park" it does show the growing trend of parkour-specific training facilities being opened.  Tempest Freerunning recently opened a pretty amazing-looking indoor facility called the Tempest Academy in California a few weeks ago, and Sao Paulo will be home to the first parkour indoor training facility in Brazil in less than 2 weeks (I'll be there, so actual pics to come). 

I'm not going to go into the merits of park training vs. "street training" in this article (I'm saving this topic until I've been to Denmark), just wanted to spread the good news.

Rio de Janiero: Part I

My introduction to Brazil was 5 days in Rio de Janiero. I’ll admit that I arrived in Brazil with a lot of mixed expectations and really no idea what to expect. Some people had told me that it would be super expensive, others had said that it was really cheap compared to places like Chile. Some people told me that I’d be screwed over if I didn’t speak Portuguese, since Spanish wasn’t close to it and no one spoke English; others told me that I’d be fine speaking English most of the time, and if all else failed I could speak Spanish and people would understand. Some people told me that Brazilian women were way overrated and in fact Chilean and Argentinean women were much more attractive, while others (the majority) told me that Brazilian women were by far the most beautiful women in the world. Some said that the food was bad, others said that it was amazing.
So needless to say, I arrived in Brazil with lots of things swirling around in my head, and no idea what to expect. Since the 6-hour flight from Chile hadn’t included food of any real substance, my first act on Brazilian soil was to go to the food court and pay outrageous prices for sub-par food (at least some things are the same wherever you travel). Feeling somewhat sated, I dodged the crowd of taxi drivers vying tooth and nail to overcharge me to go where I wanted to go and took the public bus into the city. A few stops later another American got on and happened to sit next to me, and we started talking. An hour later we realized that we had missed out stop 30 minutes ago so we decided to stay on the bus and wait until it reached the end and then ride it back, essentially getting a free tour of the city (we got to see all of the beaches and the city center- not bad for 3 reals).

The first thing that struck me as I watched the city pass by outside was just how active and athletic the city was. Since it was the early evening, people were just getting out of work and it seemed like everyone’s first destination was the beach. Volleyball, soccer, jogging, and these “exercise stations” every kilometer along the beach that we full of people doing pull-ups and situps between bouts of flexing at the traffic. Of course I was impressed by all of the Amazon-looking women (not referring to the river) spiking volleyballs or biking around in their bikinis, but I was also impressed by all of the “normal” people that seemed to be engaging in an athletics activity that they seemed to do on a regular basis.

Checking into the hostel 4 hours after leaving the airport I found that despite it’s great location in the Botafogo neighborhood, the tiny AC in the room did little to cool the nighttime temperature of 39 degree (Celsius) and I woke up multiple times covered in sweat.

The next day I met my first Brazilian traceur, JJ, one of the first traceurs to start training in Rio. He showed me around the city a bit and we made plans to meet up the next day to train, and also set up times to meet with other traceurs in Rio. I spent the rest of the day wandering around Rio and trying to get my bearings in the city (stopping every few blocks to try one of the many different types of fruit juice available- so good, so cheap!!!).

The next day I met up with one of the local guys, and he showed me one of the best spots in Rio, which just happened to be a 5-minute walk from my hostel. After an hour of training in the sun, I was ready to stop for food, and we stopped for my 3rd acai of the trip (in 2 days). For those of you that don’t know what acai is- it’s probably one of the best foods on earth. The berry is frozen, blended with guarana juice, and served with sliced banana and granola.

Acai in berry form.

Acai in delicious form.

I spent the rest of the day resting up before meeting the guys in the center of town for an “All-night Training session”. This session, run by JJ from midnight to 7am, is a conditioning session designed to bring a new level of intensity to training and to give both a physically intense workout, but also a mental workout. I didn’t find the session itself to be too bad, mostly because JJ couldn’t ramp up the intensity too much because there were a number of beginners participating, but I did find myself badly in need of some caffeine around 5am. Just after watching the sun rise over the beach we called it quits and went home to recover.

Not too sure I was very concious of the beautiful scenery at this point.

