Sweaty and laughing, with hands callused from colliding with stucco walls and concrete slabs, undeclared Brandon Rodrigues (first-year) stands by the Gilman Fountain. He is joined by undeclared Emiliano Vargas (first-year) who is in the same condition as Rodrigues. What started as a five minute study break outside Stewart-Cleland Hall turned into a three-hour parkour session involving jumping off walls and doing backflips and handstands.
Rodrigues started practicing parkour as a first-year in high school at the recommendation of a friend. According to Rodrigues, parkour and free running are about getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible with a strong element of liberated physicality.
“[Rodrigues’ friend] asked me to come out and train one day and I was hooked, ” Rodrigues said.
Vargas embraced the parkour culture when he met Rodrigues at the beginning of the school year. The two are now hoping to start a club on campus to encourage friends and peers to join their alternative adventures. While the official club is still in the works, Rodrigues and Vargas have started a Facebook page to form an unofficial group.
Parkour was originally thought up as a military discipline used for obstacle course training; nowadays, however, it has evolved into a recreational activity closely associated with free running.
“In general it is a good stress reliever. I find a lot of freedom doing free running in figuring out how your body moves and knowing your limits and then expanding your limits by getting better and stronger,” Rodrigues said.
On a typical excursion, or “free run,” Rodrigues and Vargas start in Sycamore Glen, sprint up the stairs to the walls by Emmons Health Center, spring and flip behind Haines Hall and end at the Gilman Fountain. They seek out pieces of campus terrain to run, jump or flip, depending on who is watching.
Administrative personal communicated with Rodrigues and Vargas to ensure that they executed the practice of their hobby as safely as possible. Vargas explained that according to their discussions with the Intercultural Community Center, it is not against school policy to run across Occidental’s Spanish-tiled rooftops.
“Basically we can’t sue the school if we get injured because of what we’re doing. That’s all we need a waiver for,” Rodrigues said.
Vargas and Rodrigues practice parkour regularly and explain that they have had friends free run with them in the past. They jokingly acknowledged that their third roommate, undeclared Frank Hernandez (first-year), no longer joins them due to a previous flipping accident.
“He’s on the bench for a while. He’s JV,” Vargas said.
Both emphasize that if and when they get more beginners involved, students can start on any level and take things slow. Although unrelated to Rodrigues and Vargas’s hobby in particular, assistant professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies James Ford III began casually teaching capoeira, a dance martial art, on campus at the beginning of the year. He too has embraced a “take it slow” mentality that has proven very successful.
“We always start with falling and rolling. They are the two main things you need to know before you can actually start doing stuff. That way you know how to save yourself if you do fall,” Rodrigues said.
To further encourage newcomers, Vargas and Rodrigues have booked sessions at Tempest Freerunning Academy, located south of Los Angeles in Hawthorne, which have padded walls and flooring. They noted that the safe environment is a great place for beginners to get their footing.
“Conquering your fears is a huge part of what we do. It’s really scary flipping off of stuff. But if you get it down then you feel really great about yourself,” Vargas said.
According to Rodrigues and Vargas, parkour creates a noncompetitive community that motivates individuals to exercise in a fun and exciting way. They believe intrigued students and faculty alike would not only gain insight into their personal health and physicality through practicing parkour. In addition, they hope to form relationships and a sense of trust they may not have otherwise developed.
“You don’t have to be great to start. You have to start to be great,” Rodrigues said.