Deep into their three-month-long stretch of blissful summer freedom, some island kids have turned to parkour as way to run, jump, climb, vault and shimmy away their extra summertime energy.
Parkour, or free running, is a sport characterized by runners sprinting over urban terrain, navigating obstacles like walls, bollards, railings and even sometimes rooftops with incredible agility and fluid movements. The goal of parkour is to navigate any obstacles in one’s path using the most efficient manner possible. Frequently this requires a runner to leap between gaps, vault over low walls at a full-sprint, shimmy along narrow ledges and generally do the sort of things that would cause most mothers’ hearts to skip a beat.
The participants of the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park &Recreation District’s Parkour Camp are getting a taste of parkour from a safe, padded environment.
Jason Balangue is the park district’s gymnastics coordinator. From inside the gymnastics room at Bainbridge High School, Balangue coaches his parkour camp. Across the springy, padded gym floor are a series of obstacle courses set up, each course is made of gymnastics pads and the kids take turns at each station. Balangue said today the kids would be working on using the walls and doing various precision exercises.
“Right now they’re learning things like wall-runs, where they’re trying to run vertically up a wall and trying to get as many steps in as possible and go as high as they can. They are also working on horizontal wall-runs,” Balangue said as one participant ran headlong at a padded wall and then kicked off several times, reaching above his head and grabbing-on with both hands to a chin-up bar.
“It’s all about trying to get over obstacles that are typically going to be harder to get over and finding other ways of being able to do it, kind of like how an animal would do it,” Balangue said. “A lot of times we really think of ourselves more like monkeys.”
Spitting in the eye of gravity isn’t the only order of the day, though. A focus is also placed on being precise in your movements: Across the gym students leaped from one small pad to another and sometimes even onto a thin bar, all in an attempt to become as precise as possible in their landings and balance.
“A lot of times when people are doing parkour they’re doing them on things off the ground and they’re trying to jump across gaps. They need to be able to land and control without falling off,” Balangue said, pointing to a course where the students were swinging from a rope and landing inside a foam tube.
“They’re also trying to learn how to go through things,” he added, motioning further down the course where the students would then jump through a set of hula hoops hanging from two gymnastics bars. “There’s all this fun stuff that you try to fit through, so you find ways to quickly and efficiently get through them.”
Using their newly developed skills, the students also play a series of standard playground games that have been adapted for parkour. The familiar game of cops-and-robbers starts to look like a group of tiny ninjas evading capture, as the students bound over the course’s padded obstacles and run up the vertical walls to escape their pursuers.
One particularly quick runner, Noah Weiss said he enjoyed the television show “American Ninja Warrior” wherein contestants compete against one another on an obstacle course. Noah said his favorite part of the camp so far was doing vaults.
Another participant in the class, Elias Dugan, couldn’t name his favorite event: “It’s fun; I like it all.”
Standing next to Elias was Finn Bryson and he had his eyes set on another obstacle course across the room. “I really like the look of the trampoline one, so I think that will probably be my favorite station,” he said rather assuredly.
Balangue said that the camp is a great way to get kids to burn off energy while getting a healthy dose of exercise.
“It keeps them moving, keeps them active. We’re trying to get them to get a lot of exercise without thinking that they’re exercising,” Balangue said. “They’re just going and using their natural energy.”
Balangue said that the kids aren’t alone in their appreciation of the parkour camp.
“The parents love it, that’s half the reason they put them into the camp, ‘Oh, the class is only an hour but the camp is three hours, that’s great because now we take them home and they’re passed out,’” Balangue said.