Spontaneous Cambridge Visit

I’m currently sat in a pub called The Eagle, it’s round the corner from King’s College Chapel of the University of Cambridge, I’m waiting for the food we just ordered. I’m writing this blog post on my new mobile phone. Damn right – I’m on Blogger on my phone. I love technology. Anyway, here’s my story … this morning my Mum woke me up to tell me she was going to Cambridge for a spot of sightseeing, and did I want to come along? I thought, “I want to go to Cambridge”, and so I went along for the ride.

I thought it would be interesting to see the University (not in the way I was interested to see Manchester Met and Leicester De Monfort earlier this month, I’m sorry to disappoint but I’m not in the Oxbridge academic caliber), and have a look round the city I know to have an excellent parkour scene and home of TCT (The Cambridge Traceurs), although with only having spontaneously arranged to go on the spot this morning, I hadn’t had time to arrange to meet up with anyone for training. We had a bite to eat and a look round the shops before hopping on the open top tourist bus that took us round all the colleges and other city sights. We had a great day learning about the history and traditions of the University and got to see the beautiful city. As the trip was coming to an end, I went into a public toilet in a shopping centre and as I went to wash my hands I noticed a guy who entered sporting baggy jogging wear, I thought to myself “That guy looks like Owen” (one of the Cambridge Traceurs, but continued to wash my hands as I dismissed the idea as a trick of the mind, as I assumed I was seeing what I wanted to see due to the parkour mindset, but as I went to dry my hands I caught a glimpse of his face, and I knew it was him.

“Owen?”, I said. He hadn’t heard me but as he got closer my certainty rose.
“Owen? … Owen?” On the third time he looked up and removed his earphones.
I said, “Owen Covill, right? Parkour?”
“Yeh”, he replied, presumedly rather confused.
“I met you at the Trace Gathering. I’m from Sheffield. I’m a friend of Jin’s” He looked surprised.
“Woah … are you here training?”, he asked,
“No, I’m just here with my parents checking out the city, just decided to come this morning”
“Oh right, well I’m just meeting Phil, you remember Phil?”
“Philly D, yeh.”
“Wanna come and join us for training?”
“Love to” I went to find my Dad and explained, I arranged to meet back with my parents in an hour, went off with Owen and we warmed up round the corner and waited for Phil.

I had a great session, even though it was only an hour or so, we did some stuff on some scaffolding, where a middle-aged woman looked shocked that I was about to jump accross some of it, and between us we explained that even though it looked dangerous to her, we were well-practised and did things safely, then thanked her for her concern and carried on. We moved on to the spot outside King’s College Chapel on Trinity Street, a famous (amongst practitioners) parkour spot, and conveniently where I’d arranged to meet my parents, without knowing what or where it was. I noticed a nice cat-pass precision that I recognised from Cambridge videos, and wanted to do it, and after a few run-ups trying to get my head round it, my Dad turned up and said we were going for something to eat before going home, so I asked Owen if he knew anywhere nice to eat nearby, and he directed us to The Eagle, just around the corner. My parents set off but I’d asked for five more minutes to play. I had to see if I could get the cat-precision. I weighed it up, conquered the mental barrier and knew I could do it. I rather enjoyed it.

Before I left I got a picture of the three of us (for’t blog):

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So that’s how I got to be sat in The Eagle, typing this blog post on my phone. I’m at home now finishing it off and checking for spelling mistakes due to the predictive text…

Oh and Owen, my Mum says thanks for recommending The Eagle, she really enjoyed the meal!

Lisses 2007

For those of you who don’t know, Lisses is a suburb of Paris and it is where Parkour began. David Belle, the founder of the French discipline, lived there and began to develop the art of movement from his background in gymnastics, athletics and martial arts.

