Damien Puddle holds an honours degree in Sport and Exercise Science with his research on the biomechanics of parkour being published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. He is currently completing a PhD at the University of Waikato looking at the development of parkour in New Zealand. He is also the CEO of NZ Parkour, the national governing body for parkour in New Zealand. He has spoken at TEDx Ruakura and was recently asked to speak about parkour’s potential future inclusion in the Olympics, at the New Zealand ‘Agenda 2020 Action Sport Symposium’ funded by the International Olympic Studies centre. He is, it’s fair to say, among the world’s experts on parkour – a discipline and philosophy where practitioners adapt their movement to overcome physical obstacles in their environment.
With Damien’s expertise and unique insights into overcoming obstacles we tracked him down for an interview with Obstacle Racers NZ.
Interview with Damien Puddle
ORNZ: I hear you’ve volunteered for a Tough Guy and Gal, how did you find the experience of being involved in the frontline delivery of a race?
Damien: Yes, that’s right. I helped out with registrations and then I was a marshal on the course at the bottom of a slide. It was great, though I didn’t have to work too hard I just followed instructions.
ORNZ: What would you like NZ Parkour to accomplish in the next three years?
Damien: Ultimately I want NZ Parkour to be even better placed to provide or support parkour opportunities for people around the country, whatever that looks like. That’s pretty vague though. Some of the more concrete things would be inclusion in the Sport NZ investment framework and to have our parkour coaching qualification rolled out.
ORNZ: Coming this year is the first National Parkour and Freerunning competition in New Zealand. However parkour isn’t usually practiced in a competitive or a race format, what do you see as the pros and cons of a parkour competition?
Damien: Parkour is traditionally non-competitive but competition formats are becoming more and more popular – but it’s an area of the subculture that’s contested. The competition is being run by the guys at Honest Parkour and will follow a similar format to what’s becoming the norm in North American competitions. It will have three separate competition styles that represent some of the ways people train parkour:
• Speed (a timed race over obstacles, like OCR but on a significantly shorter course and without any mud)
• Skill (specific parkour challenges with points awarded for the least amount of attempts required to be successful)
• Style (the coolest and most challenging self-choreographed course within a specific time limit with subjective judging similarly to gymnastics and diving – difficulty, execution, impression, etc.).
Pros and cons are hugely subjective and while many people talk about the increase in awareness, revenue, and opportunity to reward athletes, etc. it still remains to be seen whether these things will happen properly and whether they’re ultimately positive for parkour. Most people do parkour because it’s fun, so at the end of the day, a parkour competition is another way for people to enjoy parkour, and that’s a good thing. I know many people who were attracted by parkour because of its non-competitive nature. As parkour competitions become more and more common, it would be awful if the voices, bodies and styles represented in ‘sport parkour’ were seen as the only true/authentic ones, when really there are so many different ways to train and experience parkour that are not embodied in competition. My hope is that all methods of training will be able to co-exist without anything or anyone ruining the fun for others.
ORNZ: You were invited to speak at a symposium regarding parkour’s potential to be in the 2020 Olympics, how would you see parkour working in an Olympic format?
Damien: Mainstream (think organised club sport) is on the decline worldwide, while informal recreation (including action/lifestyle sports like parkour) is on the rise. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) know this as their viewership is in decline. They’re making attempts to change that by catering to younger audiences; manifesting in the inclusion of skateboarding, surfing, and climbing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. So I definitely think it’s possible that parkour could be in the Olympics in the future, as well as OCR, but it’ll be a hard slog for those championing it and it’ll be a very messy process and may look very different to the way many people experience them now. I think the IOC is an old boys’ club who are interested in money more than the improvement/preservation of sport.
I wrote a blog post about my experience at the symposium because there’s so much involved that it’s hard to give a short answer.
ORNZ: If you could give three parkour techniques to be learnt that would most benefit the budding obstacle racer reading this interview, what would they be?
Damien: It’s a bit difficult for me to suggest without having participated in any races myself, but for the more obstacle heavy races I’ve seen, I would think wall runs, step-through vaults and laches would be valuable skills to train. I’m going to cheat and also suggest balance training and precision jumps. Your balance underpins everything you do and most people have shocking balance. I also think training precisions (standing or running jumps with a precise/balanced landing onto an obstacle) is valuable – even if it’s not a common OCR challenge – as they really help you to understand what your max level jumping capacity is.
ORNZ: From your experience coaching parkour, what’re the main physical or mental aspects people could work on to be better at overcoming obstacles?
Damien: In my TEDx talk ‘Familiarity Breeds Confidence’ I talk about two of the main methods we use in parkour to teach ourselves how to overcome challenges, namely breaking (break skills into pieces, practice them in isolation and join them together as you feel comfortable) and scaling (try easier challenges and slowly increase the difficulty). So those are some physical tools that I think are valuable. Mentally – don’t be afraid to look silly. Overcoming obstacles is all about problem solving, but it can be pretty difficult solving the problem the very first time. It’ll require creativity and perseverance, and you may look a bit foolish during the process. But remember, anybody not willing to try and better themselves is the one who’s truly foolish.
ORNZ: Parkour seems to be a young person’s activity, how would someone older go about learning some parkour movements?
Damien: One of the most important things to realise about parkour is that you get to choose everything; you get to choose your obstacles and your physical methods of overcoming them. That means anyone of any age can step outside their door and find somewhere to train. Just remember to make sure the obstacles you find and the methods you choose are safe and appropriate for you.
ORNZ: Where do you see the future of parkour and/or OCR heading in New Zealand?
Damien: I’m sure they will increase in popularity, continue to become more commercialised as well as evolve and diversify. That means there’s a good chance that we’ll also see more overlap between the two activities than there already is.
For more on parkour in New Zealand please visit NZ Parkour.