Time capsule: Parkour defined my teenage years

18th February 2020

There’s a sense of shared culture in Britain; that gratifying camaraderie when finding common ground with someone at the pub or Saturday morning’s Parkrun, be it through theme parks, music or that angular S that was constantly being drawn for a short while.

For most, hearing the words “jump around” has us singing that one line from the 1992 hit song. For me? I reminisce; scrubbing sand from my hairline after a barbeque on the beach; exploring the concrete jungles surrounding my somewhat small but definitely boring home town; swimming through air and pits of foam within just seconds of one another. 

I jumped around in each of those settings. Off sand dunes, stairs and springboards. It was 2009, and parkour, also known as freerunning, was the cool thing to do. 

In most towns, you’re not friends with neighbouring schools. Rivalry is forced onto you as this or that uniform is pulled over your head for the first time, and every weekday going forward until college comes around.

We’d cling to whatever identity we were given

It would be a lie to say I didn’t think this was exaggerated by the working class nature of our town. We’d cling to whatever identity we were given because it was a sense of purpose at a time it was easy to feel forgotten. 

Whispers of fights between Year 10s and 11s from different schools spread so often and so persuasively that headteachers even escorted students half of the way home and monitored brawling hot spots. 

Just like those kids, I was bored and understimulated. But with my mam’s caution following me around – never hit first, but if someone does hit you, you hit them back – fighting was off the cards. 

Instead, with a few friends, I aimlessly lingered in the warmth of the local shopping centre at evenings and weekends. It sat, and still does, at the heart of the town, accessible from all so-called villages surrounding around it. When half five struck each day, we’d soon be tasked with finding a new place to loiter, outdoors, as shops began to close.

Our new spot was the somewhat enclosed courtyard of a doctor’s surgery. With it, came three boys who were also our age, but from a different school. And with them, came the rapid – though they were slow and clumsy at the time – art of parkour. We started jumping around with them too. 

We trained together, grew together and got together

The Docs just as rapidly became an inclusive central hub where kids from across the town came to swing over, under and to the side of its metal railings, flip off weirdly raised sections of concrete and vault over walls. The group evolved, and so did our parkour abilities. While some commitment to the sport was fickle, those that didn’t fancy parkour were given the important task of fetching snacks from the 24-hour Asda around the corner. I was half and half. 

As time went on, it was more than just meeting up to jump around. I remember watching videos of Tim “Livewire” Shieff at a freerunning championship and being in complete awe. There was something alluring about parkour; perhaps its French army routes, its required mental and physical strength or the simple fact we were bored kids with just concrete to play with. Either way, it had momentum. 

We built an entire subculture around a desire to explore, climb on things and jump off them again. The people that were really good, we joked, were used to running from the police. Moving from The Docs to new jumping spots, we trained together, grew together and got together. At its peak, there wasn’t a day you’d go to The Docs and find it empty. That kind of reliable, consistent friendship was a vital lifeline for some. 

Armed with an all-day under 16 bus ticket, costing just £1 out of my fiver pocket money from chores, we didn’t just fall in love with the sport, or each other, but with our region. While other comp kids were inside playing their second-gen consoles or getting drunk on the street, parkour took us to the coast’s sand dunes and the city’s pavements every weekend for three strong years. 

We were disconnected from the world, thanks to smartphones still being fringe, and viewed every path or patch of grass as an opportunity. Training by the sea always turned into a barbeque with Asda’s finest disposable and going to the city meant ritually getting hot chocolate from the same cafe, while staying closer to home meant piling into someone’s house for video games. Parkour offered us a finite euphoria. 

Of course, there were some brutal days, from unapologetically rainy days at the beach to when my then-boyfriend – who I met jumping around – landed a move perfectly but somehow managed to forward roll into a needle, resulting in a trip to the hospital. But the satisfaction of nailing a tic-tac or barani, surrounded by the community we built, was incomparable. 

Relationships formed under the guise of shared interests became dysfunctional

In the latter months, this was more of a distorted reality. Subcultures within our own subculture began to emerge, like any other coming of age story, and it became more about partying than parkour. 

The docs slowly evolved from a place to jump to somewhere to smoke weed from “lungs” made of amputated plastic bottles. That wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, obviously, and was really dividing. Although a large portion of us did united in our console of choice – Xbox, not Playstation – this soon became the only thing we had in common. 

Relationships formed under the guise of shared interests became dysfunctional. It was no longer deniable that the only real common ground we had was parkour, to which most had lost interest. Gradually, we stopped jumping around and meeting up altogether. 

We all grew apart. The metaphorical distance between us was reinforced by actual distance as the group split off, going to different colleges and sixth forms or something else. And again, when I went off to London for university and others went to Cambridge, York and Durham, or didn’t go at all. 

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. I didn’t mourn the loss parkour at the time, or my friends, because you come to accept changing faces are just a part of life. And it’s not all doom and gloom, a baby and happy marriage or two have spun out from relationships built during this time.

I’m proud to say I was once a part of that community, clinging to it just like any other sense of identity. I know some of my old friends do too. I still say hi to them in the street or at the pub, but once the obligatory small talk is over, what’s left to say? Why isn’t there a Fable 4 yet? Hey, remember when I learned to do a cat pass before you? Growing into a divorced job-lot of lawyers, creatives, civil servants, retail staff and criminals, it’s tough to find common ground. 

Passing The Docs today, kids still hang out there. They don’t know why — that it’s because of parkour. The spot was just inherited.

18th February 2020