Calgary parkour advocates say their sport is misunderstood, thanks to misleading videos on the internet and big gaps in understanding by the public.
Matthew Talbot is combating the misconceptions by pulling together a national association for the sport.
“I don’t think it’s well received today,” says Talbot, the CEO of Breathe Parkour, an all-ages gym with two locations in Calgary and one in Lethbridge.
People are either unaware of the sport or think it’s extreme like BASE jumping or skydiving, says Talbot.
“The sport is not extreme at all,” he says, adding anyone can do it.
Parkour is a sport that involves moving across and around obstacles by climbing, running and jumping.
Athletes rely on the environment to perform certain runs. These areas can range from staircases to poles and even the sides of buildings.
“One of the barriers for us is educating people that there is no minimum fitness level,” says Talbot.
He says many people believe they need a born-with-it skill. However, people need to remember online videos typically feature athletes who have been training for more than 10 years. This often turns people away from the sport, especially adults, says Talbot.
“Parkour is about competing with yourself not the guy next to you,” he says.
Talbot also believes the community is inclusive — athletes get a lot of encouragement from people above and below their skill level. They have someone above trying to teach them something new or someone below asking for advice.
Whenever a jam — a parkour event outside the gym — gets hosted in the city, Talbot says organizers do their best to maintain a good public relationship by asking permission to use an area or leave when someone asks. So far, this has kept a positive image around the sport. However, he says it is hard to combat “roof culture.”
Roof culture involves people climbing infrastructure or running along rooftops without permission. Talbot says if his crew is not invited, they do not go.
“We fear the image skateboarding had back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he says, explaining that skateboarders would sometimes loiter in public spaces or cause damage by scraping their boards along rails and other public property.
Children are welcome
One way Talbot and his team are building community for parkour is by involving kids.
“Our biggest market is children ages six to 15 years old,” says Talbot.
Parkour helps children become aware of their environment. He says they have to look around and understand how to use the gym because it has concrete, wood and metal pipes.
“In all our classes we emphasize that the gym is there for a reason,” says Robert Leszczynski, a trainer from Breathe Parkour.
The main goal in the gym is to teach the proper safety procedures by demonstrating specific actions and making sure kids know how to maneuver in their environment. However, he says the techniques should not be transferred outside of the gym setting without a trainer’s approval.
To improve parkour’s reputation, Leszczynski encourages people to take classes where they learn to practice falls, rolls and landings. Although many people have the perception that parkour is dangerous, the gym teaches their students how to move safely in any environment, says Leszcynski.
Establishing a national network
One obstacle parkour faces is that it lacks rules or guidelines, says assistant professor Marty Clark in the department of health and physical education at Mount Royal University. He says for a sport to be official, it needs to be sanctioned and legal.
Making the sport official with clear ideas around safety, coaches and certifications will change the public’s perception that the sport is dangerous.
“For people to take them seriously they will have to build that infrastructure,” says Clark.
Talbot agrees and says he is trying to create a national board that could influence public opinion. The board would be ran and funded by individuals in the community, instead of outside backing.
However, Talbot has campaigned across Canada to get community leaders on board but has run into resistance because the image of parkour is one of freedom, not restriction.
Edited by Amy Simpson | firstname.lastname@example.org