Me, Danny and Scott met up in Sheffield bus station and got the coach to London, where we met up with Sam and Kai and got the Eurostar to Paris, where we got a couple of trains (which were double decker, might I add!) to Evry Courcouronnes and tried to find our way to the hotel in Lisses. After an hour or so of walking through the Parisian suburbs in the dark, I was starting to get a little concerned, we went on…and on…and on…until suddenly Danny shouted out in ecstasy “it’s there – the Dame Du Lac!” which I took me be a good sign immediately, seeing as we’d been told that the hotel was a short walk from the Dame. (Note: the Dame Du Lac [Lady of the Lake] is a man-made architectural climbing structure in the Park Du Lac (Park of the Lake), which is commonly used to practise parkour on)

We eventually found the hotel and sorted our rooms out, showered and went out in search for food, the venture lasted hours and we found nowhere open (this was a Sunday evening) so we went back to the hotel, depressed and starved, and treated ourselves to one of Sam’s cereal bars each. Not a great start. Our first day of training started with going to the Dame Du Lac and seeing it in daylight in all its magnificent glory for the very first time. There was something bothering me all day; I wasn’t in the mood for training, I felt tired, aggravated and my ankle wasn’t comfortable with me doing much else than walking. The first day passed and I was surprisingly depressed to say I was in Lisses.

The second day came and after a warm up and a jog round the town I felt fresh and rearing to go! After doing a few cat pass precisions I’d seen the day before I was feeling incredible, exactly the way I knew I should have felt. The whole day’s training was great. The next few days went by and we hit all the spots around the town we were aware of and we were all simply in awe at how perfect the place was, it’s like it was meant to be that parkour was created and practised there – everything about Lisses and its surrounding areas is perfect for practising parkour movements and performing natural training; the architecture of the flats, the streets, the rocks and trees that were positioned as though they were meant to be used for this purpose, the forest which has about a dozen different man-made training resources placed around the course of the path – pull-up bars, monkey bars, balance beams, stepping-stone tree-stumps – like a £40-a-month gym membership all made from wood and free for anyone to use anytime day or night!

After a few days of being undecided whether I’d make it to the top of the Dame, I conquered my fear and went for it, I was shaking like mad when I got to the platform at the top and Sam and Scott met me up there, I felt awesome for having made it but had an anxious scared feeling of being up there and having to come down, as I knew it would be even harder to get down than come up. Both up and down are a huge mental challenge. I’d even go as far to say doing it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, purely on the mental block factor. Oh and it was bloody windy up there! Anyway I took it carefully and slowly and obviously since I’m sat here telling you about it I made it down no problem. I went back up again the next day, which was much easier, as was coming down, although I still had to be cautious and take it easy. The day after I went up twice more, each time felt more comfortable. I only went up the left hand side, so next year I think the challenge will be to try out one or two of the alternative routes.

Half way through the week we went into Evry and saw that the spots there were next to the station we walked to the hotel from on the first night (it took us about 30 minutes this time, the more direct route!), and we found the University spot next to the Cathedral (which is the weirdest looking Cathedral I’ve ever seen! See picture below). Anyway, Evry has the sickest spots! Just two massive areas next to each other with a whole range of jumps, vaults and combinations to try out! I managed to do the famous cat pass precision with the three walls where you clear the middle wall, and I also made a sizey level cat pass precision next to it.

One night we decided to go and check out the forest, and did some light conditioning on the man-made structures, we did cat crawls, balances, precisions, runs across the tree stumps, and literally “hung out” on the monkey bars. We returned the following afternoon to see what it was like by daylight and had great fun on the exercise equipment, and even joined on the back of a French running group’s workout session!

One day when we started at the Dame, as I was walking along the side of the lake I spotted a dead fish floating at the side of the water, and decided I wanted to “fish” it out, so I reached in with sticks and things to try and lure it closer to the edge for me to pick up out, and after a good fuve minutes’ hard work trying to get it close enough to get hold of it, I managed to get it in my hand, then I decided to take it with me up to the top of the Dame. I put it in a carrier bag, put it in my pocket and set off for the top! I left it up there for someone else to find it amazed shock and confusion, and the next evening I was talking to the Portuguese guys from the hotel about how I hate Urban Freeflow and it turned out 3 of them were part of UF, which sounds like it could have been awkward but they understood my reasoning, and anyway, one of them mentioned they’d been to the Dame that afternoon, so I asked if he’d been to the top and he said he couldn’t go to the Dame without going to the top, and I asked if there was anything up there and he said in exclamation “Yeh! There was a FISH up there!” and I laughed and said I put it there. He said he thought a bird had flown it there or something. Adventures with me with the fish are featured in the video. I have to say I think I’m the first person to have taken a fish up to the top of the Dame Du Lac.

