Leaps and Bounds

"There is definitely a spiritual component here that most other sports lack," states Exo, "a Zen quality of meditation, focus, and self-evaluation that is deeply individual and then supportive."


'If you really want to see it in action," says Hangman, the moderator behind the New York Parkour online community, "you should pick a smaller jam."

Park life: A traceur rides the concrete waves of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.
photo: Fred Askew
Park life: A traceur rides the concrete waves of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

I pick a meeting at Columbus Circle where Sébastien Foucan is guest of honor. Surprisingly, only about a dozen dedicated traceurs attend, and all try to act casual when Foucan arrives. Endowed with feline grace and an easy smile, he doesn't present himself as an authority but as another practitioner. Despite a recently broken wrist acquired while doing parkour for Madonna's stage show, Foucan is eager to freerun.

"This isn't a media event," says Exo with a smile, "it's for traceurs, so you'll just have to keep up." Thankfully, Exo is kind enough to provide me with observation points along their run. At the first, I perch on an outcropping of rock above a playground, watching as the traceurs bound over the terrain. Foucan jumps off a dumpster and lands six feet away, on top of a wobbling wooden fence. Other traceurs leap into trees and "tic-tac" from boulder to boulder.

"In parkour, you're only as good as your environment," says 27-year-old stuntman and new parkour practitioner Victor Lopez, watching from atop the giant rock.

"The truth is," counters Mike Zernow, a 19-year-old veteran traceurcharscalex100working with Foucan and Lopez on the Madonna tour, "you can do parkour anywhere."

"That's true," admits Lopez. "But I want to see the big stuff. I want to know there is risk, a 100-foot drop between two rooftops. But Sébastien is old-school. He says it's about the little things you can't really see."

While Exo has chosen a number of parkour hotspots in the park, the best locations are unexpected places along the way. A boulder behind a low wall on Central Park West is a perfect spot to practice turn vaults, gap jumps, wall hops, and quadrupedal movement. Foucan and Zernow both approach the boulder at a run, leap onto it, tic-tac off of it, turn their bodies 90 degrees, and alight on the slanted edge of the much higher pedestrian wall. It's really impressive but evidently not at all intimidating to the newer traceurs, who happily attempt the same move again and again until a number of passersby start to applaud. Foucan smiles at his fellow practitioners.

"It is very, very good," says Foucan in a thick French accent, "to move through the world, to always live with one's passion."

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