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Cover Story: Flying Without Wings

Human beings have always wanted to fly. We’ve got the myths, the recurring dreams, and the sports for it. There’s just something about trying to break free of the chains of gravity, of that momentary feeling of absolute freedom that speaks to something primal in all of us. Come and join us as we go outside and get some air.

While not technically a sport, Parkour is as close you can get to flying with nothing but the body nature gave you. It’s an extremely demanding physical activity that is equal parts strength, mental acuity, and agility. Taking the simple idea that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the art of parkour has its practitioners jump, vault, and shimmy over, across, and through obstacles, through the use of natural human movements. It’s incredibly physically demanding, and requires each traceur or traceuse to be in superb physical heath. It’s amazing to see this discipline in action, and the real beauty of it is just how effortless the whole endeavor appears.

To get there though, you’ll need a lot of hard work. There’s going to have to be a lot of time building strength up. This means gym time. Legs, your core, and your arms all need to be able to work in perfect concert to execute even some of the more basic moves. As the founder of the art, David Belle says: “Without training, you will not grow wings.” Apart from that, you’ll have to put effort into building up your cardio—you’re not going to be jogging through this activity.

Once you’ve got a good base upon which you can build on, you can start learning the skills. Lots of jumping, vaulting, and high-impact means you need to invest in solid footwear. While you may be tempted to go with the thickest, most well-padded shoes available, this might not be the best approach, as it removes a lot of the feel you need to be in contact with the surfaces you’re pounding. Thinner-soled shoes are great for this purpose. It might be a surprise for many, but since it is an activity that’s made for the streets, some casual shoes are actually perfect for it. Widely recommended are the Onitsuka Tiger Ultimate 81. Lightweight, durable, and grippy, they allow you really feel what’s going on under your feet. Beginners might want to look at some of the thinner-soled running shoes for the same purpose: just enough padding to be comfortable, but not too much as to kill the feedback.

Another school of thought favors the minimalist approach, which I myself favor.

Little to no padding means superb feedback, but puts pressure on the traceur/traceuse to have perfect form, in order to stay safe, and not hurt themselves. The thinner models of Vibram Five Fingers are great. Absurdly light, comfortable, and reasonably grippy, they’ll make you feel like a monkey on a sugar rush zipping through the course. Another great option for the minimalist are the Zemgear 360 Ninja. This shoe has a split-toe design, very low weight, and sufficient grip. Since they’re so thin, it really forces you to concentrate on your form,
as you feel every landing. You’re also going to need some comfy clothes both to protect your body from the ground, and keep you cool and comfortable while you grab armfuls of air. Stay away from cotton, as they soak up sweat and start to weigh you down. You’re going to sweat a lot, and you won’t want to be carrying all that with you as you try to navigate jumps. Great workout apparel is available from all the usual suspects, but as long as you’ve got wicking, light-weight fabrics, you should be set. UnderArmor, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, and practically every apparel company with a sports line has something for you. Whether to choose shorts or loose-fitting pants is another matter that is up to personal preference.

Training to be at the peak of your physical form will also be made much easier with some music to help keep you motivated. Since you’ll be moving around a lot, you’ll want a speaker that can take some bumps. It might be a good idea to steer away from headphones, as you’re going to need some situational awareness going on, but if you want the skinny on what audio gear you can use, head over the Music Corner section.

Cameras are also a great idea here. You’re going to want to review what you do, in order to better your form, so a buddy with a camera that has the ability to shoot high-framerate video could help you a lot. Cameras on higher-end mobile phones meet this requirement well enough, and come with the added bonus of, well, being a smartphone. Practically all flagship devices can shoot excellent-quality video at 60FPS, so you’re really spoilt for choice. Should you really want to get into the thick of things, an action camera, such as the many excellent offerings from GoPro and Sony, plus the appropriate mounts for your head, or the obstacles you’re going through, make for great high-energy footage. There’s nothing like first person footage of a huge leap to get your viewers’ blood flowing.

This activity doesn’t really require a lot of hardware. At the heart of it, you just need a good pair of shoes, and the steely determination to be better than you were the last session. You’re going to fall a few times, sure, but fall enough, work hard enough, and keep at it, and like David Belle said, you’ll grow wings.

Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE October 2015 issue.

Words by Ren Alcantara