Cambridge Parkour

JOE BATES meets the mysterious men behind the King’s Parade backflips.

ampisound danger district 13 Film free running James Bond joe bates night climber night climbing parkour scott bass Sport traceurs

Parkour is probably the coolest sport in the world. It combines the spectacle of gymnastics and physicality of climbing with the street cred of BMX and dingy beauty of its urban back-drop.

Last year, when this awesome video began doing the rounds on Facebook, it seemed totally incongruous that something quite so cool could be going on in a city quite so lame. “Who were these plucky men of the rooftops?” we all cried. So imagine my excitement when, in the back alley behind Corpus, I came across this intrepid bunch of Cambridge-grown parkour enthusiasts being given a bollocking by a stereotypically tweedy don.


If this article is eating into your allocated procrastination time, prioritise watching this kick-ass video.

But my patronising cognitive dissonance – old, stuffy Cambridge vs edgy, urban parkour – was slightly shattered when, on asking for an interview, I was politely presented with a very professional business card by pro-parkour man Scott Bass. District 13 this is not.

It would seem that Parkour practitioners (traceurs) ae not the devil-may-care, life-at-risk maniacs I always assumed them to be. This is what they were most keen to get across: ‘We’re not daredevil free-fallers. People think we’re risking out lives… They always say ‘Oh you’ll break your neck.’ But it’s incredibly hard to break you neck through parkour.’ ‘I used to get more injuries playing football,’ another chipped in.

I raise the rather obvious point that they’re jumping between buildings. Surely people screw up? ‘I’ve never seen it. If you freak out that bad, you probably wouldn’t be doing it.’ ‘There are very rarely serious injuries,’ Scott emphasises. ‘The most anyone’s really done is a sprained ankle – at the most you might break a shoulder or collarbone. But that’s incredibly rare. The human body is designed to keep you alive. People don’t tend to do stuff that they’re even 50% scared of.’ ‘Injuries come from lack of focus,’ Phil says.

But the end of the video has Phil hanging by his fingernails from a second story window. How did he get back across the gap? ‘I dropped – twice.’ ‘We filmed it twice because he didn’t like the first one,’ Scott chuckles. I asked him if dropping from a second story window hurt, and received my favourite blasé line of the day: ‘I was pretty warmed up at the time.’

All at once, they’re threatening to bring back the daredevil image they’ve been trying so carefully to suppress. But it’s not all big risks, Scott insists. ‘Once you get past a certain height you’ll hurt yourself no matter what – so you get good at judging it.’ Whilst everyone sees the cool stunts and mad backflips, they never see the ‘years and months of training in more secluded areas.’ And it’s a pretty punishing schedule – four seven-hour sessions a week.

I ask if many Cambridge students join them on their jaunts: ‘There’s one, he was meant to be out with us today, but he had too much work.’ But how on earth do people get involved? Surely it requires a very high base level of fitness and gymnastic ability? Once again, I am way out: ‘We can take out people who have no ability at all, and they can access 90% of the place we go to. For training itself, you can start from any level, it scales to what you can.’ In fact, almost none of them knew each other prior to parkour – they all met on the street and got involved from different levels.

They really want people to join them, and asked me to encourage students to give it a go. Particular if they happened to be a Night Climber: ‘We get mistaken for them a lot, when we do what we call “night missions”. But I’d love to meet them – we’d like to get some tips.’