One sport that many people have heard of, a good number have seen, and few people know much about, is parkour. Parkour is also known as freerunning. It is a relatively new sporting discipline, having only been around since the late 1980s. What most people don’t know is that parkour developed out of the same movements used for military obstacle course training. The whole point is for a person to get from one point to another in a complex environment in the fastest way possible, which is almost always not walking! It was started primarily by a Frenchman, Raymond Belle, and further popularized by his son David and his friends. Parkour has become accepted around the world, and in many places encouraged.
The United States
While this is a big area to cover, parkour, especially in big cities, has become pretty much the next big thing in fitness, and has expanded to involve literally every age group from four years old up through people in their fifties and sixties! Anyone who wants to can join a parkour group in just about any city, and many gyms are available. Most cities which have licensed parkour classes have worked with these organizations and delineated which areas of the city are ok for freerunning practicing, and which are off-limits. It’s interesting that in some cities these limits also include time periods, such as 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5:40 p.m. in Detroit, Michigan. Check with the local parkour club if these exist.
Ala Moana Beach, in Honolulu, Hawaii, is a great place to take a vacation, especially if you love to freerun. Combine a tropical paradise with a fantastic area with tons of great training places for parkour, and you have a vacation to die for. The practice is encouraged by the city, with yearly competitions as well. According to people that have been there, some of the beat cops will even drop a word of encouragement to someone who pulls off a particularly difficult stunt!
The University of Colorado in Boulder also hosts freerunning events, and the mix of old building and new construction has created a huge concrete jungle of great walls, staircases, rocks and awesome jumps. Be careful when walking to class, most people take a more … direct route!
Perhaps one of the best places in the U.S. to train and explore is Seattle, Washington. Freeway park was actually created with exploration and training in mind, and it seems like parkour was the main inspiration for the architecture there. While in Washington, take a trip to the Gasworks, which is a park literally made out of a coal gasification plant. There are designated training areas, both open and closed. It is one of the coolest places you will ever freerun. Check out some pics of it at http://www.seattle.gov/parks/find/parks/gas-works-park.
Portugal has a thriving parkour community, and it shows. Lisbon is an amazing city, filled with awesome sights, and easy on the wallet, considering food is tasty and cheap, and great hostels are found everywhere. One of the best things about it to parkour fanatics, though, is that the city is very parkour-friendly. There are even Facebook groups one can join where you just post where you are and when you want to go out, and there are literally a slew of locals who are up for freerunning at nearly any time. If the center and city outskirts aren’t enough for you, or it rains, you can head to the city-sponsored Spot Real (https://www.facebook.com/SPOTREAL), which is a parkour academy near the city center.
Paris, unsurprisingly, has one of the strongest parkour followings in the world. Out of nearly 3,000 hardcore freerunner spots tagged from around the world, 888 of them are in France, and 151 are in Paris alone. Nearly every spot listed is friendly to freerunners, and, it being France, the close buildings, the combination of the old and new construction, the radically different architectural styles and free spirit of the local people all combine to make it a mecca for parkour.
I mean hey, the Belles began the sport there, so it’s not a surprise. Just make sure you don’t go freerunning around any of the places you might find on a tourist map of the city. The police DO frown on that. While the Eiffel Tower might look like the ultimate challenge, it can also land you in some hot water! Head on over to the area to the east of the “Les Catacombes de Paris” (super cool to see in its own right. Check out the website at http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/homepage-catacombs-official-website.) You will find the area full of amazing places to freerun nearly everywhere you look, and you will also find a thriving community of freerunners there, happy to show you around.
The Best Resource Around
While there are another 4 continents we could cover (yeah, Antarctica just doesn’t have the community yet, sorry!), it’s completely worth your time to check out the World Freerunning Parkour Federation (WFPF) at www.wfpf.com. It’s relatively new, less than 10 years old, but has a presence in more than 65 countries already, and sponsors officially licensed training centers and clubs all over the world.
They also have Parkour Instructor Certification courses, which have Level 1, 2 and 3 certifications, with a bunch of training centers in the U.S. and a few in Canada. They host competitions all over the U.S., and plan for 2017 events in the United Kingdom, Japan and Russia. The International Parkour Federation is partnered with the Asia Freerunning Parkour Union which has its head office in Antalya, Turkey. Basically, this website is one to check out when planning a parkour themed trip, and you can literally head to almost any corner of the planet these days to freerun.
Get out there, enjoy the flips, dip, slips and jumps, and sightsee some places from a vantage point the non-superhumans will never experience! If you’ve got a favorite place for parkour, we want to hear about it!