Which is the better sign that an extreme sport has hit the mainstream: when it has its own video game or when it's featured in a James Bond movie? Parkour—which generally is considered to have started in France in the 1990s, led by a gymnast named David Belle—already has achieved both, in the thrilling footrace that kicked off 2006's Casino Royale and Mirror's Edge, one of this holiday season's hottest video games.
Also referred to as "freerunning," parkour draws its inspiration from one of the most basic premises of geometry: the fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line. Especially if that line involves running up walls and vaulting over any other obstacle that gets in your way. After a slow start, the activity is finally starting to catch on in the States, with clubs popping up across the country, from Rochester, N.Y., to Kansas City, Mo. At Virginia Tech, for example, the student parkour club now has around 60 active members.
So, how can you get started in parkour?Slowly, according to sage counsel from American Parkour, one of the leading freerunning resources in the nation. Its incredibly helpful website, americanparkour.com, offers detailed explanations (with pictures) of how to perform basic steps such the somersault-like rolling, which is essential for preventing falls from causing injuries. ("It may sound lame, but personally I'd much rather take a week to learn how to roll than break my leg being a newbie superman," the group explains.)
The forums of American Parkour are also a good place to network and find other "traceurs," as the sport's practitioners are called, in your area. You'll want to work out withothers to refine your skills and expand your repertoire under the guidance of more experienced runners. Another common way traceurs pick up new moves is through browsing the numerous parkour videos on YouTube. But be warned: The most popular clips are usually the most advanced moves, well beyond the reach of most newbies.