damienThe quickest way to explain what parkour is, to those not familiar, is to use the example of Daniel Craig as James Bond, jumping off rooftops and over building site obstacles in the opening scenes of Casino Royale.

The adrenalin-pumping montage has become famous for its crazy parkour skills; but there is far more to this sport than first appears.

The official definition of parkour is that of a holistic training discipline, using movement.

Developed from military obstacle course training, the aim is to get from one point to another as efficiently as possible, using only the human body and surroundings for propulsion.

The focus is on having as much momentum as possible, while still remaining safe. Skills include running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping and rolling – and there is an absolute ability in harnessing these skills and learning them correctly.

Damien Puddle heads up Parkour NZ and is based in Hamilton, where there is a rapidly growing base of parkour enthusiasts.

Profile: Damien Puddle

Age: 25

What is your sporting background?
I’ve always enjoyed running around and playing since I was a child; climbing trees, a year of jazz dance, theatre-based movement activities, etc. I also enjoyed sport, particularly athletics and rugby. I played rugby for 5-6 years starting with Taupiri, then the Toronto Nomads while living in Canada and finished playing for Marist after I moved back to NZ.

Besides rugby, I didn’t play any formal sports in Canada though I enjoyed playing baseball and inline hockey with friends. I took up footbag (hackysack) and b-boying during high school in Canada and it was during that period that I discovered parkour.

I now almost exclusively participate in parkour, besides social touch and volleyball on occasion.

How and why did you get involved?
I first saw parkour used in a TV advertisement while living in Canada. I was dancing at the time but was turned off by the drink and drug culture present in the scene that I was a part of. I thought that parkour might provide the same exciting movements without those negative aspects. I didn’t know how or where to start though so I gave up that idea fairly quickly.

After moving back to New Zealand in 2007 I went to Wintec for Sport and Exercise Science where I met Barnaby Matthews who (though now living in Australia) is one of New Zealand’s first parkour practitioners. He invited me to go training with him and so after getting over a few nerves, I did.

Over the years playing rugby I broke my collarbone, my jaw in two places and had two concussions. I decided to stop playing rugby and any contact sport after the concussions and took up parkour as my main pursuit. I’ve now been practising for more than six years.

What motivates/inspires you?
My faith in God is always the underlying motivator for everything I do. In addition to that, I love seeing other people succeed and so I’m very motivated to share what I’ve learned and to facilitate the learning of others. Learning has become a bad word because modern education uses a blanket recipe approach, but true individualised learning has to be one of the coolest things.

What are the biggest misconceptions about the sport?
There are a few misconceptions that we’re working hard to turn around:
1. “Parkour is dangerous” – Parkour is just parkour. It’s how each practitioner explores parkour that makes it dangerous or not. Reckless, thrill-seeking and daredevil behaviour makes parkour (and almost anything) dangerous, but to practise parkour well, one must be calm, collected and focused. If there is danger, it is only because the person doing parkour is making bad judgement calls and doing things beyond their capabilities, in unsuitable locations or without first exploring/testing the environment.

2. “Parkour is for fit, fearless and coordinated people” – Parkour is a training method that helps you achieve your goals, not an activity that requires you to already be an experienced athlete. The process of exploring your own movement and mental capabilities causes you to become fitter, less fearful and more coordinated.

3. “Parkour? You would be good at running away from the police” – We have no desire to be or put ourselves in situations where we’re at odds with the police. Moreover, we feel that parkour is a very valuable activity for our emergency service personnel to take up. If we have our way, in the future this will read “Parkour? That’s the training that police do!”

Why are you so passionate about it?
I am passionate about parkour, not only because it has helped change my life and the way I view the world, but I see it doing the same for most of the people who participate in it. Parkour has the capacity to create strong, capable, community-minded people who value themselves, each other and the environment. It easily spills over from the physical training into others aspects of life.

For many people it has been a gateway into health and wellbeing in general, inspiring them to pursue other activities, eat healthier and live in a more sustainable way. That’s an activity worth pursuing…right?

Who can get involved, how and where?
Virtually everyone can get involved. Age, sex and fitness level are only barriers to parkour if you let them be. There are children, youths and adults all over New Zealand and the world participating and benefiting from parkour. The how and where depends on the person and their location.

Parkour can be practised anywhere you can find physical obstacles (think trees, rocks, fields, streams, walls, railings, curbs, benches, etc) which means you can go outside and do it right now in any natural or urban environment – though we encourage you to be mindful of other users and not to trespass.

If you’re in a city, most New Zealand cities have a local training community that you can join. Check out NZ Parkour online (website or Facebook) and you’ll see how you can get in touch.

What to expect?
You can expect to meet some lovely people, be equally challenged and supported both physically and mentally. You can also expect to feel very sore after your first few training sessions, as it is always a whole body workout.

How do you keep fit?
Mostly by doing parkour. I also do resistance training when I can get access to a gym. More recently I have begun exploring some movement for movement’s sake rather than moving to be fit (see Ido Portal). It’s a very different concept and one that is becoming more attractive to me.

What are the most important skills?
The most important skills for parkour are:

a) Being able to look silly in front of other people – Doing parkour is of course not silly at all, but playing on obstacles like children do can be very unsettling to many adult onlookers. You have to be able to get over that hurdle.

b) Being able to analyse yourself – Parkour is ultimately about self discovery; learning and self-improvement. Practising parkour will require you to look inwardly and that may be a scary thing for some.

c) Believing in yourself – Having a positive attitude is key. It’s not about saying I can’t do this or that, it’s about saying these are the things I can do and these are things I can’t do yet.

d) Not comparing yourself with others – Parkour is non-competitive. As soon as you start comparing your capabilities with others, you start losing the point. “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway.

What are the benefits of doing parkour?
The benefits of parkour are vast. It encompasses all aspects of hauora:

The physical – It helps improve your strength, fitness, coordination, flexibility, power, control, etc.
The mental/emotional/psychological – It helps you to see yourself and the world more positively; obstacles are now opportunities. Builds self-esteem, self-belief and self-efficacy.
The social – The parkour community is a very inclusive one that fulfils many social needs both for input – making one feel loved, included and worthy as well as for output – helping and sharing your story and experiences with others.
The spiritual – Parkour can be explored simply as a hobby or a valuable cross-training activity but its philosophical nature allows it to be explored as a whole lifestyle, giving hope and purpose. As such, it also meshes very well with people’s varying faith journeys.

What are the risks?
Like with all dynamic movement activities, injury is always a possibility. However, a sensible approach to training will prevent any severe acute injury from occurring. The harder part, in terms of injury is doing a lot of work on your postural patterns and being sure not to over-train so that you prevent any chronic inflammation-type injuries. Little bruises, cuts and scrapes are commonplace, but they don’t cause any lasting damage, they just make you tougher.

Describe your lifestyle?
I would describe myself as hard working but laid back; adaptable and easily pleased. I’m married to the wonderful Nicole and father to a beautiful four-month-old daughter, Keelan.
I love my friends, building relationships and learning new things, especially with the Hamilton parkour community and Horsham Downs Community Church which I attend.

What are your top three tips for someone wanting to get involved?
1. Don’t wait to get involved, start now. You’re not too old, too unfit or too uncoordinated. It’s never too late. ​
2. Research it thoroughly – You have to dig deeper than YouTube videos to find out what it’s really all about. Come training, watch, participate, talk with NZ Parkour and ask us questions.
3. Encourage your family and friends to get involved – Everything is better in community. Invite the people you know to join with you.

Photos by Dave Campbell.


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