THE WORLD IS YOUR PLAY­GROUND

Park­our ath­letes jump, flip and launch them­selves over ur­ban ob­sta­cles in a wild flow of high-speed ac­ro­bat­ics. In the process, they’re redefining the very lim­its of func­tional fit­ness>

Men's Health (Australia) - - Fitness - BY LUKE BENE­DIC­TUS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY GILES PARK

Mid-sen­tence Brodie Paw­son turns, bends his knees and sud­denly un­coils to leap onto a waist-high rail­ing. He lands pre­cisely on the balls of his feet, bal­anc­ing stock-still in a crouch. The lack of move­ment in this fi­nal po­si­tion is crit­i­cal. That’s be­cause this metal rail­ing, in the shadow of the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge, pro­tects peo­ple from a 25-me­tre drop on the other side. Should Paw­son’s weight shift for­ward even a cen­time­tre then he’ll tum­ble to a very messy end.

More strik­ing than his con­tempt for dan­ger, how­ever, is Paw­son’s flu­id­ity of mo­tion. He can pro­pel his body through the air with a fe­line ease that be­lies the driv­ing power be­neath. Watch­ing him calmly nail a back­flip or spring over a two-me­tre wall is both awe-in­spir­ing and slightly de­press­ing – his ef­fort­less mo­bil­ity makes you feel cum­ber­some and arthritic in com­par­i­son. “Your body is ca­pa­ble of so much more than you think,” Paw­son in­sists. “Phys­i­cally you can achieve so much more.”

“Func­tional fit­ness” may be an overused buzz-phrase th­ese days, but few peo­ple demon­strate it like park­our ath­letes. Any­one who caught Brodie or his twin brother Dy­lan blitz the ob­sta­cle course on Aus­tralian Ninja War­rior last year would’ve got a crash course in park­our’s ben­e­fits – namely gym­nas­tic agility, ply­o­met­ric zip and with­er­ing dis­dain for the laws of grav­ity.

Recog­ni­tion of park­our’s ex­treme ath­leti­cism is now grow­ing. While it orig­i­nated in France – “par­cours” is the French word for route – last year, the UK be­came the first coun­try to recog­nise it as an of­fi­cial sport, defin­ing it as the dis­ci­pline of mov­ing “freely over and through any ter­rain us­ing only the abil­i­ties of the body”.

But park­our’s real launch pad into pub­lic con­scious­ness came from Bond (James Bond), namely 2006’s Casino Royale. At the start of the film Se­bastien Fou­can, one of the pi­o­neers of park­our, made a scen­esteal­ing cameo bounc­ing off cranes and gird­ers at dizzy­ing heights. There’s an ar­gu­ment that the en­tire tone for Daniel Craig’s edgier, more vis­ceral Bond was set by this open­ing se­quence.

Paw­son, 23, be­came aware of the sport around this time. “My twin brother and I used to watch a lot of Jackie Chan movies and we were in­spired by the way that he moved,” he ex­plains. When the pair stum­bled across some park­our videos on Youtube they be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing at home and prac­tised jump­ing be­tween walls and ledges. “It was all about land­ing on a ledge cleanly with a dead stop on the balls of your feet and try­ing your best to stick it.”

MONEY MOVES

Ten years on and that prac­tice has paid off. Paw­son is now a full-time park­our ath­lete and trains ac­cord­ingly. Broad-shoul­dered and ath­letic with the lean build of a ten­nis player, he hits the gym on a reg­u­lar ba­sis where he fo­cuses on weighted chin-ups and dips for up­per-body strength and end­less sets of squats, dead­lifts and box jumps. “In park­our you use your legs the most,” he says. “It’s all about power, mov­ing ex­plo­sively for 15-sec­ond bursts.”

Paw­son has man­aged to turn his pas­sion into his pro­fes­sion due to the fact that brands are in­creas­ingly in thrall to park­our’s heady mix of youth, dan­ger and re­bel­lion (prac­ti­tion­ers are con­stantly hav­ing to dodge se­cu­rity guards as they jump off rooftops and vi­o­late every health and safety reg­u­la­tion known to man).

