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Monday, October 26, 2020

The parkour pioneers of Qatar

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Written by Joannah N Zimbe

The energetic, dangerous and highly athletic sport of parkour — or freerunning — is gaining popularity in Doha. Doha News meets some of the young urban acrobats bringing their hobby to a handrail near you.

If you haven’t seen parkour enthusiasts in action in Doha, you probably will soon. Parkour – sometimes called freerunning – involves getting from A to B in the quickest and best planned way possible.

This extreme sport is a form of improvised outdoor gymnastics that began as a military technique. Practitioners vault, run and roll over railings, walls, park benches and other urban obstacles using acrobatic body movement.

Due to conservative attitudes around exercising in public spaces and high outdoor temperatures, practising parkour in Qatar has its challenges. However, Doha has a growing community that remains committed to the cause.

Doha News met with Achraf Bejaoui (26) and his friends at Sheraton Park to watch them doing parkour against a backdrop of palm trees and the city skyline. Achraf is the head coach at Bounce trampoline centre, where he trains indoor parkour students of all ages.

“The unfamiliarity of parkour has meant outdoor training can often be met with interruptions from security guards,” Achraf explains. “At first they would be concerned about us ruining the area, but as they got to know us, they know we are playing safe so they leave us to get on with it.”

With gyms previously closed due to the pandemic – not to mention a surge in people with free time and a need for socially-distant exercise – Achraf seized the opportunity to offer outdoor parkour training for new enthusiasts.

“The unfamiliarity of parkour has meant outdoor training can often be met with interruptions from security guards,” Achraf explains. “At first they would be concerned about us ruining the area, but as they got to know us, they know we are playing safe so they leave us to get on with it.”

To a beginner, parkour can look very intimidating, and perfecting moves takes hours and hours of practice and dedication. New practitioners — called traceurs should start slowly and celebrate small victories, advises Achraf.

There is a common misconception that parkour is for performative thrill seekers but it is far more than this. Every move is a full-body workout. Even the simplest vault requires exact placement and awareness of your hands, feet, and head. Enthusiasts in Qatar may not be able to clamber across and dangle their feet over the iconic skyscrapers of the city’s skyline just yet, but they make do with what they have.

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“Parkour allows you to be unique, you can take a move and put your own spin on it making it your own, you can be original,” says Achraf.

Discipline, determination, courage and a giant leap of faith are all requirements, as is a soft surface to land on while you’re improving.

Achraf says “People who want to start parkour shouldn’t start outside. You can start indoors at bounce Doha or on the grass to know how far you can go and begin with rolling, jumping and start with simple movements until you more confidence”.

What the parkour enthusiasts say

What stands out is the community spirit within this group of parkour fanatics. As you watch them practise you can see how the sport is fundamentally collaborative. When someone executes a move, other team members are ready to catch and assist.

“I practise parkour as a way of freeing my mind when I feel stressed with school work or exams, flips are a way to forget about everything, feel free and have my time of peace.” “It’s teamwork, everyone is pushing you to go further and go harder. I love how everyone supports each other with no animosity, being able to train with anyone of any level is the best thing about it as you can collaborate and ask for help. It’s nice to see people getting into the sport that you love.”

Karam (14)

“Some do it for stunts, some do it for fitness, some do it for fun, it makes you stronger than any martial arts form and you continuously break down mental obstacles.”

Hamza (26)

“ Just like any other sport if you want to be good at Parkour you have to work hard to get to where you want to be, its not just handed to you. This sport is about progression. On top of that it’s a great way to spend time with like minded people”

Jaden, (20)


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