Most people see a low wall, a flight of stairs, some hand rails or a walkway as just everyday parts of their surrounding infrastructure but for a select few these are all parts of a larger playground, one that beckons to be climbed, jumped and scaled.
Sunningdale’s Shaun Verth, 22, a member of the parkour performance group, Sabotage Elite, is one of those few and he, together with his team and a handful of parkour traceurs (as those who take part in the sport are known) are trying to put the European import on the map in Cape Town and South Africa at large.
“A simple explanation of parkour or free running is getting from point A to point B in the most efficient time possible. Most traceurs will give you different views on the various forms of the sport but that is a debate I steer clear of. As far as I’m concerned, parkour is a movement that can be practiced any way you want it to be practiced.
“I became involved with the sport when I was in school. I had been going to Edge Church in Edgemead where I met a few guys who were jumping off things and doing acrobatic stunts. Of course I thought this was amazing so I joined them and we ended up doing parkour shows for an outreach programme our church created. That saw us going out into informal areas to put on shows for kids in the hope that they too might find an interest in the parkour lifestyle.
“I love how parkour helps you understand your body and open your mind. In the seconds that you are off the ground and in the air life seems to stand still and in that brief moment you feel complete serenity and freedom. Every flip or jump I do, I do for that exact moment,” he said.
Initially developed in France by Raymond Belle in the 1980s, the discipline was popularised further by his son David and a group of performers known as Yamasaki. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the sport exploded when it entered popular media forms such as films, documentaries and advertisements.
Despite its world-wide popularity, on local shores parkour is still in a fledgling state but that is slowly starting to change. For Verth, having the skills he picked up playing around on obstacles has come in handy in a professional realm, where he plies his trade as a stunt performer in the film industry.
“Parkour is a great skill to have when entering the stunt world. It teaches you how to use your body and also to have a good spatial awareness, which is crucial for any performer. Sabotage Elite is a professional free-running and stunt team with members in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, the United Kingdom and the United States. As a team we have established ourselves through the parkour movement and perform as well as teach through the connections we have made in the parkour community,” he said.
Of course, much like their skating brethren, athletes who make use of public spaces for anything other than their initial purposes are often seen as a public menace. Verth hopes to show that what is created instead, is social cohesion in a positive way, allowing traceurs to use their surroundings as a place to stay active and not as a way to cause destruction or vandalise property.
“I believe one way to get rid of the negative stigma attached to sports like parkour is to advertise it through various media forms and show people that what we do is harmless and that it rarely causes structural damage as is often thought. The sooner people understand the sport for what it is, the more accepting they will become of it.
“To find out some of the things that we are doing, people can follow us on social media, either on Instagram on @sabotageelite or @shaun_verth or to check out the Sabotage Elite Facebook page.
“One thing we stress is that this is an inclusive sport. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what sex or shape you are, parkour is for anyone. If you want to get in touch to organise a lesson , don’t be shy to drop us a message, we are always willing to help and want people to realise they should never feel too scared to give parkour a try,” he said.