Sunday I met up with JJ and a bunch of the other traceurs in the center of town to go on a training excursion into the hills around Rio. After a 30-minute bus ride, we found ourselves at the head of the trail. The hike itself was pretty intense, and in addition to the 3-hours it took us to reach the top, there were a number of places that involved climbing techniques and steep drops as we neared the top. The view from the peak was pretty amazing, and shows one of the coolest parts of Brazil- the fact that you have a city with 11 million people surrounded by hills and forest that looks like this 30-minutes away. We jumped around the rocks up top for a while before heading back down the mountain.

On the way up.

At the top (notice the significant loss of clothing).

Only a few miles outside of Rio.

En route to the bottom we stopped at a “cachoeira” (waterfall) for a very refreshing break before the trek down the rest of the mountain.

At the cachoeira, a very refreshing break!

Next stop Florianopolis!

Final Reflections on Parkour in Chile

The long bus ride home gave me a chance to reflect on the action-packed weekend and on my previous 3 weeks in Chile. Thinking back on it, the jam served as the perfect ending for my time in Chile. The “vibes” that I felt going through the traceurs throughout the weekend were very similar ones to what I had been feeling my entire time in Chile. While Chile doesn’t have a large parkour presence on the internet compared to some of it’s other South American neighbors, the atmosphere surrounding the parkour scene that I had seen is perhaps one of the most unique and inviting that I’ve experienced. Danny Ilabaca (widely seen as the best traceur in the world at the moment) said something similar after his visit to Chile a few months before I went there, but there is definitely something special about Chile. While I hesitate to refer to it as “innocent” or “pure” it definitely seems to have been “untainted” by a lot of the commercialism that seems to have affected the sport in other countries.

While the Parkour School in Viña del Mar and Santiago is a testament to this (totally free, open to anyone, training in urban or natural environments) this is far from the only example. The work being done by other teams like Nelquihue in La Concepcion also shows this spirit of openness and resourcefulness (the 2-day jam cost 1000 pesos, about $2). While part of this may be due to the fact that there seems to be a huge resistance to “paying for parkour” in South America, I think that it is also due to something about the “Chilean personality” and the fact that this part of the world has been largely “undiscovered” by the rest of the parkour world. After all, it was only after much perseverance and resourcefulness by Carlos and other traceurs in Chile that Ilabaca came over in the first place, and my stop was because I wanted to take advantage of a free stop on my around-the-world ticket.

Although the timing of my visit was pure chance, I managed to be in the country at what now looks like a turning point in Chilean parkour. A few weeks after my visit, Parkour School opened up its third branch (Viña del Mar, Santiago, and now La Concepcion). The connections that were made at the jam between the different cities and organizations have been very important, and as usual, Carlos’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious. From the pictures and updates that I’ve been getting from friends in La Concepcion, things seem to be going very well and the “school” has been very well received by the city’s youth.

One of the goals of my project is to go around the world and see how different parkour organizations work and to try to take the parts that work well back with me to the States in the eventual goal of opening up a parkour academy in Boston. While there are a lot of things that I’d like to take back with me from Chile, unfortunately a lot of them are cultural, and would be pretty hard to bring back to the States. That being said, things like Carlos’s EVAUTILE program are possible to bring with me. Yes, there are a few modifications that would need to be made for cultural differences, but on the most part, it’s a model that can be followed in most countries around the world.

A big shout-out and thank you to Carlos for all his help throughout my visit.  Muevete!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chilean National Jam at La Concepcion

My last weekend in Chile was spent at a national parkour jam held in La Concepcion in the south of Chile. Carlos had told me about the event a few days after my arrival and since it coincided perfectly with my visit, we decided to road-trip down together after Friday’s Parkour School class. The all-night bus ride was actually kind of fun, since unlike in the US, UK, or Australia, long-distance bus riding is not an excruciatingly painful experience. There was a movie (like the airplane, the sound was regulated from your seat and not blasted from a central speaker), free snacks, a water fountain, a decent bathroom, and best of all- lots of leg-room. The seats reclined and the leg-rests came up to make a semi-bed arrangement, which although not the Ritz, was way better than any Megabus or Greyhound that I’ve taken.

