Wednesday, January 25, 2012

East Coash Mini Road-trip - Urban Evolution in DC

I spent my first full day in DC visiting the Urban Evolution gym and training with the guys there.  The setup of the gym there was by far one of the coolest ones that I’ve seen in my travels, from the brilliant graffiti that adorned the walls to the sheer amount of “stuff” that was packed into the gym.  The set-up included a number of elements that I hadn’t seen in other gyms, some of them, like the warped wall or the “ladder” were easily recognizable from American Ninja Warrior, while others, like the “floating platform” hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the gym, seemed like something directly out of some little kid’s dreams of an ideal play-space.  I spent a lot of time talking with Salil, the owner of the gym, about his company, his roots in the DC parkour scene, and his plans for the future of Urban Evolution.  It was really interesting to hear about the growth of a parkour scene in my own country and I was surprised by how similar it seemed to the stories I’d heard in other countries, despite my country’s penchant for commercialist exploitation of just about anything.

The view from the "floating" platform.

The balance beam suspended 10 feet off the ground and attached to the floating platform.

No gym is complete without lots of scaffolding.

Ninja Warrior ladder at the left.
I stayed at the gym for most of the day to get an idea of the way things worked at the gym.  This allowed me to see some of the parkour classes that were run at the gym as well as the other classes that were offered there like aerial arts, breakdance, and jujitsu.  One of the most appealing elements of the gym was the versatility that it offered, with the capability to host parkour jams, American Ninja Warrior contests, obstacles course challenges, circus classes, breakdance jams, and all manner of other events- all while also providing a safe and challenging place to train that could be manipulated and changed to ensure that there were always fresh challenges.

The office- any place with that big a nerf arsenal is fine by me (either side of the door).

While my experience over the past year and a half had prepared me for it, I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised to find that the “parkour politics” in the USA are just as lively and divided as they are in the other countries that I had visited.  Similar to the situation in nearly every major metropolitan area that I’ve visited, DC has different “factions” that operate within the same city.  However, I was happy to learn that unlike some cities I’ve visited, the grudges didn’t seem to extend past the original participants (as in nearly every case, the founding generation), and on the whole the DC parkour community seemed pretty cohesive.  That being said, my visit only allowed me to scratch the surface of the scene there, so I’ll have to leave future observations for another time.  I also didn’t have time to check out any of the outdoor spots in DC, which is probably my biggest regret from the trip, but inevitable since I was only spending two and a half days there.  Guess I’ll just have to come back…

USA East Coast Mini-Roadtrip – Washington D.C.

Upon leaving Charlotte I headed north to Washington D.C.  Since I hadn’t been to the nation’s capital since I a school trip when I was 11, I did some preliminary research on the parkour scene in the city, and found that there were a few groups in the region, two of which had set up parkour gyms in the DC metro area.  In order to check them both out and to remain as objective as possible, I set up my visit so as to be able to spend at least a day with each group.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Home in the USA, and then off again to North Carolina

Since I’d spent almost a year and a half traveling around studying parkour in countries all around the world but had never really explored the sport’s development in my own country I decided to remedy this upon my return to the USA.  Less than a week after my return to the US in October I headed south on an American “East-Coast mini-tour”.

The first stop was to Charleston , South Carolina to reunite with my old teammates from the Davidson Track and Cross-Country teams and to attend the Southern Conference Cross-Country Championships to cheer on our new generation, who narrowly missed the conference championship.   After looking in vain for a parkour scene in the city I headed north to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet up with the guys from Charlotte Parkour.

I had visited the Charlotte parkour guys during the summer and was happy to see that some of the guys that I first met in 2008 at a 1-day “workshop” that they hosted for Davidson students were still training and going strong.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the UNC Charlotte campus is a great place to train and the American university habit of building large, grandiose buildings with lots of handicap access ramps and “useless” architectural elements makes for great training areas.

