By Sue Tiffin
In some of the stills from videos Payton Saunders has of his parkour and free running skills, he’s completely horizontal – parallel to the ground and appearing to float mid-air. If that’s not incredible enough, pressing play on those videos shows the Minden teen in action, pushing his body to the limit by running up and across walls, twisting so many times in the air it’s not possible to count the turns without slowing down the video, and occasionally screaming with exuberance and achievement as he lands a trick he’s worked hard to master.
It’s only been the past few years that the Grade 10 student has been studying parkour, a type of practice in which a person uses the environment around them to get efficiently from one place to another, and freerunning, in which a person expresses themselves, both sports that use movements including running, vaulting, climbing, flipping, spinning, and yes, walking on walls.
“I started when I was 12,” said Payton. “There was stuff on YouTube that kind of inspired me to try it. I had a trampoline luckily so I could practise safely, and then I ended up taking it to the ground.”
While some people recognize parkour from movies, it has a long history that is sometimes attributed to the French military and obstacle courses used for military training in the early 1900s and during the world wars, and was named and further developed in the 1980s.
“It isn’t just always off of buildings,” said Payton. “That’s what most people think. You can put it on buildings if you want to, but it’s mostly on ground level.”
Payton has always been athletic, referring to himself as a “jumpy kid” – he was quite fond of Van Halen’s Jump as a child. While track and field and swimming have long been interests, he began dedicating himself to parkour and free running, sometimes practising up to six hours a day.
“I started getting into twists and started doing flips off the walls, which was fun,” he said. “It feels pretty good once you know what you’re doing.”
He seems to take to the air effortlessly, using whatever obstacle is around him to help aid his movement.
“If it’s a flip I’ve been doing for years, it feels like nothing,” he said. “The hardest thing I’ve done so far is a standing back double twist.”
It took him a year to work on and perfect that. And then one day he landed it.
“Oh, I was like, screaming,” he said. “I was super excited.”
Payton is self-taught, learning online through a community in which some of his closest friends are in Ottawa and Toronto, while others are further off around the world. He follows about 700 other people of all ages who also train.
“I’ve never met [in person] anybody else who does it,” he said. “It’s a good sport, I feel like people would have a good time with it because it’s not mainstream like it used to be anymore. The community’s actually really fun. You make such good friends when you’re a part of it. I have friends online who do parkour, and they’re the nicest people ever.”
While Payton can see something useful of a simple rail or wall, the sport requires physical fitness and knowledge and ability for techniques that include bounce, the swing of the arms, and how a body is tucked.
“It takes a lot of mentality, I guess, it’s really hard to commit to sometimes,” said Payton. “There’s just so much. There are hundreds and hundreds of moves I haven’t tried. You can even make up your own moves too, that’s the cool thing about parkour.”
While he hasn’t made his own move yet, Payton has hundreds of followers on Instagram, and has made his first how-to tutorial available on YouTube.
Payton’s mom, Kerri-Lynne Baayen, calls him a “parkour powerhouse.”
“It was just one day coming home from work, and out of the corner of my eye I could see the first flip in the air,” she said. “I was pulling into the driveway and I was like, what are you doing! You’re going to break yourself!”
Payton, knowing his mom would have concerns with the sport – which can come with risk as people are training and if they don’t keep safety in mind – was practising when she wasn’t home, but now she is aware of his interest and supports his practice. So far he’s had one broken bone, after second-guessing himself in the air about three years ago but resumed practising as soon as he had healed.
“Everyone said, is this going to slow him down?” said Kerri-Lynne. “No, he’s just going to be a little more careful … You can stand and watch for so long, and you can either sit and sweat it out while you watch him do it, or just have faith that he’s going to be good at it, and he has been so far.”
She is relieved that he generally practises on low-to-the-ground obstacles, that he knows what “mom would say no to,” that he is learning what he is allowed and not allowed to do depending on where he is – they have had “some talks” – and that he is aware that others might mimic him though they have not practiced as long as he has.
“He had put in the hours to dedicate to practising this,” said Kerri-Lynne. “It’s not something you just pick up.”
Payton’s grandmother was a gymnast, causing Kerri-Lynne to note, “you can see it in the family.”
His determination, commitment and his interest in the sport make Kerri-Lynne proud, posting his efforts to social media to share with friends.
“Everybody has to find their own niche, I would never have thought that this was going to be it,” she said. “He started looking up things on the internet, he’d check out how to do a certain flip, and then he’d go out and he would practise, and practise, and practise, until he nailed it … The whole world is his playground, it doesn’t matter if it’s a tree stump or a side wall or anything. Everything, he can utilize.”
Kerri-Lynne said it’s amazing that he picked up the sport on his own.
“It makes me so proud that he’s so focused, and that he has a list of goals,” she said. “It’s a long list and there are all these crazy parkour names and he has a checklist and checks them off, and does what he does.”
It has been especially important to Payton because it has helped him deal with struggles in school and with social interaction. He has been “super shy,” said Kerri-Lynne, but the sport gave him an outlet to socialize as he has had people – friends, family and strangers – ask questions about the practice after seeing him in action.
“Once he picked this up, you could see improvements in everything,” she said. “How he would interact with teachers, how he would hold his temper in and how he controlled it. This is definitely something that has made him open up and find who he is. Before I don’t think he knew where he was supposed to be in the world and now this is his thing.”
To see Payton’s training, visit https://www.instagram.com/parkour.payters/