March 20, 2006

Urban acrobats get kick out of Parisian suburbs

By Kerstin Gehmlich

PARIS (Reuters) - Raimundo Querido sprinted up three
flights of stairs, scaled a wall as tall as himself, and
somersaulted off a roof into a flower bed.

The scene did not take place during last year's riots in
Paris' poor suburbs, when youths angry about racism and
unemployment set thousands of cars ablaze and police chased
them through a concrete maze of high-rise buildings.

It's just what Querido, 25, does on a Sunday afternoon.

"Most people see the suburbs and say 'How ugly -- concrete,
concrete, concrete'. I look at it and think: 'Great! You can
climb up here, jump off there'," says Querido, who wears a suit
and a tie for his day-time job in a bank.

Querido is an "urban acrobat" who spends all his free time
on Parkour -- "the art of moving" which was made popular by
Frenchman David Belle some 15 years ago and has become a widely
practised extreme sport in urban settings worldwide.

Inspired by athletes from prehistoric hunters to gymnasts
to martial arts experts, the idea of Parkour is to get from A
to B as fast as you can, using just your physical strength and
dexterity to overcome obstacles.

Querido and his group Adrenaline have made commercials,
starred at cinema openings and company events and featured in
rap videos: their stunts include jumping off supermarket roofs
or scampering down the side of a deep shipping container,
before sprinting up the other wall in Spiderman-like fashion.

The four men clad in tracksuits and hooded sweaters say
their example proves you can succeed even when you come from
poor neighborhoods outside Paris where unemployment is often
three to four times higher than in the rest of France.


Querido, who moved to France from Cape Verde when he was
12, says his family on the islands off West Africa's coast
recently saw him in a commercial where Adrenaline were chasing
a pot of yogurt over cliffs and rocks, filmed in the Chilean

"People there told me that they saw me on TV and cried," he
said. "There's nothing greater than to know that people are
looking at you and feel encouraged by it."

Adrenaline member Daniel Girondeaud says he is proud he now
makes some money from Parkour, but says he does not want the
sport to be so closely linked to the image of rough suburbs.

All the Adrenaline members live in Gennevilliers, a suburb
northwest of Paris where gray high-rise buildings dominate the
skyline and where cars were set ablaze during last year's

"We come from a very difficult neighborhood. One of the
hottest in the Paris region," says Girondeaud, who is also 25.

"But we could just as well be from a posh place in Paris.
This sport is a return to the roots. You use your muscles, no
other means, just your body. It's fun. It's to feel free."

Youth workers say Adrenaline may encourage other youngsters
from poor neighborhoods.

"They can constitute an example," said Raymond Debord, a
social worker in Gennevilliers. "They can even be an example
for people who are not interested in this particular discipline
-- in the sense that these are young people who are able to
take care of themselves and do their own thing."

Debord said that in Gennevilliers many youngsters lacked
the courage to be more mobile in their social lives or

"Adrenaline do this perfectly. They are autonomous, take
initiative and go out to different places and meet people."


Girondeaud, Querido and the other two Adrenaline members
can perform synchronized somersaults off 10 foot high walls to
land on a concrete parking lot, or sprint up a vertical wall as
if defying gravity.

As Querido does a backward somersault from a narrow roof in
the La Defense business district on Paris' northern edge, a
small group of teenage boys watch his every move before also
attempting to jump down into the 13 foot void.

"We like seeing the younger ones get better," Girondeaud's
brother Stephane says, pointing to 17-year-old Guillaume
jumping over a trash can.

"We showed them some things. Now they set up their own
group and they are successful. It's the future generation," he
said. "We might have some pride in saying we changed them a
little bit -- that instead of setting fire to cars, they are
out here."

Parkour has gained popularity through several films in
France and free-running acrobats can also be seen jumping down
walls in many music videos.

The sport was brought to the attention of the British
public in 2002 with a BBC trailer, in which David Belle jumped
across London rooftops to catch his favorite BBC program at

Police officers at the business district outside Paris
tolerate the young men's stunt moves on Sunday afternoons,
although the sport is not allowed on private property.

"We talk to the police. We have no interest in Parkour
being seen as a 'flee the police"' sport," Daniel Girondeaud
says, adding his group was urging younger free-runners not to
jump off cars or climb onto private balconies.

Adrenaline do not make enough to live off their
performances although that would be their dream.

Querido says his banking job provides a safety net.

"We can't do this until we're 60. I could be in a
wheelchair one day. That's what I tell the younger ones who
want to give up school and turn professional (in the sport),"
he says.

Turning to Guillaume, he smiles: "Hey, Guillaume, you know
you have to work hard at school!"

Guillaume grins and jumps off a wall.