There has been recent chatter in town about the free running antics of a group of radical traceurs and tricksters. They’ve been spotted most frequently on the lawn of the Alcazar doing flips and kicks with such speed that most eyes can’t process exactly what they saw. Here’s a little video done for Drift. Music again from the Ty Williams’ Vault of Future Hits.
Article originally published in Drift Magazine, March 2011
There is a small tribe in town whose members get their jollies from leaping off buildings and other tall places. They climb walls and do flips and other maneuvers typically in the domain of superheroes and ninjas. Just like extraordinary comic book characters, they also have very ordinary aspects to their lives. They are community college students, Target employees, twenty-somethings looking for direction and also complete badasses.
The members of MAZE — Montezz Blackmon, Aaron, Schneider, Zachary Greer-Ferguson and Ernest Pouliotte, have been practicing parkour, martial arts tricking and free running for 3 to 6 years each.
Parkour originated in France and is defined most simply as getting from Point A to Point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Its practitioners are known as traceurs and are often found navigating parts of buildings (such as roofs, walls and window sills) that humans don’t typically traverse.
The group has frequently been spotted on the lawn of the Lightner Museum doing tricking — flips, twists, kicks and combos. Tricking is a hybrid of martial arts maneuvers, gymnastics and break dancing.
The third component of MAZE’s repertoire, free running, is a combination of parkour and tricking. Style and creativity are valued over efficiency so getting from Point A to Point B better look cool.
These various forms of urban acrobatics have been featured in popular films, TV shows and video games. Tron Legacy audiences were treated to the tricking wizardry of Anis Cheurfa while fans of the Office will uncontrollably blurt out “Hardcore Parkour!” every time the subject comes up. Jokes and pop culture references aside, climbing walls and leaping off roofs is undoubtedly hardcore.
How exactly did a couple of guys in Saint Augustine, Florida get into this? Friends. YouTube. Television.
Blackmon first saw parkour on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. “There was a piece on a documentary called Jump Britain, which is about Parkour throughout London. I saw it and went into my backyard and started doing front flips…well…attempting to. I failed many times.”
The worst failure Blackmon has experienced in his practices was landing on the crown of his head at the Fort.
“It didn’t really hurt that bad…once I woke up, I just kept training,” he said.
When Schneider, age 17 and the youngest of the group, saw parkour for the first time on TV, he was recording a program on gymnastics. He had been a successful gymnast for 2 years, winning state level competitions, when he began parkour. That kind of background didn’t hurt the learning process.
“I was definitely fit for it. I had the right build just because a lot of what we do out here is gymnastics, going over obstacles like vaulting.”
The group trains once every few weeks at TNT gymnastics in Jacksonville to practice difficult moves into the safety of a foam pit or onto mats. Once they have a move committed to muscle memory, they take it outdoors.
On the day we meet up for interviewing and filming, the guys warm up at SWING park. Climbing and leaping from various structures, they impressively interpret the playground’s obstacles in their runs. They gradually begin climbing higher, doing larger jumps and demonstrating rolling techniques designed to lessen impact.
At one point, Greer-Ferguson starts running up to a tree and trying to spring a front flip off of it. People most often request to see back flips from these guys but front flips are actually more difficult. When climbing a wall or tree for a back flip, part of the rotation is already completed. For a front flip, extra rotation is needed.
I film several of Greer-Fergusons unsuccessful attempts and falls, nervous that he will injure himself. After a break and viewing the footage, he walks back over to the tree, determined and lands the maneuver for the first time outside of the gym. The group yells “Yes!” in unison and we move on to the City Gates.
A Ponce De Leon impersonator walks by as the guys scope out the gates. Pouliotte effortlessly strides up the ancient coquina walls while Schneider hurls himself from them like a flying squirel. It doesn’t take long for the local law enforcement to stop by and ask us to leave the historical structure alone. This could easily become an environment for argument but the traceurs are complete gentlemen and decide to continue the session at the Lightner Museum.
An exhibition of flatland tricking begins for all of the King Street traffic to view. A laptop provides a soundtrack. We sit down for individual interviews while the other members flip endlessly in the background. A guest at the Casa Monica on a business team building trip walks up and asks one of the guys to flip over her. She lies down in the grass while her team members film or take photos.
Our final location is the back of the museum. The stairs and walls provide the highest structures of the day. Schneider does a frightening hand stand on the edge of a wall while the rest look up from below. He and Greer-Ferguson both make jumps from insane heights, rolling away smooth and unscathed. Schneider’s final feat involves scaling a column and moving laterally via iron rungs and a small window ledge, using only his hands to get to another column. He slides down with a look of panic as city council members approach.