I was standing on the roof of the Allens Lane train station when it came to me that free running--the still largely underground sport with roots in Europe, where "free runners" use the urban landscape to stage ambitious and sometimes dangerous physical feats--is serious business.
A few days earlier, Aleus, one of the members of Philadelphia's Ground Zero free running team, had shown me the team's new YouTube video. I was unimpressed. Except for a few sporadic backflips, it looked like something you do when you're 10 or so. Besides, how could anyone take running around and climbing up light fixtures seriously?
But that was before I was where I was now: staring down over the train station roof's crumbling shingles trying to figure out how I was going to climb back down.
Minutes later I'd watched team Ground Zero co-founder Dan Ginzburg scale a 50-foot tower in 10 seconds, then finish by climbing safely into the overpass above.
It looked to be some hardcore shit.
Free running is different from parkour, which focuses on practicing efficient movements to overcome obstacles. It instead emphasizes tricks and acrobatics. Both were developed in France, and though one might see little difference in the two sports, their practitioners do.
The Ground Zero free running movement began here in Philly last September, when two Central High juniors--Amir Ouazzani and Dan Ginzburg--bonded over their fascination with this underground sport from Europe. Ouazzani, aka Tricky, had to travel overseas before ever even hearing of it. "I was actually on a plane to Sweden and there was a documentary on free running with Sebastien Foucan," he recalls. "And I was like, 'Oh that looks cool! I'd love to do something like that.'"
Aside from Ground Zero, there's Ventilation X, a skateboard group that incorporates parkour and free running into its routines and has found a sponsor in Nutrisoda. But when asked about a Ventilation X video currently circulating on the Internet, Ground Zero's Ginsburg says, "They suck."
Ground Zero has videos posted on YouTube and its own website, and plans to travel to Malaysia to do some shows. "Tricky" says he hopes they'll find a sponsor and get a chance to tour afterward. The Ground Zero founders also have dreams of opening up a theme park where free runners can practice without harassment from police.
"This is something I want to always have in my life," says Ginsburg. "Even when I'm like 25 or 30, I still wanna be learning new tricks and new skills."