Bri­tain’s elite park­our team Stor­ror, for ex­am­ple, trav­els the globe do­ing eye­pop­ping stunts and work­ing with ev­ery­one from Hyundai to Pepsi. It’s still early days for Paw­son, but he’s al­ready mak­ing a liv­ing mainly through per­form­ing at brand events. Men’s Health first en­coun­ters Paw­son in Shang­hai where he’s bang­ing out back­flips at the cen­te­nary event of the Swiss watch brand Mido, whose slo­gan is “In­spired by Ar­chi­tec­ture”. “Park­our is dy­namic and has a link to ar­chi­tec­ture,” says Mido pres­i­dent Franz Lin­der by means of ex­pla­na­tion. “We be­lieve the prod­uct and the sport co­a­lesce.”

Part of the rea­son that park­our works so well for brands is that the ac­tion is short and sharp, rarely last­ing longer than 30 sec­onds tops. That for­mat is tailor-made for mod­ern at­ten­tion spans and, more im­por­tantly, so­cial me­dia. Paw­son has quickly amassed al­most 300,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers to make him an even more mar­ketable propo­si­tion.

In fact, so­cial me­dia plays a key role in park­our’s growth and daily op­er­a­tion. Back in his home­town of Bris­bane, Paw­son posts weekly de­tails on Face­book of the where­abouts of the next “so­cial jam” – where 20-30 park­our en­thu­si­asts con­gre­gate to test out new moves.

This com­mu­nity spirit ex­tends in­ter­na­tion­ally, too. On a re­cent trip to Europe, Paw­son trav­elled through Bri­tain, France, Spain and Ger­many never once pay­ing for ac­com­mo­da­tion. “Every place we sent a mes­sage on Face­book to the park­our com­mu­nity and in every sin­gle place, some­one said, ‘Yeah, come and stay at ours’.”

“In­sta­gram, Face­book and Youtube make it so easy to con­nect with other peo­ple and prac­tise,” Paw­son con­tin­ues. “That’s why the ex­po­sure of park­our has blown up so much.”

Yet th­ese so­cial medi­ums also have a darker side. The re­lent­less bat­tle to win “likes” and sub­scribers from an in­creas­ingly jaded pub­lic can also lead to es­ca­lat­ing lev­els of dan­ger.

THE DAN­GER ZONE

Jump onto Youtube and you’ll soon find an end­less stream of kamikaze videos. There are young men (and, truth be told, it is in­vari­ably men) leap­ing be­tween rooftops over 40-storey drops to land on ledges barely the width of a lap­top. Kids per­form back­flips on the edge of sky­scrapers; you’ll see one­handed planches ex­e­cuted in vis­i­bly high winds on the out­stretched arms of cranes. The most de­mented footage draws the most view­ers: one video en­ti­tled The Scari­est Ex­treme Park­our Mo­ments Caught On Cam­era has been watched 20 mil­lion times. Need­less to say, th­ese stunts are con­ducted with selfie sticks not sup­port ropes.

In­evitably, ac­ci­dents hap­pen. Last year, a Chi­nese man plum­meted to his death while be­ing filmed do­ing chin-ups on the top of a 62-storey build­ing. Closer to home, last De­cem­ber, 18-year-old park­our en­thu­si­ast Alexan­der Vin­cent died in Tas­ma­nia after what po­lice be­lieve was a doomed at­tempt to jump the five-me­tre gap across the Black­mans Bay blow­hole.

“The ex­pec­ta­tion lev­els keep go­ing up,” Paw­son ad­mits. “A per­son on the street will see me do­ing some­thing re­ally tech­ni­cal and hard, like run­ning off a ledge and land­ing on a rail­ing. Thirty sec­onds later they’ll say to me, “Yeah, but can you do it with a back­flip?”>

“YOUR BODY IS CA­PA­BLE OF SO MUCH MORE THAN YOU THINK. PHYS­I­CALLY YOU CAN ACHIEVE SO MUCH MORE”

MAN­AGE YOUR FEAR

On Paw­son’s own In­sta­gram feed (@brodiepaw­son) you’ll find him mer­rily hurl­ing him­self down the walls of mul­ti­storey car parks and mak­ing the odd deathde­fy­ing leap be­tween rooftops. But this, he makes clear, is hardly rou­tine prac­tice - most of the time he trains at low-level height.

What view­ers also fail to grasp, he ex­plains, is that none of th­ese stunts is a spur-of-the mo­ment act. “Ev­ery­thing is planned and re­hearsed,” he in­sists. “We’ve done (jumped) roof gaps where we know 100 per cent that we’re go­ing to make it. If it’s just a 90 per cent chance of mak­ing it then we just don’t at­tempt it.”

“Watch­ing park­our you don’t re­alise that th­ese peo­ple have checked ev­ery­thing. They’ve tested the wall or rail­ing they’re go­ing to land on. If it’s wet or if there’s an ob­struc­tion then they just don’t do it. They know what they’re do­ing and what they’re ca­pa­ble of.”

Com­ing from Paw­son, th­ese don’t seem like empty words. Calm and con­sid­ered, he seems less like a wide-eyed adren­a­line junkie and more like an earnest young man ut­terly fo­cused on his craft (which just hap­pens to in­volve do­ing in­sanely dan­ger­ous things).

“Park­our has taught me how to man­age fear,” Paw­son con­tin­ues. “Fear is al­ways there, but it’s know­ing when to lis­ten to it and when not to. Yes, there’s al­ways the po­ten­tial to hurt your­self in park­our. But you can let that fear take over, or you can use it to help you judge and as­sess.”

When work­ing up to a big stunt – like, for ex­am­ple, when he pulled off seven 180° tran­si­tions to pin­ball his way up be­tween two 12m-high walls – Paw­son will never set him­self a dead­line. In­stead he’ll as­sess the ex­ter­nal fac­tors: the weather con­di­tions, the strength of wall, the num­ber of peo­ple in the vicin­ity. He’ll also check in with him­self and scru­ti­nise how he’s feel­ing both phys­i­cally and men­tally. (It’s the same mind­set a strength coach would rec­om­mend in the gym – don’t at­tempt a new PB lift in the gym if you’re not feel­ing 100 per cent.)

“You never think to­day is the day when I have to com­plete this goal,” Paw­son says. “All the stars have to align. I just looked at those walls on that day, I was feel­ing good and so I thought: ‘Yes, that’s pos­si­ble.”

“With park­our I’m not seek­ing to do some­thing just be­cause it will go crazy on so­cial me­dia. I just want to do things that I know are achiev­able.”

CON­QUER ANY OB­STA­CLE

Paw­son’s words are rem­i­nis­cent of those of the great Bri­tish moun­taineer Ge­orge Mal­lory.

Asked to ex­plain his de­ter­mi­na­tion to climb Ever­est, Mal­lory replied: “Be­cause it’s there.” Speak­ing to Paw­son, park­our seems like the ur­ban ex­pres­sion of the same idea - the in­stinc­tive de­sire among nat­u­ral-born ad­ven­tur­ers to test your lim­its by con­quer­ing phys­i­cal ob­sta­cles.

Park­our’s mount­ing ap­peal also makes greater sense in the mod­ern-day nanny state. Most of us now live our lives en­cased in a thick layer of cot­ton wool that in­su­lates us from every con­ceiv­able dan­ger. Caught be­tween he­li­copter par­ents and schools’ fear of lit­i­ga­tion, kids are in­creas­ingly steered away from phys­i­cal risk-tak­ing. Last year a pri­mary school in West Aus­tralia even banned cart­wheels be­cause of the per­ceived dan­ger. Viewed from this con­text, park­our seems like a nec­es­sary if ex­treme correction.

Paw­son be­lieves snow­balling in­ter­est in the sport will con­tinue to build. He reck­ons it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore park­our is leg­is­lated into of­fi­cial com­pe­ti­tion. “Look at skate­board­ing, snow­board­ing, surf­ing,” he says. “They started off as hob­bies, but they all even­tu­ally grav­i­tated to­wards com­pe­ti­tion.”

For Paw­son that would rep­re­sent a pos­i­tive evo­lu­tion. “I want to see how far you can push park­our.” The more there is at stake, he ex­plains, the more com­peti­tors will strive to mas­ter new tricks and in­spire each other to im­prove and de­velop their skill.

That’s prob­a­bly true. But you’d also hope any for­mal­i­sa­tion of park­our doesn’t shackle its free­dom of spirit. Right now, there’s some­thing re­fresh­ing about how this ur­ban sport re­jects ex­ter­nal rules and reg­u­la­tions. Park­our is cur­rently pro­pelled by its DIY en­ergy. Want to give it a go? All you need is a pair of train­ers and balls of steel.

“FEAR IS AL­WAYS THERE, BUT IT’S KNOW­ING WHEN TO LIS­TEN TO IT AND WHEN NOT TO”

Leap of faith: Paw­son has turned his pas­sion into a pay­day.

Not safe har­bour: Paw­son utilises the ur­ban jun­gle gym.

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