Roots parkour aims high
Beaverton academy leader tries to corral commercialization of bounding sport
Years ago, sports like surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding were considered extreme, dangerous, part of the rebellious youth culture.
Now, they're just a way of life for many teens, as well as Gen Xers and beyond.
In much the same way, the emerging sport of parkour is quickly infiltrating the international youth scene, and Portland - a city that loves alternative ways of recreating - is about to play a major role.
At its roots, parkour was developed as a training method for the French Army, to overcome urban obstacles like stairwells, railings and walls by jumping, climbing and vaulting.
Since made famous on the big screen by 'Casino Royale' in 2006, parkour has forever changed the way stunts are performed in action movies.
It's gone viral on YouTube, with amateurs and professionals flaunting their own tricks. There are also parkour shoes, games, clothing lines and at least two parkour challenge-based TV shows.
With so much exposure, 24-year-old Adam Dunlap - a Beaverton native and five-year parkour 'traceur,' as they're called - is trying to stop the sport from selling out.
'As it becomes bigger and bigger, it becomes more and more important to figure out the direction,' Dunlap says. 'The more commercialized the discipline gets, the more people take liberties with it, the trickier it is to corral it.'
To that end, Dunlap - who founded an indoor parkour gym in Beaverton in 2008 - is in Paris, where he's meeting with his friend and mentor David Belle, the Frenchman credited with founding parkour in the late 1990s.
Just as Belle spurred parkour on the international level, Dunlap has helped guide it on the domestic scene. The two are spending time on and off this year discussing the expansion of parkour, and how to keep it true to its original philosophy even as it's been hyped up in an X Games, stuntman-ish way for mass appeal.
'Parkour has become the 'it' word for what you see in these movements, but unfortunately parkour is founded by David Belle - true parkour,' Dunlap told the Tribune shortly before he left for Europe.
'There's been some perversion of the word,' he adds, referring to the overlap between parkour and free running - an extension of the discipline that involves more flair. Think flips that look graceful but are just for fun, not part of a direct line of movement.
Parkour, on the other hand, is a string of organic movements done with 'absolute purpose,' Dunlap explains. 'The training is specific movements, like a jump, landing or vault. To train to be useful one day if we need it we use it.'
Tribune Photo: Christopher Onstott • Morgan Dubois takes a flying leap over some cushy blocks during a practice at Beaverton's Revolution Parkour academy one spring afternoon. Interest in parkour is skyrocketing, thanks to TV and movies -- but some local leaders want to keep the discipline true to its original form.
While TV shows might make it look all about fun and competition, parkour is serious business for Dunlap - a means of personal expression and focus.
His devotion comes in part because parkour was a major part of his life transformation five years ago.
As a freshman at Oregon State University, he began having abdominal troubles and was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, a painful intestinal condition for which there's no cure.
His doctors put him on pills for three years but he continued to have flare-ups, so he did his own research on how diets can improve Crohn's sufferers. The simple diet includes no processed foods, dairy or sugar, but lots of protein, fresh produce and sprouted wheat bread. He also stopped the medication and has been symptom-free for three years.
Along with improving his diet, Dunlap knew he needed to gain some physical strength so he joined a gymnastics club at OSU where others were practicing parkour.
There he found his calling, and schooled himself in every aspect of parkour.
'For a while I did it only at night, with nobody around,' he says.'Then I realized it was impressive and it didn't really matter any more.'
Dunlap says that while his parkour was deeply personal, he found himself wanting to become a professional parkour athlete.
So after graduating from Oregon State with a business degree in just three years, he returned to Beaverton and got a couple of jobs that led to him opening Revolution Parkour in 2008.
At first the studio was part of Adapt fitness studio in Beaverton, then Dunlap moved it to its own 5,000-square-foot location. Soon after he started a parkour clothing company, 'Take Flight,' which sells lightweight T-shirts and other gear online. The sport has especially large followings in Australia and Europe and Russia.
Dunlap's latest project is the soon-to-debut TV show, which he's been filming for the past two years in exotic locales like Hawaii, Miami and the Bahamas.
Unlike two shows on the air - 'Jump City: Seattle' on the G4 network and MTV's 'Ultimate Parkour Challenge' - this show will showcase parkour in the style of David Belle, he says.
Dunlap says his mission is to make sure the show differentiates between what's 'dangerous and cool' and what is fluid, direct motion true to the roots of the sport.
Adults having recess
On a recent afternoon at Revolution Parkour, 13-year-old Carter Kruse was swinging from the scaffolding as part of his daily workout.
He's only been at it for seven months, but he can already scale giant walls and bound from here to there like some of his favorite superheroes. 'I kind of aspired when I was younger to being a ninja or Power Ranger,' Kruse says.
About 90 percent of the academy's members are boys, and most are between 10 and 20, but there are also moms and dads trying it out as as a crosstraining method or a unique family activity for age six and up.
'It's like flying,' says Wendy Dubois, 42, who's learning parkour along with her two kids and husband. 'Where else can an adult go and jump over anything?'
Instructor Chris Miller, 34, says he takes the lessons step-by-step, using the forces of momentum and the legs as natural springs.
'All Parkour is doing is doing what you did when you were a kid,' he says. 'It's like adults having recess again.'
The facility resembles a large playground, with ropes to swing from, a variety of wooden vaults, rubber tires and half a dozen 'par cubes' - simulated walls of varying heights, from six to 12 feet tall.
Dunlap proudly touts that it's one of the largest and oldest parkour gyms in the country.
The idea of practicing parkour indoors might sound strange, given its urban roots.
When the weather allows, they use the city as their playground.
'We don't see people that have been in mainstream sports,' Dunlap says. 'They say, 'I've never fit in those sports, but in Parkour I can be me.' '