Men and women ranging from 18 to almost 40 years old trickle in. They quickly warm-up and start training. After some ledge vaults, the group members line up ready to conquer their next challenge: a 15-foot stone wall within Cloud Gardens. One by one members run up to it, put one foot on the wall, then the other, and jump as high as they can. Some have an easier time than others. One member runs up to it and stops when she is about to go up the wall. The coach guides her through the exercise again. Another member instantly gets the hang of it, and bounds several feet in the air. People standing by cheer him on. This is the Downtown Toronto Parkour Club, a group that meets every two weeks to practice the art of parkour.
It is a celebration of movement through the environment by running, jumping and climbing. It can be something as simple as climbing over a fence or performing a backflip off a wall and then landing on a ledge. The Downtown Toronto Parkour Club focuses on the former by making the training simple and approachable. This works towards the greater goal of getting the Toronto parkour community back to its former glory days. Videogames have become obsessed with parkour, too; games like Assassin’s Creed and Mirror’s Edge feature it prominently, but most modern action games feature a bit of wall-running or hard-scrabble vaulting. Players are used to being able to leap and bound with the simple press of a button. In fact, one member of the club was inspired to come to the meet-up after playing Assassin’s Creed II.
Five years ago the Toronto parkour community was lively. People were meeting up on a regular basis to practice parkour. But then, a parkour-focused gym, The Monkey Vault, opened up in Toronto. Due to its reliability people started choosing the gym over practicing outside. As a result parkour enthusiasts (also known as traceurs) stopped going to meet-ups, which fragmented the community. Now, this parkour club is trying to repair the community by making it fun, free and friendly. In a sense, the club works as a tutorial for parkour, since the main objective of the meet-ups is for members to eventually graduate to performing parkour anytime and anywhere.
“Everyone goes to The Monkey Vault and then they don’t come out to jams anymore, and when they do they’re usually late,” Jaak Purres, a 40-year-old contract negotiator and leader of The Downtown Toronto Parkour Club. Purres’ main goal for the club is to help beginners at parkour while still making it worthwhile for veterans of the sport to join. After he teaches the beginners a few things he hopes they train outside of the group with other members, thus slowly restoring the parkour community within Toronto.
Purres started the Downtown Toronto Parkour Club started in 2010 along with another member. Neither of them really knew what they were doing. Purres learned parkour by watching slowed-down Youtube videos. To this day he admits it was a dumb idea, since people easily get injured by thinking they can do what they see on YouTube with no prior training. Later, Purres became invested in the parkour community by talking with experts who then trained him. Purres appreciates the helpful nature of parkour communities around the world. It’s one of his favourite parts about the sport and the culture surrounding it, and something that has kept him going for so many years. Purres never wanted to be a coach when he started parkour, but became one after more people took interest in the group. Whether they’ve been practicing parkour for years or have just started, Purres will give them an exercise to do. “I found it easy to explain what I was working on. I didn’t make it sound mystical or make out that I’m a motivational speaker,” says Purres.
As Kevin Peng, a new member to the club, is bounding up the wall for his second time, a loud clunk goes throughout the gardens. He banged his knee. “Whoa, are you alright?” says Purres. “Yeah I’m fine,” says Peng. Purres constantly tries to emphasize safety when practicing parkour. Each exercise he asks members to clear the garbage and glass around Cloud Gardens so no one gets hurt while training. Purres also asks people about any injuries, and if they are hurt there’s always something that can be worked on. Throughout the session Peng got better at moving throughout Cloud Gardens, slowly building skills. It was hard not to see the similarity to progression in a modern videogame; he started the day as a novice, simply jumping from stone brick to stone brick on the ground, and by the end of the day he ran at a high ledge, climbed it and then jumped to another ledge four feet away. He looked satisfied with the results, like he’d just beaten a boss he spent hours on.
Most traceurs will always prefer practicing outside in the city. But that doesn’t stop them from going to The Monkey Vault. Which simulates outdoors parkour but provides it inside with the included safety nets of pools filled with foam bricks and consistently dry conditions, all for $15 a session. Dan Iaboni, The Monkey Vault’s owner, agrees that nothing beats outside parkour, but also thinks it’s good to have a location that is safe and reliable. Although some people think that the gym is responsible for the broken-up parkour community in Toronto, Iaboni thinks differently. He looks at the gym as “a centre hub for the community where everyone can meet up.”
Whether people prefer practicing inside or outside there is one thing almost all traceurs can agree on: parkour groups can create a great community. Blake Evitt, director of Parkour Generations Americas, the largest parkour organization in the world says, “Very few people have been training by themselves for their whole lives. Most people attribute their start to seeing someone else perform parkour.” Groups are essential to growing parkour because the more people involved means more will become interested in the sport itself.
As of now, the parkour group is going steady. New faces come in every session and relationships are being built around the sport. As the meet-up concludes, Peng exchanges numbers with a few members. “We’re probably going to train for a bit longer. We’re also thinking about making YouTube videos,” says Peng as he walks away with two other traceurs.
Header image credit belongs to Patrick Dep.