(Updated with Slideshow) Parkour: We Try to Become Our Very Own Leaping, Spinning, Pipe-Grabbing, Pedestrian-Avoiding Jason Bourne
Check out our slideshow of parkour training in Houston.
Photo by Derrek Barlow Parkour hits Houston, as people seek a new workout.
If you ever take a ride on one of Houston's downtown Segway tours, there's a point near the Wortham Center, trailing along the bayou, that the guides will always indicate. Flitting between the feet-high brick walls, scampering along the thin lines of the lower waterfall, there's a group of people -- maybe a half-dozen, maybe more -- that don't seem to pay attention to the passers-by, wheeling and otherwise.
They're swinging their bodies underneath branches. They're slapping their hands on the worn cement underneath the walkways. They look like a cross between a simian and a spider. They look as if they're running from something, or to something, but there's no way to tell, because they're looping back and over and around again, never quite linear, never quite concerned that this railing and that underhang aren't meant for the feet and hands that bounce these men and women through.
Parkour. You may have heard of it -- you've likely seen it, whether in Bond or Bourne or any of the drunken nights that had you and your friends trying to swing across the scaffolding or leap the too-full garbage bags, only to clip your toe and land chin-first on the cement. You may think it's something that allows you to rankle as many security guards and confuse as many onlookers as possible. You may think it's pointless. You're wrong.
It might not be obvious on its face; after all, parkour seems simply about attacking whatever object is in your way and forgoing the sidewalks and pathways that the rest of the henchmen and passers-by so generally use. But...it's not. It's not just moving from A to B. It's about something bigger.
"It's a philosophy -- it has both a physical component and a psychological aspect," says Wes Hamner, the 31-year-old co-founder of Urban Movement, a group that helps sweep students across the low-lying and high-hanging barriers scattered across Houston. "Etre et durer. To be and to last. You're conditioning yourself because of all the physicality of it, but you're also looking to the long term."
It's that longevity -- that appreciation of your body and your community and your surroundings -- that brings these dozens of customers to Urban Movement every week. Founded in 2011, the organization sought to add a bit of structure to something that had been, per parkour's reputation, a free-flow free-for-all. While shades of a parkour community had formed in Houston -- the French sport's rise has boomed following Hollywood's recent offerings -- it was too amorphous to offer both those committed and the larger community all that it could.
"We all realized we were having these thoughts at the same time," Cameron Pratto, one of the group's co-founders, told Hair Balls. "And so we took what we knew about Parkour Generations and [Art du Déplacement] Academy, and we decided to put a framework on what we were doing out here."