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Everything's an obstacle
Serafino Bohrer-Padvos is 16 and swears he's no adrenaline junkie.
Then he steps back and makes a run at the wall. He plants two hands on its ledge, kicks his legs through and vaults, out and and down, landing with two feet on the top of a wall below. There's a bit of a quiver as he hits, but he stands firm.
It's a move that's equal parts skateboarding (minus the board, of course) and urban gymnastics. Pass by, and you might think the group he's with are just teenagers doing teenager stuff, running amok downtown. You'd be wrong.
This is parkour, a free-form non-sport created in the suburbs of Paris and made famous by guys like David Belle. Though still underground, l'art du déplacement (for the French speakers) has seen mainstream recognition, has been featured in commercials, including a series for Nike Presto, and become standard action-movie fare (think Jason Bourne jumping rooftops and smash-rolling through windows).
Serafino, along with six or so others are part of Parkour Fresno, a not-so-official group that meets on weekends for outings like this. You can find them on Myspace at www.myspace.com/451966022. The group usually picks downtown, or local schools because of the density of “stuff” — hand rails, fountains, low walls, high curbs. The goal of parkour is to allow the “traceur” to adopt to the environment by using surrounding structures. It's not about flair — that's freerunning, another thing all together — it's about efficiency.
“It's about getting over obstacles the fastest way possible, using the natural movements of the body,” says Tim Torres, who gathered together the Fresno group a couple of months ago by sending out messages online.
Do it, and you'll quickly find everything's an obstacle. Stairs are something to be jumped, not climbed. Gates are left closed — you can easily vault over fences. Walls, you run up and over.
You jump from rooftops — though Serafino doesn't suggest it. Especially not your first time out. Or your 30th.
Their advice? Go out with someone who's done it before and knows what they're doing. Serafino has been a traceur for two years, since he first read about it in an article in The New Yorker.
Also, start some physical training. David Bell starts off his mornings with 100 push-ups and a three-hour jog, wearing a 100-pound weight vest, Serafino says. The Fresno group is just as likely to be found in the gym as downtown. They meet at Gymnastics Beat twice a week (7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays). Torres lost 30 pounds or more since he started training.
So, while it may appear dangerous, these are no daredevils. Parkour's unofficial motto is “être et durer” (to be and to last). You're no good with a broken back.
You've got to know your limits, Serafino says. He uses fear as his indicator. It's a good way to keep from getting hurt. So, you ask yourself, how afraid are you, really? Is it more than just jitters?
And if you can't make a jump, or don't want to try, it's no biggie, he says. This isn't competition. There's no ego here.
“Before you were jumping off a roof, four years before that you were jumping off a curb.”
Some quick videos: