The Face of Parkour

Aldrin Bulayo / The Pioneer

Amanda Zepeda

Free runner champion Ryan Doyle of England shares his story about being the sport’s poster boy

Free runner Ryan Doyle of Liverpool, United Kingdom is a world champion parkour artist. He and free runner Brian Orosco visited the campus last week to showcase some of their moves and to inspire students to pick themselves up whenever they fall (something Doyle and Orosco do a lot of).

Parkour, a discipline that stresses self-expression through improvised bodily movements using one’s immediate surroundings as a playground, can best be described as an art form.

Much more than just a sport, performed stunts or a show, parkour is a way of life.

The free running activity consists of the human body using surrounding environments to express creativity through jumping, running, vaulting, climbing, swinging, rolling, wall scaling and anything else imaginable to the human mind and body. It is a creative way to design techniques that can be practiced anywhere but preferred in dense areas full of obstacles.

There is no doubt that parkour takes much talent and takes even greater athleticism to pioneer airborne entertainment. But Ryan Doyle, a native free runner (as those who practice parkour are called) from Liverpool, UK, has excelled at bringing parkour to action worldwide, including right here at CSU East Bay.

Doyle, 26, a world champion free runner sponsored by Red Bull, won the 2007 Red Bull Art of Motion Competition. He has also participated in MTV’s “Ultimate Parkour Challenge,” and his stunts can be viewed on YouTube.

For Doyle, parkour has been a lifelong practice.

“All my life I’ve been a free runner. I don’t remember not being one,” said Doyle. “I was one of those crazy kids that was doing it even before it got its name. I was doing back-flips at seven, but I never really took it seriously until I was 18. I started martial arts training at 14 and mixed that with gymnastics, break dancing, and any other type of martial arts movements that involve the body. It found me.”

Just as parkour found Doyle, the free runner finds an outlet of expression and self-exploration within the art.

“It’s a personal art form where everyone has their own style, their own self-expression and their own way of perceiving the environment,” said Doyle. “It’s a reflection of their life.”

“Anything you’ve been subjected to—the friends you have, the movies you watch, the schools you went to—have a contribution to how you’re going to see the world and tackle obstacles,” said Doyle. “Different backgrounds develop different styles. You can’t say this guy is right and the way this guy moves is wrong. You can only say, ‘that works for him, this works for me.’ Nobody’s right or wrong; it’s personal preference and expression.”

Doyle put this expression to public view on Sunday, Feb. 27, when he entered the city of San Francisco for the first time and put his talents to practice. Doyle and other parkour athletes turned Coit Tower, George Sterling Park on Russian Hill, bunkers along the Presidio and The House of Air into playgrounds as they put on shows for spectators, performing various stunts and movements throughout the city.

Of those athletes included San Francisco native and long time free runner Brian Orosco, who is a rising star in the parkour community and has also been seen on several shows, including the Conan O’Brien show.
“Parkour, for me, is amazing,” said Orosco.

“Being out in the city with these guys, seeing their own techniques and how their style is different from my style, is great. This city is a great stage for parkour and it’s an honor to be experiencing it with Ryan Doyle.”

The following day, both Doyle and Orosco continued their parkour tour by visiting CSUEB and giving students a mental break from classes by showing their talents and techniques in front of the Recreation and Wellness (RAW) Center on Monday, Feb. 28.

Doyle’s advice for students and anyone else facing obstacles is to learn from your mistakes.

“I’m always falling,” said Doyle. “But you just learn from those mistakes. By learning from them, you obtain progress, which makes it all worth it.”

The world champion has had his share of experience with mistakes throughout his career, and some have even been costly to his body.

Doyle has artificial ligaments and screws in his left shoulder, a titanium rod in his left leg, has had broken fingers, has calcium build-up on his wrist, cracked chest plates, and has even needed to replace some teeth.

The recovery time for injuries is never quick, but for Doyle, it’s never too long either, as he always seeks to get back to the airborne entertainment.

“I take parkour to an extreme level. It’s a career for me, so sometimes I’ve just got to do it because it’s how I make a living. Although it’s probably a lot safer if you do it as a hobby,” said Doyle, with a chuckle.

“When people fall and they pick themselves up and they say ‘I’m never trying that again’, my sarcastic response is ‘what, you’re better off now, you know how not to do it, so you’re just going to give up?’ You just got to keep at it.”

Doyle seeks to keep at it until the next generation of parkour athletes takes over where the first generation—including Doyle and Orosco—leave it off.

There is no textbook example of what the art of free running and parkour should be. It’s about being creative and exploring what the human body is capable of.

“As a parkour athlete, I’m constantly in the habit of overcoming obstacles, said Doyle.

“When you do that jump, you’ve got to overcome it mentally as well as physically. When it comes to achieving goals in life, anything that stands in your way, take it as a challenge that you have to get past to get to your destination.”