Parkour, movement with meaning

Keegan Saul, 12, of Ocean View, showing off his parkour skills.

The secret to flying, according to author Douglas Adams, is to launch yourself into the air – and forget to fall.

Ocean View is home to a small group of boys who run up trees, walls, benches, and momentarily forgo or forget, gravity.

Luckily, they have Zack Wright on hand to remind them how to roll when they do land or how to fall safely – and with style. The boys are learning parkour from Zack in an outreach programme he has established through Moya Centre, based in Fish Hoek.

Under the name E.S.C.A.P.E (Empowering South-African Climbing And Parkour Evolution) the kids, aged between 12 and 18, took part in the official high octane action at the Red Bull Photography Global Photo Walk at the V&A Waterfront on Saturday September 17.

“These kids are amazing,” grins Zack. “They have some real talent to develop. Because their living situations are so much tougher, so are their attitudes. So they apply this sort of ‘rof’ attitude, and just go for it. That really works for parkour, success is about no hesitation and momentum,” he says.

You may have seen parkour videos on YouTube. Some of them defy belief, and after just a few months training, the Ocean View boys make it look so easy. Look, being the operative word.

They run at a tree in the open play field near their flats. Towards the tree, up the angled trunk, and then backflip off, landing for the most part, like dancers – light on their feet and lithe, these kids are super fit and their grins are succinct proof of parkour’s popularity.

Parkour is described as the sport of moving rapidly through an area, typically in an urban environment, and negotiating obstacles by running, jumping, and climbing.

The sport emphasises efficiency of movement, says Zack. Adding that also, it’s just so cool.

He says it requires a certain attitude and body intelligence. “You can’t be scared. If you are, it is not for you. Gymnasts may have the body intelligence to do the flips and actions, but not necessarily the grit,” he says. He is quick to add that its not just for youngsters. “We teach all ages,” Zack says.

In the padded stunt studio in Fish Hoek, Zack says once the safety rolls and landings are 100% he then also teaches the kids to add some gymnastic or martial-arts tricks to their skill-sets, to help hone the skills for what is known as “free-running”.

Zack met the older boys and then sought out and sorted through a group of eager participants to find those most committed and with most potential.

Their lessons naturally have to fit in with school and homework requirements too.

“I initially invited them into my usual class, but within a matter of weeks they were way ahead of that class, so I had to create a time specially for them,” Zack says.

The boys are confident in showing off their abilities, but teenage-typically shy to answer any questions.

The natural adrenalin rush and the vast skills set in a setting where they will always be learning new things, and need to be fit and focused to do so, are part of the great appeal of parkour.

“You can’t be on drugs, you can’t treat your body badly, in order to take part in this you need to be flexible, strong and be able to communicate. It also requires use of imagination – when you come across a new site, how you move across it can be highly individualistic and that requires imagination and personal expression,” Zack says.

Zack started the outreach programme because he believed that this is what more kids in Ocean View needed, and because having the little kids see these boys engaged in something cool, but healthy, will remind them that there are other choices in their own community. “Naturally this is applicable across all communities, but I work with these kids because they are our closest neighbours and most, or a lot of the time, they are living in tough situations.”

He says with practise, there is even money to be made in competitive situations using their skills.

Zack says that aside from the amazing exercise, our country and especially Fish Hoek and the south peninsula as tourist attractions, is uniquely enriched with opportunities for exploring adventurous activities.

“We have some of the best and most abundant natural climbing/ bouldering spots in the world, with a vast variety in natural and urban obstacles for parkour,” he says.

“Parkour and climbing change the way you view and interact with your surroundings, so another big plus is that the culture it fosters is one of environmental consciousness and appreciation. This will develop into cleaner and safer communities and natural settings for all to enjoy,” he says.