Jump First, Ask Questions Later

by Natasha Aftandilians

The phone rings.

“Free running and Parkour Club at UCI.”

A deep, computerized voice speaks out in response. “Parkour club, we are in need of your services again. Someone has kidnapped Peter the Anteater. We need to get him home now. Spirit Week is less than 24 hours away. Get him back before then.”

“Got it. Will do” he says, confident and self-assured.

And so the chase begins; the captors are sprinting across campus, carrying their “captive” as they leap over staircases and vault themselves over railings, all while being followed by an eager cameraman, documenting the cat and mouse chase. The man in blue jumps over two flights of stairs, arms spread like a flying squirrel midair. Our hero chases after him, dodging over rails and fences like an Olympic track star.

The man in blue and his cohort approach a wall that would seemingly stop them in their tracks. He keeps running till his feet are half way up the wall; he manages a complete backflip over our hero, who follows the man in blue after being momentarily thrown off-course by this evasive maneuver. Still being chased, the man in blue vaults over a cement block and launches into a tumble roll, landing and then jumping over another massive flight of stairs and landing in a somersault.

They make their way across the uneven stairs of Social Sciences Plaza, meeting in the middle as their captive exchanges hands. Our hero catches up with them, only to realize the cohort is no longer holding the victim. He swivels and sees the man in blue taunting him, dangling the captive anteater in his hand; he follows him into the nearby parking structure, avoiding the stairs and climbing up the walls to get to the roof. Finally, our hero has the two captors cornered; teetering dangerously along the edge of the roof, the man in blue and his cohort surrender and relinquish the kidnapped Peter the Anteater to the hero.

Sound like a scene from a new action movie set in Irvine? Not quite. This is just a taste of what the members of the Freerunning and Parkour Club of UCI are up to. The heroes and villains here are Chris Sequeira (the hero), Anthony Sweeting (the “man in blue”) and Adrian Ortiz (the cohort) the club’s members and co-founders, and the “captive” is just a small stuffed anteater. They were filming a promotional video to be played at the upcoming UCI Spirit Week festivities (a video which has already gained over 400 views on YouTube).

For these three students, the UC Irvine campus has become a (somewhat) urban playground for this risky sport. This high-flying, adrenaline-pumping discipline that incorporates acrobatic feats with track and field can now be seen being practiced on our campus.

Parkour, a French creation originating in the 1980s, in its simplest definition is the act of moving from one point to another while using the obstacles in the environment to increase efficiency. When combined with the aerial and acrobatic stunts of freerunning (a subset of parkour,) you get modern-day freerunning and parkour (FRPK).

When “traceurs” (practitioners of parkour) find themselves facing an obstacle, they keep running, never ceasing the fluid motion that gets them to their destination. It’s a “jump first, ask questions later” mentality in their world.

Chris Sequeira, president and cofounder of the FRPK club at UCI, was determined to create an environment on his campus where he could practice parkour with others.

“The idea for starting the club came from wanting to create a safe supportive and fun environment for people who are interested in practicing parkour to actually practice it, because it is risky,” he said. “On the West coast, the buildings are spread out […] so it’s really hard to figure out where you can do it, but I figured that together we could think and find places and really collaborate and work on creating this safe, fun environment.”

In 2010, Sequeira and co-founder Adrian Ortiz met at an event on campus; they got to talking and realized their shared interest in parkour, and decided to found their club. Treasurer Anthony Sweeting met Sequeira at a group interview for a scholarship; when Chris mentioned his interest in starting a parkour organization at UCI, Sweeting had to interrupt him to show he was interested. “It was rude and awkward, and I didn’t get the scholarship,” says Sweeting, “but Chris did.”

FRPK is just one of Sequeira’s many on-campus involvements. As a transfer student, Sequeira believes in making the most of his time at university, and he does that throwing himself into a multitude of campus activities. It’s his leadership and organization that made FRPK into a legitimate organization.

Anthony brings a more laidback element of effortless cool to the duo. He attacks vaults and jumps with the ease and precision of a cat. He has a perpetual toothy grin on his face, and when he perches atop a railing during practice, he seems as comfortable as the Cheshire cat in a tree.

“I was doing parkour before it was called parkour,” says Anthony, who recounts jumping apartment building rooftops in Burbank as a kid to avoid doing his homework. “My inspiration to jump around on stuff was Jackie Chan, so through him I got into martial arts tricks and flipping and handstands. People always thought I was a showoff at lunchtime because I did handstands the whole time, I didn’t care who was watching.”

After stumbling upon the Yamakasi (a French parkour group) on the Internet one day, he realized that parkour was a worldwide phenomenon and not just a juvenile distraction from schoolwork.

Parkour was an accidental discovery for Sequeira as well; “In 2007, I was in a French class, and there was a French film based almost solely on parkour called District B13 and my friend had me watch that movie and I was thinking, ‘Man that is so cool!’ That really got me into it. David Belle, the founder of parkour is actually the star of the movie, and that made it really easy for me to research it. Since then I’ve been trying to keep in shape, even though I didn’t know where I could practice it, just in case the day came. It was around that time, my friends and I did some running and jumped over a few things, nothing really intense like this club is doing. That was the first time I ever had any really hands-on experience with it; this club has really exploded the possibilities for us.”

Creating an organization devoted to practicing parkour was the logical first step for Sequeira. After registering in November with the Dean of Students, the Parkour and Freerunning Club became an official campus organization on Dec. 1, 2010.

As a campus organization, they are faced with issues of liability, which is more than just an afterthought when your club’s main purpose is to jump across six-story gaps and run across campus at breakneck speeds. Every member signs a liability waiver that protects the campus from legal action if a member of the club were to get injured in action.

“I know that the first time I got hurt really badly was when I tried to jump across this 8-foot-wide gap;” says Chris. “There were two big cement planters with straight edges, I ran along the edge of one and jumped to the other, and one foot made it across but the other didn’t quite make it. I scraped up my shin pretty bad; I had a scar that was a good three inches long on my leg for a few years. There really isn’t a way to do parkour safely, but taking things as slowly as you need to at first then working up comfortably with the moves is the best way to minimize chance of injury. One of the key points that I emphasize in the meetings is that if a person is not comfortable with trying a move, then they are in no way obligated to try it. I also make sure to let them know to try things at their own pace.”

Currently, the FRPK club is comprised of the founding members and board members: Chris, Adrian and Anthony. They are open to any and all interested members who are willing to try, regardless of skill level or experience. The last quarter has been a process of advertising and publicity for the club, and they have gotten some interested students to check them out, but the three core members remain the active participants.

But their popularity is growing and interest has been piqued around campus; it’s hard to ignore them, as they climb up staircase railings and dash between obstacles at Social Sciences Plaza or use the parking structures as testing grounds for their moves, where they practice every week. It’s at these practices (or “jams,” as they’re called in the parkour world) that the amateur traceurs test their physical limits.

In the end, parkour is whatever the individual traceur wants it to be: It can be a thrilling adrenaline rush, an exercise in training your muscles, a physical outlet for the everyday frustrations or just an excuse to act out your James Bond action fantasies.

“It’s exhilarating and exciting, and yeah, sometimes I fall, whatever, but it’s so exciting and fun. It gets my heart racing,” says Chris. “I feel like I’m really accomplishing something, like I’m really getting over my obstacles; instead of just moving past things like you do in everyday life, when I jump over things it feels like I’m conquering that obstacle, and I can really just put it behind me. It sounds kind of cheesy but hey, try it some time and you’ll see what I mean.”