Making a move: Parkour on the Dal campus

Dal Parkour club member Liam Collins does a flip captured in a multiple exposure. (Jennifer Gosnell photo)

No gear. No rules. No limits. That’s what makes parkour such a thrill. It’s also what makes safety so crucial to the sport.

Parkour, the practice of urban running, jumping and climbing, developed from French military training techniques and has become a popular activity for people seeking an alternative workout.

The Dalhousie Parkour club was approved this year to practice in the Dalplex and has become an official student society.

But as members backflip their way around campus and navigate the city’s rooftops, their new status means they have to be more safety-conscious.

“We’re recognized and we can get funding, so we also had to sign insurance waivers and everything,” says Gus Guimaraes, one of the eight founding members of the club.

“It’s a double-edged sword where you can’t just do anything.”

The club has about 40 members that meet up from time to time to put their insurance waivers to good use. The waivers mean club members need to keep an eye out for newcomers.

“We have to take it easy. Slow it down, teach them the basics … because we’re almost responsible for them,” Guimaraes says.

Though there have been a number of relatively minor injuries among club members — founding member Nick Lockhart has sprained his ankle several times — they continue to commit their time and training to parkour. To master the more advance tricks, the group does gymnastics training with professionals to minimize injuries.

Club member Nick Lockhart looking out on the Dalhousie campus, planning his next move. (Jennifer Gosnell photo)

Parkour is different from most sports, as there are no official competitions. Most of the parkour community is opposed them. Parkour advocates feel it takes away from the individual nature of the sport, which pits a person against the obstacles he or she encounters.

Lockhart, Guimaraes and other members of the Dalhousie Parkour Club, have had to move to gyms such as Dalplex during the winter to continue their training. Using a gym to practice has become a controversial subject within the parkour community, with two sides at odds over maintaining the free-form culture of the practice.

“We practice outdoors whenever possible,” says Guimaraes, though he acknowledges that this isn’t always safe or practical during winter in Nova Scotia.

Gyms dedicated to the sport or where the sport can be practiced are popping up across the country. Three national examples include FlyFree in Edmonton, The Monkey Vault in Toronto and Origins in Vancouver.

Inside or outside, the spirit of the sport is what drives the Dal club members to practice and train.

“Philosophy is kind of a grand word, but it’s central to the idea of the group that you are friends no matter what,” says Guimaraes.

“You’re pushing each other, but in a good way, in a positive way.”