On our last day of training, the Saturday, we trained in Lisses in the morning and I managed to pull off a laché-type manoeuvre that I saw Dave do in the Northern Parkour Lisses Trip 2006 video, which you’ll see in the video at 01:50. Then we headed into Evry and bumped into some local traceurs we’d trained with earlier in the week, then saw a couple of guys who train in Evry with the Yamakasi. I was telling one of them about the guy who Danny and Paul met last year who claimed to be Yann Hnautra (co-founder of the Yamakasi, as seen in their films) and that they met him again this year, and he said that they were aware of the fake, and just then, a bulked up guy came round the corner and he said “oh, here’s Yann”. It was the real Yann. His wife came along with their 2 year-old son and I asked him if his son does parkour and he said he does a bit. Yann played with his son and then got his guitar out and started performing like a busker.

During a bit of training with the guys we’d met earlier, Danny had done a cat pass precision and the guy we were with liked it and tried it a few times before making it, and Danny turned to us all with a smug look on his face and said “I’m better than the Yamakasi” and we all burst out laughing and explained that this guy wasn’t part of the Yamakasi, he just trains with them, he’s been training just a few years like us as opposed to the 20 years the Yamakasi have been practising!

I tried to find the secret message at the Dame, featured in the post before this one, and discovered that it had been replaced by the guy who found it with his own message, so I took it home as a keepsake and replaced it with my own message. Cool, eh?

We were gutted to have to leave on the Sunday, but it had been such a rewarding trip – we’d all learned so much, achieved so much and experienced so much, it was everything we hoped it would be and more. The only disappointment for me was that we didn’t meet and train with many other people. We briefly trained with the local French guys, the Portuguese UF guys, one Polish guy and the Yamakasi followers, but no-one else, not even from the UK. I was expecting the place to be flooded with traceurs from all over Europe. I was hoping that David Belle would come home from the Airwaves Parkour Event in Berlin and be out training in Lisses, but we heard from the guy in Evry that he was visiting his sister in Iceland after the thing in Berlin :(. Maybe next year I’ll get to meet him…

We had to head off early on Sunday morning to give us plenty of time to get to Paris to get the Eurostar back to London, so we didn’t get chance to train in Lisses before departing. We were lucky with the trains and got to Paris with 3 hours to spare so we did some buildering and skimmed rocks on the river until it was time to go. We then had a couple of hours spare in London before our coach so we trained around imax and South Bank which made me realise how much I’d love to go to train in London, it truly is a great place for parkour. We got so carried away with training that the time flew and when I checked the time we only had half an hour before our coach left, so we had to run for a taxi…or get the Underground…or anything to get there as soon as we could, and after 15 minutes of trying to work out the quickest way, and then realising there was a huge queue for taxis, we ran through and bought Underground tickets, sprinted to get on a tube, it was only a few stops (Piccadilly to Victoria) but included a changeover, and what didn’t help was that there was a closure on the stop we needed to get to, so we had to go an extra stop before changing, and then when we finally got to Victoria, a couple of minutes after the coach departure time, I saw the coach to Sheffield down the road, sprinted to catch up with it at the traffic lights and asked if we could get on, but they’d filled it up, I guess they sold our seats off. We went into the station to see if we could get on another coach and we could get another one an hour later but we had to pay £15 each for the tickets, which was more than we’d paid online for the return journey! We managed to get home on that next coach no problem.

Secret Message from Lisses

Danny and Paul went on their Lisses (France) trip last week and had promised to leave me a sign of some sort that I would see or find when I go next week. Danny told me that he had left something written on paper in the tunnel part on the Dame Du Lac, and that I would have to know where it was to come across it.

This evening someone added me on MSN, and I thought it would be the usual “I like parkour – how do I get started” that I get a lot of, but the guy said “hey – u must be the guy lol – 1 sec…. found something on the dame du lac…” (at which point I immediately guessed what he was referring to, and was shocked!) and then sent me this photo he had taken just a few days before:

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That is all that was written on the paper so the guy decided to Google my name in search for me, and he came across this site which contains my msn address.

