Mn Parkour turns Twin Cities into obstacle course

It's like skateboarding without the skateboard

City Pages--MN Parkour from Black Iris Media on Vimeo.

A young man stands on a 10-foot concrete wall, staring at the imposing drop to the concrete below. The buzz begins to build as more passersby join the crowd, curious as to what type of spectacle is about to take place.

"Is that guy going to jump off?" one little boy asks his dad as they stop to watch the scene unfold at Minneapolis's Peavey Plaza.

A few feet away three teenage girls stare silently—one grabs her camera phone to capture whatever is about to happen. While no one is saying it out loud, everyone is wondering if they're about to start off their Sunday afternoon by watching this guy break his neck.

Then, it happens.

The man leaps off the wall, touches down like a cat, and tucks his body into a front roll before hopping back to his feet and executing a standing front flip. He takes off running through the plaza, jumping from ledge to ledge, executing aerial twists and other gymnastic stunts.

Finally, he runs up the steps into the crowd of spectators, all of whom are now applauding his incredible feat of athleticism.

A few moments later, the rest of the group joins in, leaping from one point to the next, bouncing off of railings and back-flipping on to the concrete below. The older members of the group are taking turns videotaping each other's moves while advising the younger kids on how to properly perform their own leaps and rolls. To the casual observer, the entire scene is like one gigantic Jackie Chan movie, or an urban Cirque du Soleil (only Cirque usually doesn't have homeless guys sleeping in the background).

But for the members of Mn Parkour, this is just another Sunday.

Originated in France back in the 1980s, parkour is a physical discipline where participants run along a route, attempting to negotiate obstacles in the most efficient way possible using only their bodies. Over the past several years, the sport has become increasingly popular thanks to TV shows like MTV's Ultimate Parkour Challenge and Jump City Seattle. A quick search of the word "parkour" on YouTube brings up hundreds of videos with millions of views, featuring traceurs—the official name for parkour athletes, derived from a Parisian slang word meaning "to hurry or move quickly"—flipping off of lifeguard stands and leaping from highway overpasses, and one guy in full Santa Claus gear running up a wall.

While the best traceurs are typically European, the U.S. has been churning out some pretty solid wall-jumping, freerunning superstars of our own in recent years. Because of the nature of parkour, the sport has considerably picked up in major urban areas like Seattle, San Francisco, and...Eagan, Minnesota.


THE CURRENT FORM of parkour was invented by a man named David Belle. He's the son of a military firefighter, and his father felt it was important he know how to successfully navigate out of dangerous situations. It was those underlying principles that sparked David's imagination, and ultimately led him to create a military obstacle course that included rope climbing, balancing on wooden beams, and more. He combined this training with his love of Bruce Lee movies, and Lee's approach to martial arts that embraced adaptability and evolution, in order to create the modern-day model for parkour.

While Eagan may not seem like it belongs in this conversation, Minnesota is quickly becoming a hotbed of parkour in the States, and Eagan is at the center of the action thanks to a guy named Chad Zwadlo.

A few weeks before the big outdoor training session, a group of parkour enthusiasts gathered at Gleason's Gymnastic School, where every Saturday night they practice their moves in an open setting. Standing off to the side, looking inconspicuous in a black hoodie and running pants, stands Zwadlo. With him is Mitch "Skinny" Andrejka, slightly younger and with a freshly gelled Mohawk. As they chat, a group of guys are critiquing one another as they perform back flips, mid-air twists, and other flashy moves. In another corner, a group of young teens are working on leaps and flips, while stopping occasionally to watch the more polished traceurs do their thing.

One young man, maybe 14, walks up to Zwadlo and Skinny with a special request.

"Chad, can you help me with my back flip?" he asks.

"Depends," Zwadlo says. "Can you do a back flip?"

"Yes. On the trampoline I can."

"Go do one on the trampoline—without jumping—and if you can do it I'll help you," he responds, as the kid quickly rushes off.

"This is the only time I get worried about people getting hurt doing parkour," Zwadlo says as he eyes the kid apprehensively. "You get beginners who aren't ready to do certain moves, trying crazy stuff they saw online and spraining their ankles or something stupid."

"Yeah, but isn't that how we learned it?" Skinny interjects.

Zwadlo shrugs his shoulders. The kid on the trampoline sets up for his big move. He jumps...and face-plants.

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One Eyed Jacks
One Eyed Jacks

Very Cool! If fact, that's the only cool import come from France in a long time.

Alex De Marco
Alex De Marco

Please never refer to these guys as skateboarders without skateboards again!!!

I'd be embarrassed if I were those guys. I'd also be scared to walk around a group of skateboarders after comparing myself to a skateboarder if I were them.

To each his own, but never compare skateboarding and jumping around on your feet again. They are simply nothing alike.

City Pages, I have been disgusted with your writers lately. Everything from the Hiawatha article you did a couple years back to this has been terrible and inaccurate. Please hire some trained writers or at least put the same disclaimer that The Onion uses on your articles. They are uninformed, unimaginative, inaccurate, and boring. Please do something to change this.