North Carolina itself seems to have a pretty well-established parkour scene, with regular jams and meetings across the state.  Their site has been active for a few years now and is a good resource for both people looking to get into the sport as well as more experienced practionners looking for people to train with. For more info, check out

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Men's Health "Survival of the Fittest" Races

Toward the end of my stay in London I had the opportunity to help out as a member of the “event staff” for the Men’s Health “Survival of the Fittest” races that I competed in last year.  Unfortunately I was only able to participate in the first two events due to my return flight to the USA, but they were still a lot of fun.  The experience also gave me a whole new appreciation for the events themselves and the massive amount of work that went into their preparation and set-up.

Cardiff Bay, beautiful as usual.  Photos courtesy of Mark MacKenzie. 

The start of the set-up.  Photo courtesy of Mark MacKenzie. 

On my first day the powers-that-be made the mistake of leaving us for a while with no orders and lots of mats.  Then they were surprised to find us all hot and sweaty when they came back…

Too much free time and fun toys.   Photo courtesy of Mark MacKenzie.

Mats + free time = ...   Photo courtesy of Mark MacKenzie

Hard at work the day before the race.   Photo courtesy of Mark MacKenzie.

Mixing mud for the race in Nottingham.   Photo courtesy of Mark MacKenzie.

Making sure the platforms were solid in Nottingham.   Photo courtesy of Mark MacKenzie.
In both Cardiff and Nottingham I ended up hopping into the race at the last moment, and both times, despite the lack of sleep and the long hours of manual labor late into the nights preceding the event, the irregular meals, and general lack of preparation, I managed to do pretty well, winning my heat/wave both times and placing within the top 10 overall.  While this has made me reevaluate many of the “pre-race rituals” that I’ve sworn by over the past 10 years of competitive running, it has also made me realize that perhaps the parkour training here has been a bit more than the “standard” training that I’d taken it for…
Cardiff - Race photos from the exorbitantly priced MH SOTF site . 
Cardiff -  Race photos from the exorbitantly priced MH SOTF site.

Nottingham -  Race photos from the exorbitantly priced MH SOTF site.

Nottingham -  Race photos from the exorbitantly priced MH SOTF site.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Early fall in London

After what seemed like far too little time in Paris I returned to London, where the rest of my trip seemed to pass in a blur of teaching and training.  I had numerous opportunities to build on my instructing experience, and since the London community is so well established and welcoming, pretty much any time I was in the mood for training there was at least one person, usually more, that were willing to join me.

I spent the first few weeks of my stay bouncing around from one person’s floor, couch, or guest bed to another, and found that although I didn’t have much privacy or space to call my own, I didn’t miss it much nor find it to be much of a sacrifice.

During the first few weeks in London I met a young filmmaker who was putting together a documentary on parkour and asked to interview me for the project.  After the interview she came with me to one of my favorite training spots to get some more footage of me interacting with the urban environment.  Below are some of the still shots from the day. 

All photos courtesy of Nadia Hammond.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Scotland's first parkour park opens

This is old news now but I thought it would be appropriate to highlight what seems to be a growing trend in the UK, the construction of parkour parks by municipalities to give encouragement to local youth who are being active, responsible, and positive members of their communities.  Hopefully this trend will spread to other countries as well.

Photo courtesy of BBC News.

An afternoon spent exploring spots in Paris

An afternoon of exploring some of the spots in downtown Paris with Val, Philippe, and Jun...

A spot of lunch by the cathedral.

Jun testing out the lamposts in Olympiades.

Surveying the area.

Right before someone came out and kicked him off...

Not exactly efficient, but a haven for parkour. 
And people wonder why parkour started in Paris....

A recurring theme throughout my visit.  Apparently even the art was out to get us...

Paris – A visit to the World Wild Souls (2WS) Boutique

In addition to having a chance to reconnect with old friends and get some “quality training time” with the Yamakasi, my other reason for visiting Paris was to check out the World Wild Souls, aka 2WS, store that opened last fall. 

