Bangkok parkour: See how they run, leap and fly
A gaggle of women are bouncing in unison in front of the main stadium at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus, fueled by an absurd techno beat. If any of them notices they're in the presence of a superhero, they don’t show it. Bangkok’s parkour "Spiderman," meanwhile, is busy scuttling up walls and hopping over rails.
For Shayan Naveed, 24, it's just a walk in the park, something he does two or three times a week.
“A lot of people watch the videos of parkour and they think it’s all about jumping off buildings,” he says. “But there’s more to it than that.”
Parkour, or free running, is a physical activity in which people traverse obstacles in their path in one fluid motion using various athletic skills, such as jumping, vaulting and climbing.
“I started doing this in about 2005 when 'Tom Yum Goong' came out,” says Naveed, who’s studying for his master’s at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) “I was always watching Jackie Chan movies and was fascinated by them. A friend of mine then came over from the U.S. and introduced me to parkour.”
It looks fun on the big screen, seeing the likes of Jackie Chan bust out fancy moves to evade the baddies, but pakour isn’t to be taken lightly, says Naveed, who is equally happy free running by himself or training others.
“I had a guy from Pakistan doing it, but he shattered his shoulder when he tried to jump a gap he’d seen some of us doing,” he adds.
Naveed has seen 90 percent of his parkour pals come and go over the years, many of them quitting once they realize it isn’t all about movie-like action sequences.
“When I first started doing it, it was a lot of fun,” he says. “I wanted to do big gaps and moves. Now it’s become a lot more philosophical. It gets me away from stress. Just getting the fundamentals down is the challenge, building my flow.”
The big moves no longer hold any appeal for Naveed, whose previous injuries include a popped elbow, twisted ankle and numerous cuts and bruises.
Bangkok being the urban jungle it is, Naveed says there are lots of potential parkour spots: the grounds at the Thammasat Rangsit campus are chock full of obstacles, as are parks such as Benjasiri (next to Emporium), Chatuchak and Queen Sirikit (Chatuchak district).
Although Naveed often does parkour solo, he’s always on the hunt for new recruits keen to learn the art of jump. One of Naveed’s current sidekicks is 23-year-old Zuhaib Khan, a fellow AIT student who got a kick out of parkour videos on Youtube and wanted to try it for himself.
“I find it fascinating, but I’m just a beginner,” says gangly Khan. “It’s fun, but when you’re starting, you need some guidance. Some of the moves are easy for me, but others are more dangerous.”
Physical conditioning has an impact on a person’s ability to do parkour, said Naveed, adding that those who come from sporting backgrounds usually find it easier to come to grips with the fundamental aspects of free running, such as balance and agility.
Anyone itching to find out more about parkour can get a glimpse of the action on Naveed’s Youtube account (www.youtube.com/shayan21), which includes a soft drink commercial he appeared in. Those willing to make the leap and give parkour a try can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.