Parkour may be relatively new, but it has gained immense popularity through inclusion in films such as District 13, Babylon AD, Casino Royale, and The Bourne Ultimatum (a film credited with opening the minds of western audiences to the discipline).
Discipline is the operative word, as parkour’s development from military obstacle training courses has bloomed into interpreting urban spaces in new ways. Parkour’s objective is to discover fast, efficient ways to get from point A to B through jumping, rolling, vaulting, and pretty much everything in between. Freerunning, meanwhile, developed by the French actor and parkour practitioner Sebastien Foucan, involves more aesthetic and acrobatic elements and is designed to be more inclusive.
This inclusivity and the lure of manipulating your environment in new ways was one of the major motivations for students to set up the St Andrews Parkour and Freerunning group (STAPAF).
As club president Jamie Wilson explains, there were already several students doing parkour recreationally, but they wanted more people to train with and coordinated to set up a club. The club currently has 15 to 20 members, a positive number for such an embryonic group, and hopes to grow over the coming months.
Affiliating with the Athletic Union is the next step on the club’s journey. Joining the AU can be difficult for new clubs, but Mr Wilson was quick to point out the process has been much smoother under incumbent AU President Ben Peddie than his predecessor Sarah Thompson. The club is yet to receive full AU affiliation, but the process is well underway and is almost certain to be completed by the end of this semester.
Mr Wilson pointed out that affiliation has been one of the main stumbling blocks to developing and growing the club. When asked what advice he would give to budding clubs, his answer was simple: start early and be organised.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the club is how pioneering it is for student sport in the UK. Parkour and freerunning only began at the end of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the release of films with dramatic parkour sequences, most of which involved practitioners like Foucan and David Belle, helped make the sports more mainstream. The growth of platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have offered mediums for practitioners to share clips of their activities, and this exposure has helped parkour become increasingly popular. Yet as of January 2017, the UK was the only country to recognise parkour as an official sport. By establishing the STAPAF, St Andrews has become the first Scottish university to boast an official group dedicated to parkour and only the sixth in the UK. Five such clubs are currently in existence at English universities.
For Mr Wilson and other members of the club, parkour is an every-person sport. It doesn’t matter what size or shape you are or what level of athletic ability you possess. All are welcome, and all are capable. Because the club is in its infancy, few members have much experience in parkour, so there is no sense of judgment. Mr Wilson was quick to point out that parkour is actually incredibly safe. This is perhaps fairly logical, as it evolves from military training exercises (which are not designed to injure but develop skill). However, parkour often receives negative press, which scares many people off before they know anything about it. Mr Wilson could not stress enough that parkour is incredibly safe, and because the STAPAF practices indoors, potential danger is reduced even further.
Whilst there are opportunities for members to train outside individually, the club collectively trains indoors twice a week. Sessions are held in the old Sports Centre from 2 pm to 4 pm on Thursday afternoons and 9 am to 11 am on Sunday mornings. STAPAF presents a new and exciting opportunity for students to try an activity that stands out from anything currently available in St Andrews.
Anyone interested in joining STAPAF should attend the club’s training sessions or contact the official Facebook page for more information.