Chilean National Jam: Day 1
When we arrived in Concepcion at six in the morning we emerged from the bus to find ourselves surrounded by a number of squinty-eyed guys with baggy sweatpants, hoodies, and backpacks that were sleepily eying the surrounding walls and railings with halfhearted interest. A half hour later we were met by one of the local “Nelquihue” (the local team) traceurs that had offered to drag himself out of bed in order to meet the visiting traceurs and guide them to the jam location. When we got there a number of the guys woke up and immediately started jumping around on the scaffolding that had been put up in the middle of the square for the jam. Carlos and I decided to treat the day as a marathon instead of a 100-meter sprint and found a good place to take a nap until the sun was properly up in the sky.

After 2-hour nap and a quick trip to the supermarket for breakfast we headed back to the jam, which at this point was starting to get rolling. We signed in and got our official “jam wristbands” (the cost of the jam was 1000 pesos, about $2 since all of the scaffolding and equipment had been donated by local businesses in return for advertising and signage space) and the jam kicked off with a quick warm-up and stretching session.

Warming up

Carlos and I decided that we weren’t quite warm enough afterward so we led a quadrepedie session for a lot of the traceurs based on stuff that I had picked up through my travels and had been sharing with Carlos and the Parkour School.

Everyone loves some quadrepedie...

and some more...

While I spent a lot of the morning filming, after a quick lunch I tried to put the camera down in the afternoon to get some quality training in, talk with the guys, and even learn how to do a wall flip (big shout-out to Rodrigo). The rest of the afternoon was spent playing around on the scaffolding and exploring the nearby hotspots with some of the local traceurs.

By the late afternoon everyone was pretty exhausted and the first day of the jam came to a close with the group disassembly of the scaffolding.

Group breakdown of the scaffolding

Carlos and I headed home with one of the local guys to take showers at his house and hang out for a while before dinner. Much refreshed afterwards we headed to the house of one of the team organizers, which turned out to be the perfect location for a barbecue and drinks. The barbecue and drinks soon led to the usual parkour party antics- push-up contests, handstands, cinderblock curls, and by the end of the night we were Greco-roman wrestling on the kitchen floor. Realizing that we had to get up in a few hours for Day 2 of the jam we all collapsed in sardine-like arrangement onto couches and air-mattresses to catch a few hours sleep before the next day.

(Interesting note: One of the first things that struck me as the guys arrived for the jam was the number of Urban Freeflow “Glyph” t-shirts in the videos. While the presence of Urban Freeflow paraphernalia initially surprised me, I learned after talking to the guys that all the clothing that I saw was “homemade” and that most of them didn’t know that it was the UF logo, having adopted the symbol as a “parkour sign”. (Case in point about the spreading of inaccuracy and misinformation of parkour “history” via the internet.))

Is UF official gear really this popular?

Not quite...

Chilean National Jam: Day 2

The second day of the jam kicked off in one of the main plazas of the local university with a very tired-looking crowd. After an intensive warm-up led by Parkour School Santiago instructors Osho and Emme, the much more lively assembly split off into smaller groups to train in various hotspots around the campus. After exploring the campus for a few hours we all met up for an ambulatory tour of the city hotspots. We stopped at various points to work on particularly interesting routes or challenges although Carlos and I took it pretty easy since we were both exhausted from a few days of intensive training and a general lack of quality sleep.

The sleepy traceurs congregate

A stiff warmup

Getting more dynamic

Carlos's video of the Jam:

By the end of the afternoon everyone was pretty exhausted and the jam started to close down as people left to catch buses or rides back their hometowns. Carlos and I headed back with a core group of the local traceurs for a final cool-down and stretching session and goodbye’s. Since our bus wasn’t until late at night we hung out with a few of the locals for the remainder of the evening. Our walk back to the “home base” was delayed by an extended exploration of an abandoned factory on the way home, which had most of us looking over our shoulders for incoming zombies or other apocalyptic life forms.

More pictures and videos to come....

*Big thanks to Carlos Hidalgo and Paulina Moreno for thier great pictures!  Also a big shout-out to the people below for thier parts in hosting and welcoming me to La Concepcion!

Yes, that is a Davidson hoodie, no one has any idea how it got to Chile.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Construction of a Spot

One of the other big highlights of my time in Viña del Mar was my last day with the Parkour School. That day the “training session” was a bit different than normal. After a delicious home cooked meal with his family, Carlos and I stopped by the hardware store to pick up some metal wire before heading over to the meeting spot. We arrived to find the motley band of Friday “usuals”, plus a few more that had come along to help out after hearing that it would be a “abnormal practice session”.