I explained that Danny had arranged to leave something for me and he said that he put it back where it was hidden after having removed it for the photo. He said that it would have been nearly impossible to find unless you knew where it was hidden, and that it was just a coincidence that he came across it as he was leaning over to pass something to a mate.

I thought it was great of this guy to seek me out to send me the picture. It was weird for me to have been added by a random guy who just happened to have found the piece of paper I was planning to go looking for next week.

We go on Sunday morning. We’re all really looking forward to it! Me, Scotty, Little Danny, Sam and Kai.

Trace Gathering 2007

This week, Fieldhead Campsite in Edale in the Peak District held host to 115 or so traceurs for the Trace (or TRACEur) Gathering 2007. An absolutely brilliant few days of hanging out with over a hundred people who live for parkour – camping together, talking about parkour, and training in the most amazing natural areas of the Peak District.

Day One, Tuesday, we all arrived at the campsite at different times, pitched up and then just hung around playing catch with a ball, trying to catch frisbees in our mouths, etc. before all heading to the local play park for some getting-to-know-each-other light training. It was great fun, we had one of those “let’s see who can make the cat pass past the line”-type exercises which are always fun, and there was a tricking demonstration from Daniel Ilabaca, who was watched by many awestruck contingents, often interrupted by someone who would think “oh, I can do that trick almost a millionth as well as him, I’ll show him my feeble attempt”.

Day Two was the first full day of training. My group, led by Daniel, started at Padley Gorge (which, by the way, Jason told me last year he loves and thinks is better than Lisses!), and after getting ice-cream (chocolate knickerbocker glories) moved onto Higger Tor and surrounding peaks. Danny (Sheffield) and Paul (Manchester) were in my group that day, which was cool.

On the long trek to Higger Tor a few of us listened to what Daniel had to say – it was so inspiring hearing him talk about his philosophy on life, youth, and passing on the message of parkour to anyone who was looking for the thing that was formerly missing from his life until he found it in the art of movement and related activities. He’s such a sound guy and I felt privileged to be training with him and that I had the chance to listen to what he had to say.

The day finished by us being sorted into new groups for the following day and then a presentation by Jin’s Dad about their charity: New Foundations, who provide medical and surgical services to areas of the Niger Delta where there is currently no present provision. We raised £581.76 for the cause.

Day Three started off with an oddly-coordinated warm-up led by Jason at Grindleford Station. Oh and a few weeks previously I’d been asked about doing some filming for the BBC and I’d told the guy about the gathering and he expressed interest in joining us and filming so I got him in touch with Jason, and anyway, he turned up to meet us at the station, which was a promising start.

I was meant to be in a group with Shane and Scott (one of the guys I’m going to Lisses with), but in deciding which way would be less boggy, two groups got mixed up, and I was with no-one I knew, which sucked at first, as I was stuck with a big bunch of people who interact with others on WorldWideJam, which for some unknown reason I’ve always been rather skeptical towards, anyway, these guys all knew eachother and had no intention of including me in their discussion, so I was doing my own thing on Higger Tor and then joined in with Blake (from the Saiyans), Brad Moss (the guy who was part of ‘The Freerunners’ on Britain’s Got Talent) and Moses, who had travelled all the way from Austria just to train with us, I got really into the stuff they were trying and we got on really well and I ended up training with them for the rest of the day. The guys from the BBC found us up there and filmed some parkour. We then headed back to Padley Gorge and had some fun on the rocks and in the trees and headed back to the campsite.

I think it’s worth mentioning that it was very useful getting on the train with over a hundred traceurs, as the conductor has no chance of getting round you all, and often decided not to bother charging anyone. What we did was wait to see which end the conductor was positioned, and get on at the opposite doors and create a barrier of more gullible traceurs between ourselves and the conductor in case he made the attempt of getting blood from a stone.

