If you're anything like me, you want me to be Spider-Man so bad it hurts. Not in a movie, mind you. I've already come to terms with the fact that every year that I get older and balder, I get farther and farther away from realistically playing Spider-Man in a movie (unless somewhere down the line they make a Spider-Man: Reign movie, which they really shouldn't). Since I'll never play Peter Parker in the Edgar Wright-directed Spider-Man movie that exists in my head and is awesome, I strive to be as Spider-Man-esque as I can be, here in real life. In my earlier years, this involved being nerdy, chasing chicks with the initials "MJ" and (in a move that was decidedly "un-Spider-Man-like" in its ignorance of biology), eating a whole lot of spiders. After several years of this, having gained nothing but two restraining orders and the courage of several dozen spiders, I decided to focus all of my energy on acquiring Spider-Man-like levels of speed, agility and stuff-climbing.
I knew this would involve training, but I didn't know what kind of training. I'd been to gyms before, but none of them taught me how to climb up walls and jump from rooftop to rooftop and dive through things and so forth. Then, in 2006, Casino Royale came out and, with an incredible opening scene, introduced me to parkour. It's the scene where James Bond spends eight minutes sprinting after Other Guy through a city -- leaping from buildings, diving through windows, crashing through walls. That scene.
Parkour (sometimes called "freerunning"), involves "traversing mainly urban landscapes by running, climbing and jumping." There are tons of awesome parkour videos all over the Internet. I wanted to get in on it so bad, but I didn't want my first attempts at jumping off a building to happen, you know ... on a real building, or anything. I wanted a place to go where I could learn how to jump off a building in a safe environment. Then the Tempest Freerunning Academy opened, and I knew where I needed to go, and what I needed to do:
So not long ago, I signed up for Tempest, because everyone in that video could flip ...
... and climb ...
... and swing ...
... and Spider-Man all over the damn place without dying. I assumed that, if I was a member of that academy, I would also be able to do all of those things. Yes, I thought to myself. Parkour. Peter Parkour ...
While the Tempest Freerunning Academy itself is freaking awesome, it turns out "signing up for a thing" isn't interchangeable with "being immediately good at a thing." There was a lot of stuff that I wasn't anticipating. For example ...
People Are Watching You
Back in that Tempest video I posted, did you happen to notice anything in the background of that one dude's awesome flips?
Look there. Just past the flipping, past the wall, past the Mario-inspired obstacle course.
That's a raised platform with seats. You can see the whole gym from those seats, they're designed for spectators who are looking for a show. People -- parents, girlfriends, friends, random folks -- are free to just hang out there and watch everyone else flip and jump and, in my case, attempt to flip and jump. They're up there, watching, always. When I embarrass myself at a regular gym, I take comfort in the fact that everyone's so focused on their own routines that they won't even notice me at my sweatiest, reddest and cursingest. I imagine gym membership in general would go down if every gym allowed casual fitness fans opportunities to show up and silently observe you while you worked out.
"Oh, no, I'm not a member I just really ... really like the way your muscles contract."
Also, it's no secret that parkour is freaking awesome, which explains why every time I've gone to Tempest, multiple people have had cameras. Always. They show up just to catch some awesome parkour action on film and post it to the Internet. Last weekend, one guy walked around asking people if they were about to do anything impressive. He saw me, staring at set of bars with the focused glare of a seasoned warrior (or an idiot. Both glares, it turns out, are identical.).
"Are you about to do something impressive," he asked me.
"You tell me," I whispered Bruce Willisly, "are you impressed by this?!" And then I slipped on my own puddle of sweat, fell backwards and got my arm caught in a trampoline.
"I very much am not," he said, closing his lens cap and walking away.
"If you were just going to hang upside down and cry, you should have told me. I can't believe I wasted batteries on this."
"This has just been an amuse-bouche, buddy, you ain't seen nothing yet," I called after him. "Just wait 20minutes; I'm going to pull my back out and shit myself."
There's Nowhere To Hide
If you go to a regular gym, there are a number of ways you can sort of do nothing, or do very little, without anyone noticing. You can lift just a small amount of weight, or you can dick around on a treadmill or bike at a very slow speed, or do yoga, or, honestly, spend a few minutes in the sauna and then just walk around looking tired and sweaty. People will always assume you just got finished doing a particularly difficult exercise.
"Nah, just at the gym. Of course I'm working out; you should see how sweaty my shirt is. I'm exhausted.
Tempest is essentially a giant warehouse full of ramps, bars, a trampoline, walls and mats, like an enormous, adult Discovery Zone for ninjas. It's all out in the open, and there isn't a lot of room for non-spectators to sit. If you're just standing around, people will see you. And you can't stand anywhere for too long, anyway. Very often, people will map out elaborate freerunning routes that involve the entire gym. No matter where you're standing, eventually someone is going to want to flip there. Because everyone who goes here is one serious-ass flipping motherfucker.
So you'd better not be in the way. But you will be, because the whole thing about parkour is that EVERYTHING is an obstacle, and you are encouraged to use every inch of the gym for your climbing, jumping, flipping and embarrassing-Daniel needs. I have this kind of interaction a lot, whenever I try to stay out of the way:
Person: Excuse me, are you going to do anything on that wall?
Me: I'm just- I don't- Not really- I'm, like, just looking at it right now, trying to find out what kind of ... how to do it. What sort of angle I should take when I do ... something, at this wall. And if I should, maybe, use hands? Or feet? On it? I don't- We don't have walls at my other gym, or we do, but they're not part of anyone's routine, ever, they just do ... like, wall stuff. So I guess- No, I'm not going to do anything on this wall, because I don't actually understand the question.
Person: Well I'm going to run up that wall and do a back flip off it.
Me: That sounds good, you should do that. I'm just going to go lean on this pole over here, out of your way.
Other Person: Hey, you doing anything with that pole? I was about to walk straight up it, using a method that I understand, somehow.
Me: That's cool. I was probably just going to go ... sit on a toilet until the gym closes.
Third Person: I'm actually next for the toilet, I'm gonna do handstands on it, maybe flush it with my delts or whatever.
Me: Cool. Very cool.