Leaping between high-rise buildings with no safety net and no protection may seem to be the folly of somone with a death wish, but when photographer Damien Schumann and I met up with the athlete pioneering this extreme, urban sport in South Africa, we discovered he's anything but foolish.
He is cat-like. He does handstands on the edge of a concrete block while talking. He jumps over the railings of the pedestrian bridge in Heerengracht Street in Cape Town's busy central business district, lands effortlessly on the concrete block and then he's off again. He slide-walks on all fours on the railing of the bridge at its highest point while numerous lanes of cars are whooshing by underneath him.
We're watching Dane Grant, South African founder of the relatively new city sport called parkour, in action in his natural habitat: the urban landscape.
"Parkour is essentially the scenes that Jackie Chan uses between fights. He'll fight here and he'll fight there, but it's all linked together by parkour scenes with flips, stunts and movements mixed into the fights," explains Grant.
Traceurs -- those who do parkour -- have been described as "urban acrobats who use the city landscape as an adult playground" while they're running, vaulting, climbing, jumping, back flipping, cat leaping and hanging onto man-made obstacles, all with no harnesses or safety nets. In fact, the only gear traceurs (also called freerunners) use is a decent pair of trainers.
It may sound almost like a death wish, but when Grant talks about his passion, it seems there is a method to what looks like madness.
"It is a very calculated risk. There's a lot of effort that goes into the preparation before you do anything that's remotely dangerous -- a lot of safety gets planned into any jump, it's not just a bunch of stunts."
On his blog, he describes the process before a jump:
"There are a few physical things I like to do in the lead-up just before the 'Yes!' moment on any jump, and many of these happen quite quickly the more jumps you do. Guess/check the distance; check the landing surface; check shoes; check injuries, if any; acknowledge main risks and work on minimizing them.
"Then it's time to focus and cut out the distractions. Sounds, people, doubts, cameras. Now that your mind is a bit quieter, ask yourself why you want to do this jump. All these things lead toward building confidence. Next, I need to believe I can do it and remove the final excuses. Now, you're at the point where you trust your gear, worked through the obstacles, believe in yourself, and ready to go ... but you've not gone yet. There's one final point. For me, it's the 'Yes' moment. The point of no return. The one word you'll hear me say under my breath as I take that first step mere moments after answering a few questions ... Can I do this? Will I land it? Will it be my best effort? Yes!"
Obstacle course Parkour has had many influences, its earliest being that of the Natural Method. Georges H