Back to the Homeland – A brief trip to North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C.

After traveling around the world for more than a year I returned home to the USA to spend a few months getting to know parkour in my own country.  One of the unique things about my experience with parkour is that all of my training experience to this point has been abroad.  Over the course of the trip, a lot of people ave asked me about the parkour scene in the USA, and each time I have had to respond with a rather sheepish “I don’t know, I’ve never trained there”.

So one of the first things that I wanted to do when I got back was to check out how the parkour scene was in my home country.  Since it was the end of October and starting to get cold up in the New England area where I’m from, I decided to keep with the summer theme of the past year and head south.  Over the course of the month-long “mini road trip” I reunited with old friends from university, connected with parkour people that I'd "met" over the internet, and trained with people in a number of cities.  While some places differed drastically from my preferred method of training and the philosophy that I had encountered in Europe, I found many kindred spirits in my travels, and had great experiences in the places detailed below.

I started my trip in Charlotte, North Carolina where I had previous knowledge and contacts with the Charlotte Parkour group.  North Carolina seems to have an especially developed scene and North Carolina parkour has existed for a  number of years to provide a forum for traceurs around the region.  The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) has a campus that is great for training and the few days that I spent there only allowed me to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of the spots available.  The city of Charlotte has much fewer spots and in keeping with the American love of the automobile, is designed to be traversed by car, which makes walking between spots a bit of a training challenge in and of itself.

I then traveled to Durham, North Carolina where I met up with Duncan Germain, probably better known as “TK17” who showed me around Chapel Hill, Greensboro and Durham.  Chapel Hill, the home of UNC Chapel Hill (one of the largest universities in the US) is a Mecca for parkour and has a ton of great spots.  Training with Duncan and his friends allowed me to see a number of the better spots and I ended up returning for a day to try to document some of the more impressive ones.

Greensboro was also a great place to train and we spent an evening getting to know some of the better spots, most of which you can see here in Duncan’s video “Go” (the rather long explanation at the beginning of the video also may explain why I liked training with Duncan so much).

After North Carolina I headed north to Virginia to check out the scene at Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia (UVA).  While UVA keeps with the American university tradition of large grandiose buildings with lots of handicap access ramps, stairs, and “useless” architectural elements that make good parkour spots, the scene was not as developed as it had been in the North Carolina schools, although it looks like a UVA Parkour group is making a comeback.  While I had been hoping to visit Richmond to visit with the Richmond parkour group, my itinerary didn’t allow it and I continued north to DC.

The nation’s capital turned out to have a very developed scene, and actually included 2 very well-outfitted gyms in the metro area (although one is technically in Alexandria, Virginia).  The first gym that I visited, Urban Evolution, is a brand-new gym that has perhaps one of the coolest decoration schemes that I’ve seen out of all the parkour gyms that I’ve visited.  It also had the most unique set of obstacles and things to jump around on, many of which were inspired by "American Ninja Warrior" and are used in the regular ANW challenge nights that are hosted there.  The day there passed in a blur of movement and bouncing around I really enjoyed the time that I spent with the owner, Salil, and the other guys at the gym.

The next gym that I visited was owned by American Parkour, and is based in the center of DC.  I spent a day and a half hanging out at the gym, seeing how things are done there, training on their great scaf set-up, and talking with the owner, Mark Toorock (aka M2) and the other members of the APK team.  It was good to see the company behind the impressive internet presence, and meet some of the guys that make up the APK team.  Seeing some of the grass-roots level things that are at the foundation of the APK company, like the mentoring program for at-risk youth, where the gym itself is located, and regular community events that are held at the gym did a lot for my confidence in the US parkour scene as well.  Unfortunately, my visit didn’t allow me to see any of the outdoor spots in DC, (some might argue that therefore I didn’t see any real parkour) which was a shame since I heard a lot of good things about some of the spots there (especially about the Georgetown campus- yet another American university parkour paradise according to many).  That being said, from what I saw at the indoor faculties, I'm definitely looking forward to a return visit to see the outdoor ones.

While my visit to many of these cities only allowed me brief glimpses of the parkour scenes therein, I came home at the end of the trip with a much better picture of the way the sport has developed in the US and where it is headed.  As much as I had hoped to find a conflict-free parkour scene in my own country, I found that "parkour-drama" is as widespread in the American scene as it is elsewhere,.  However, I also learned that in general, American college and university campuses are often the perfect training areas and I'm looking forward to exploring more in the future.  Also, despite my fears of my countryman's tendency to "over-commercialize" everything, many of the groups that I visited have resisted the pressures to continue training in their interpretations of what the guys in Paris started 20 years ago.

For more pictures and videos from my trip go to: