Free running: Do you have what it takes?

 Englishman Ryan Doyle is one of many high flyers in the free-running world. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool
Englishman Ryan Doyle is one of many high flyers in the free-running world. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool

We’ve seen the gravity-defying stunts before: jumps from buildings, ground flips and acrobatics, running up walls. It all seems a bit superhuman. This is free running, an expressive form of the parkour discipline, and it is an impressive display of athleticism that has taken root in cities around the world.

There’s a renegade undertone associated with the sport—that perhaps law enforcement decided humans weren’t meant to achieve such athletic feats—but it is also a growing fitness trend. Combining balance, coordination, strength, and cardio, free running offers an unparalleled workout. And while it may seem a daunting learning curve, it’s easy (and cheap) to get involved, according to world-renowned free runner Ryan Doyle.

Doyle has been a leading member of the free-running community since early on, winning several Red Bull Art of Motion competitions and a handful of awards for his online edits. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, the Englishman helped start the World Parkour and Freerunning Federation and established his own training facility, the Airborn Academy, earlier this year. GrindTV caught up with Doyle to learn more about his career in free running and what it takes to get involved with the growing parkour movement.

How did you get into free running?
I was a martial arts tricking champion and it was my students that introduced me to parkour—the efficient way to move. I later adopted a free-running style combining tricking and acro. This was back when free running didn't have a solid definition, so there [were] plenty of undiscovered movements, and this was the main reason I enjoyed it.

Why do you enjoy it?
It was a new way of looking at things with a massive sense of freedom. I can walk into a location, look around, and in seconds feel a sense of security, freedom; [I] can tell you the fastest way to escape, and the best place to view the entire area. I can also assess where's dangerous and where's safe. I'll wander off to places that others won't even see, knowing they're all thinking, "He's a bit cheeky or a rebel." Haha.

It’s almost like my spatial/aerial awareness fill the entire area and everyone inside is a friend. So forgive me if I come across as cheeky or too forward; I'm just exploring, seeing obstacles as apparatus. I guess I like the fact [that] I can express myself like a child and justify it as training.

Where is the best spot you have gone free running? Why was it so good?
The best spot I found for free running, in 2009, was the island of Santorini. The video got promoted so well that the island became the annual home of the biggest international free-running event in the world: Red Bull Art of Motion.

Just Google the place and you'll see what I mean—just endless amounts of rooftops and jumps in a Mediterranean paradise. I'm still looking for somewhere that can top that place—any suggestions?

Doyle's free running acrobatics have led him from the Great Wall of China to Santorini and everywhere in between. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool
Doyle’s free running acrobatics have led him from the Great Wall of China to Santorini and everywhere in between. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool

What is the most scared you have been while free running?
The most scared I've been was when winning Red Bull Art of Motion 2007. My left leg snapped in half trying to land a double cork off a 12-foot drop. I thought my career was over, but it was just the beginning.

After some heavy surgery, I got a titanium leg, trained for 12 months to get each movement back one at a time, and when I won Art of Motion again, I was able to accept the trophy on the podium this time—not in hospital. Made a 120 percent recovery—that leg will never break again. I love upgrades, haha.

Some of the stuff you're doing in the streets probably freaks people out; what are people's reactions like? How does law enforcement feel about it?
People in the streets seem to love it. Police understand who we are; I've worked with police cadets on the "epidemic." We can train anywhere if it’s not private property—same as any jogger in the park.

Sometimes we go on night missions and end up on a rooftop, watching the city—a "selfie moment." We're not doing anything wrong, but we just know the police aren't physically equipped to get up and get us. At the end of the day, I'm going to get down when I want to, really, but I've never been caught, and most won't even see me!

Why do people get involved in free running?
People get involved for different reasons. It’s a great way to keep fit, it’s very self-rewarding with new movements and skills, and the practice of setting a challenge and conquering it on a daily basis keeps your brain addicted to problem solving.

What are some tips for people trying to get involved in free running?
Always learn from the ground up. The ground is your 3D stabilizer: It’s the only thing you know that is flat, beneath you, and sets the template of your aerial awareness. The movements will contribute to you knowing where the ground is during a spin, twist, or jump, even with your eyes closed.

In the end, you feel the movements, you can feel gravity pulling as you rotate, and you can have a smile on your face, enjoying the moment because you know exactly what the landing is going to feel like and how to roll out safely.

Where should people practice free running?
People should practice in those hotspots that all cities have where the public architecture becomes interesting; the places don't even exist until you make it a hotspot by showing the possibilities the area offers.

What type of a workout is it? Are there health benefits?
It’s all movement based, so of course it has massive health benefits. You actually just become better at everything and you'll probably live longer with regular exercising.

You don't need equipment, just a fully working human body. Maybe some training shoes, but the discipline is already with us. It was ideology that made up the "socially accepted behavior" of crawl, walk, run, and then stop—stop climbing trees, get down, it’s dangerous, you crazy person—but now it’s being accepted in every major city in the world.

 Pushing the limits comes at a price—something Doyle (and his hands) learn on a near-daily basis. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool
Pushing the limits comes at a price—something Doyle (and his hands) learn on a near-daily basis. Photo courtesy Red Bull Content Pool

Where would you like to see free running go in the future?
I actually know where free running is going, as I feel like I’m part of it, and it’s pretty unstoppable at the speed the brotherhood is growing.

I'm in contact with groups in the majority of the world’s countries. They have regular jobs in the universities, in the military, in the media and public sectors. They look just like everyone else, but one day someone will want to find out how big this "brotherhood army of urban ninjas" actually is.

And then it’s going to get interesting.

What are your personal goals in the sport?
My personal goal in the sport was to open the UK’s biggest extreme sports center, to cater for this type of training. We opened Airborn Academy in January this year.

Now I'm producing episodes from inside the academy; it’s so epic to have my own stunt laboratory. I'm also aiming to do range-of-action movies over the next few years, but I can’t say too much about that yet.

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