Out n about
Out n about

For being a part of an alternative community that is co-labeled as an "extreme sport" you seem to show a very short sighted perspective. The comparison to skateboarding is just a contextual comparison, most people need a reference point to even understand why people do extreme sports, it doesn't make sense to a "rational person."

True, they are not the same, but deride it is laughable considering you have an inside take on the challenge and committment it takes to master a seemingly useless talent that best describes most extreme sports.

simple argument is 2 points:

1) when one starts a new activity they aren't as good as when they gain mastersy. You couldn't do a kick flip well, a grind, a nose press, or even a manual for longer than 10 feet probably. But now? Maybe you have mastery, style, and skill to make things look good.

Compare that to a beginner at a parkour versus a professional.

2) If you would try to do the moves that professional traceurs (parkourists) do, you would break your legs ankles and everything else involved. Physically and mentally you wouldn't have the discipline to replicate their technique. And as for impressiveness? Tell me someone jumping from a 25ft drop without a scratch isn't without notice.

K thnx, division among outliers only reinforces the status quo. Figure out who your allies are rather than becoming their champion -- to make it controversial, see pedagogy of the oppressed.


Excellent. A lot of community development happening with these guys and gals. From expert practicioners, middle aged enthusiasts, younglings and family recreation - the MN Parkour Meetups are a great way to enjoy yourself. Families take notice, this is a personal and youth development opportunity to keep your kids healthy and motivated for something more than media driven entertainment! See Fight or Flight academy as it opens.

Skateboarding is a great cultural comparison in that it represents action without necessity - parkour is a creative ideal not a requirement with our concrete streets and rapid transportation systems. It differs from the current trend in extreme sports though in that it is still emergent and as such not a financially driven venture. Going that way, but still young enough to hold the heart of sincere practicioners more than sponsor seeking guns.

It'll trend that way soon as its popularity continues to rise in world. For the moment however it is a low competition and highly supportive communal environment. I encourage everyone interested to attend a meetup,

Big congrats, especially to the heads of the group as they venture out on their own in a non-profit. Safe training.

Goksu Akguc
Goksu Akguc

I wanna see more difficult moves being done!

Alex De Marco
Alex De Marco

Moves? You mean jumps? I'd like to see these guys jump into the river!!!!!!!!!!!


Very cool. I'd heard about this before but didn't know it was happening in Mpls. I know where I'm going this Sunday.

One thing, though--your subtitle for the article reads "It's like skateboarding without the skateboard." I'm not an expert on parkour, but from what I know about it, that seems like a reductive misrepresentation. I assume you spent a good deal of time researching parkour and talking to the participants, so it surprises me that you used the same phrase that laymen have been using to describe "freestyle walking" since the '90s. No disrespect to skaters, but parkour seems like more of an art form.


While I admit I have little knowledge of parkour other than watching youtube clips and District B-13, I would say after reading this article that this sport is very similar to skateboarding in a lot of ways. The emphasis on finding lines through a particular terrain, as well as the notion of competing against yourself and not others. Most of the best street skaters do not partake in competition skating, just as it sounds like most of the best traceurs abstain from competing. The "jam" described sounds just like a skateboarding session, where you are your friends help each other learn new tricks and push each other to progress.

I didn't mean to call you out or anything but the similie was pretty apt and most people who are into street skating would consider it to be an art form for many of the same reasons.


Thanks for shedding some light. I see the similarities as far as the social, organizational, and aesthetic aspects go. I guess I was talking more about the physical act itself. The subtitle would make it seem like parkour is an offshoot of skateboarding when it's derived more from martial arts. And I didn't mean that skateboarding isn't an art form at all, just that on the spectrum between sport and art, it leans a bit more toward sport (in the opinion of this non-skateboarder anyway, so take that as you will).

Alex De Marco
Alex De Marco

Skateboarding and jumping around like idiots can not be compared. This is anything but art - more like random jumping and running. Skateboarders get hurt, bleed, feel pain, and can do cool looking tricks with an object not connected to our feet. How hard is it to jump on a statue and then jump off while looking like a hipster? Get some balls guys.

Eric Crazyman Reynolds
Eric Crazyman Reynolds

you both are correct, although there is one main difference between skateboarding and parkour. parkour is meant as a useful practice. it is about finding a way to move efficiently through an environment, no matter what the obstacle is. Skateboarding is about executing difficult moves, and generally just for show. it is not practical to do a kickflip off a ledge while getting away from someone. it is practical to kong a picnic table and run up a wall. this is where freerunning comes in. freerunning is exactly like skateboarding without a skateboard. i appreciate the exposure that parkour will receive from this article, but as a tracuer, and more recently, a freerunner, I feel that if a major newspaper is going to represent parkour/freerunning, it should represent them correctly. p.s. no disrespect is meant to either of you.

Chad Zwadlo
Chad Zwadlo

We don't actually go to Peavey Plaza every Sunday. This weekend we're actually having a jam at Gleason's Gymnastics School. If you join you can see where we'll be and when and you can come out and train with us!

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