En route to the spot.
 After a quick bus ride to the edge of town and a short walk up a dusty unpaved road we made our way to the entrance of the “Secret Spot”. I had been to this spot the week before for one of the classes and had been struck by the ingenuity of the location. It had started as a small clearing surrounded by an impenetrable mass of trees, blackberry brambles, and thorned plants that look like something taken out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World or the “Avatar” film. A few months earlier Carlos and some of the other traceurs had cleared out the clearing and made a few obstacles out of fallen trees and loose branches. The surrounding wall of foliage and 5-inch thorns ensured that one could practice in peace, and could enhance the spot without having to worry that random trouble-makers will come to destroy one’s handiwork.

Just a normal clearing at first appearance.
 The objective of the day was to improve the spot, and although I knew this going in, I was rather surprised by the way that Carlos gave the directions. I was expecting something more calculated and directive than the simple instructions of “Today the goal is to make your spot better. If you see something that you’d like to add or change, do it. If you need help, ask for it. Work together to build your spot.” I was pretty apprehensive about how much “improvement” would result from a load of young teenagers armed with a hammer, a saw, a bag of nails, some metal wire, and a bunch of old computer cables. However, by the end of the day I was speechless.

The kids all set to work immediately in different areas of the clearing to work on their visions and while wandering around watching them I spotted the perfect spot to rig up a series of lachées (I hadn’t yet been able to find a suitable spot to do lachées during my time in Viña and missed real scaffolding to swing on).

Clearing space.
Carlos and I set about finding suitable trees to build it and ended up enlarging the clearing a bit at the same time (the only time that I saw Carlos or any of the kids depart from the “leave no trace” attitude, which seems to be very strong in Viña). 
Carlos and I "logging" for more good branches.
 When Carlos and I emerged 20 minutes later drenched in sweat and carrying 4 small trees trimmed and cut to specifications, we found that in our absence the students had already set up a number of obstacles and were busily hammering and sawing away. I enlisted a few of the more curious ones to help with the lachées, something that was really intriguing to them since it was relatively unexplored movement, and was pleased to find that they didn’t hesitate to offer advice or ask questions about what was going on.

Hard at work.

Building up a new vault.

After an hour and a half, covered in sawdust, sap, and sweat, we stepped back to look at our handiwork. What had been a decent spot before was now one of the best spots that I’ve trained in on my trip so far- complete with a seemingly infinite combination of vaults, lachées, kongs, and precisions of all variations. While I have a special affinity for training in the forest and in trees, this was beyond my wildest dreams.

Trying out the new and improved spot.
Enjoying thier handiwork.

So I couldn't resist seeing if the new bars were good for working on my back lever.

Unfortunately we only got to train on it for a little while since Carlos and I had to get back to his house to change, shower, and pick up our stuff before we headed to the train station for an all-night bus ride to La Concepcion (next post).

Group huddle and reflection.

Carlos, the man responsible for all this...
 The best part of this experience was not the fact that I got to live my childhood dream of making a play spot in the woods outside the jurisdiction of parental control. Instead it was the fact that I got to witness firsthand the effect that the “class” had on the students. Not only were they getting the positive physical effects of parkour, but I felt like I could see them growing and maturing before my eyes. By giving the “students” the reins in the creation of the spot, Carlos had effectively ensured that they would be invested in its responsible use and upkeep. It was not just one more spot to train parkour, it was “their spot” that had resulted from their own sweat and hard work. While I doubt that this experience could be repeated in many of the places I’ve visited (going into a public park or forest and cutting down trees isn’t exactly well received in many countries), I think that it can serve as an example of one of the non-physical positive effects of parkour. It also seems like it is an activity/lesson that can be custom-tailored to specific countries and locations as needed, since the act of a “creating a spot” doesn’t necessarily require a fortified clearing in the middle of nowhere or cutting down trees (lots of abandoned urban locations are ripe for “parkour modification”.)

*Photo credits to Carlos and the other members of the Parkour School that picked up the camera throughout the afternoon.*