I first learned about the launch of the brand when I visited in June 2010 for the ADD Experience.  It was there that I was introduced to the two main people behind the effort, Daniel Toti and Stéphane De Maintenant, and got a glimpse of the efforts and plans underway.

World Wild Souls, also known as 2WS is something that has been in “in the pipes” for a quite a while now.  Actually, if one looks closely, the logo and name can be seen on some of the clothing and media items used by the Yamakasi in some of the earliest videos (this is from quite a few years ago, notice the cut of the shirts and the logo on the back)

It wasn’t until a few years ago when Daniel, a veteran of the Parisian fashion industry, and Stéphane, with an extensive business background, came in contact with the Yamakasi and plans for the clothing went beyond a small, custom-made line of clothing to something larger.  The official launch of the brand occurred in October of 2010 and since then it has been making steady progress in becoming recognized in France and throughout the parkour community.  After nearly a year of hearing about the brand and everything going on in Paris I decided to pay a visit to check things out during my trip to Paris.

The 2WS store is located on a small street in Paris near the fashion district of Les Halles on Rue Jean-Jacques.  While the street that is located on is not exactly a main thoroughfare, there is a constant stream of people coming into the store, usually from within the extended “family” of the Yamakasi or the staff at 2WS.

The shop itself is an awesome combination of French fashion with the Yamak feel and is decorated in a combination of scaffolding and wood that fits nicely with the clothing and with the Yamak themselves.  While the decorations are simple, they also fit well with the clothing and with the moving decoration of the traceurs that can be found wandering in and out of the store at most times.

The store front, the street is a bit quiet but there seems to be a constant stream of friends and visitors passing through. 
The entry.
After a quick tour of the building and the labyrinth of caves and storerooms down below (almost an extension of the Parisian catacombs) I met with Daniel, Antoine (one of the managers at the store and the younger brother of Tony Thich) to talk logistics and about the potential pairing of my travels with the development of 2WS.

The clothing is pretty awesome and I was fortunate enough to receive a number of the items to wear on my travels.  While many of the items are inspired by the Yamakasi and parkour movements, the clothing is not by any means parkour-only.  The brand is more designed for movement in general, and many of the items are also designed for use in dance, yoga, pilates, capoeira, martial arts, and any number of other movement-based practices.

The interior of the store.

The decor has been kept simple, but anyone that has trained with the Yamak or seen them perform can understand the choice of the scaffolding.

Some local traceurs and Laurent who happened to be at the store for an event.

All of the items are made from 100% cotton, although the feel to the cloth is very different from the standard cotton gear that one often finds in the US or Europe.  The symbol on the back of many of the items, known as a “chesu”, is New Caledonian in origin and symbolizes the Yamakasi spirit of “esprit fort, corps fort” (“strong mind, strong body” in English).

The chésu, the symbol of the brand.

 In the year since the launch the brand has grown a lot and been featured in a number of fashion-related events in Paris.

The guys performing at the Fall 2011 fashion show by Jean-Paul Gaultier (in the middle).  Photo courtesy of 2WS.
In addition to heading back to London with a few items to wear on my travels, I also came back with the title of “Global Brand Representative” for the brand, with the task of promoting the brand as well as the history and ideas of the Yamakasi roots as I travel.  While this isn’t really any different what I’ve been doing in the past, it has given me a unique opportunity to use some of my marketing experience while working for a company and ideology that I strongly believe in.  And of course I get to wear and test out some pretty awesome clothing in the process.

For more information on the brand and the clothing, check out the newly refurbished site below.

Some more photos of the clothing from 2WS below...

Chau, one of the founders of ADD/parkour.

Laurent, in his "resting" pose in a reversible long-sleeve shirt.

Guylain, fellow founder, wearing the Early Running hoodie. 

Yann, founder, wearing the reversible t-shirt.

One of the most popular items, the "Takare".