After tea and a rest at the campsite I headed to the park again to do some parkour with the Manchester guys who had decided to drive home that night as no training was planned for the last day. We got there and quickly realised we had neither the energy, manoeuvrability nor the motivation to do any physical work so we went for a session of “let’s film amusing things for Paul’s video” which mainly involved purpose bails. Then pretty much everyone from the campsite arrived at the park for Jason and Dave’s conditioning session, which turned out to consist of 30 push-ups followed by “that’s it for conditioning” and everyone pounding on Jason and almost successfully removing his trousers.

Day Four consisted of nothing more than packing up our tents and stuff, saying goodbye and going home. Shane had gone home the night before so me and Danny bode our farewells to those remaining, mostly Trace Reps. I wished Jin an awesome year, as he’s going to China as part of his Uni course in a couple of weeks, I spoke to Moses about my plans to travel next Summer and hopefully pay him a visit and train with him in Austria, I spoke to Blake as I had a great time training with him and I’m certain it won’t be the last time, I thanked Daniel, Dave and Jason and left for the station to get the train back to Sheffield.

Many thanks to Jason and Dave for organising and running an awesome week of meeting people and training in a fantastic atmosphere. Also thanks to all the Trace reps who made it what it was. Roll on TRACE 08!

Most of the photos courtesy of Shane Rounce. Check out his photographic display at Flickr.

There’s more to come on TRACE 07 – there’ll be a feature in the Sheffield Star soon and I should have more info on the BBC thing – all I know at present is that it’s for a programme called Inside Out and should be shown in September. They’re also filming some more parkour in Sheffield soon.

Presenting at ShAFF 2007

On Thursday afternoon I received an email from Luke Markey from TT, who was meant to be standing in for Daniel Ilabaca to present the parkour films and do a talk on parkour at ShAFF – the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (Daniel couldn’t make it as he’s currently filming in India), anyway, Luke asked if I could step in for him.

So I spent most of Thursday afternoon sorting things out with Luke over msn, trying to ascertain exactly what I would have to talk about and what the films were and then speaking to Matt Heason (the guy who runs ShAFF). I didn’t have much time to prepare (as it was in two days’ time), but I managed to cobble a mass of notes together on the Saturday and structure them in between each of the films. I wanted to show something local or from Manchester, but on such short notice had problems getting hold of anything at all, never mind on DVD as requested. My good friend Jess kindly lent me her laptop (an iMac, but nevertheless still capable of burning a DVD), so I put my hatred for anything Apple to the side and tried to figure out how to do it. It was real simple and I had a DVD working on my TV ten minutes or so later, the DVD I made had a menu screen with cheesy default music, and two options; one for each of the videos – I used the NP strength training video and NP Lisses trip video.

The order of the films was:

The ‘Urban Freestyler’ video was a few guys who do amazing football tricks around the streets of London, I have no idea why it was in there with the parkour films, but I managed to talk a little about it (bearing in mind the first time I saw it was in the cinema with everyone else lol) and I tied in links to parkour like the level of practise required for both and the fact that this is socially acceptable as everyone knows what football is, but people’s fear of the unknown usually makes them scowl when they see us doing parkour purely because they don’t understand what it is we’re doing.

Things I talked about included the media’s misinterpretation of what parkour is, parkour/freerunning/tricking, Lisses, healthy living, strength training and conditioning, benefits of parkour, and teams (including mentioning TT’s moral values).

There were about 25 people who came to see it, including a handful from the SPK lot. Surprisingly, there were no other teenagers, most of them were 20s, 30s. They asked some quite good questions, the usual ones like “Are there competitions in parkour?” (followed by “You could have competitions to see who can do the most flips”…) and “Can fat people do it?”, but the most intriguing questions was “What do you want for the future of parkour?” which I answered with something about it being more recognised as an activity so that we can train with less hassle and the coaching association succeeding.

I hope they’d all learned something about what parkour really is, and I made an impact on some people’s thoughts on it all. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t get across well enough. I think I made my point quite well, I did my best. Oh and I have £100 in my pocket for doing it, there starts my Lisses trip fund. Woo.

Just to finish, here’s a short film I saw on Thursday night at the exclusive private pre-screening ShAFF event with Wine & Canapés I was invited to. It’s absolutely brilliant, it’s hard to explain without making you want to not bother, so just take my word for it and check it out. Very skillful – Balancing Point: