067. US Parkour Association (part 1 of 4): Board members, introductions, and passion

Podcast episode


Craig: Caitlin Pontrella is one of the founding members of United States parkour, and is the chair of the initial transition board. Caitlin is one of the five community leaders that collaborated to create the USPK platform, with the goal of building a neutral space to enable cooperation across the national parkour community. Welcome Caitlin.

Caitlin: Thanks for having me Craig.

Craig: We’re doing a series of podcast interviews with each of the five people who are on the transition board for USPK. I think it’s important that people who are listening, first understand who these people are. Some of you know who you are, but I think a lot of people don’t know the background. My first question is, can you just give me some of the highlights of where you’ve worked and what you’ve done, and in particular, what about your history was sort of the calling, that made you feel like this national organization is something that we need and something that you wanna be part of.

Caitlin: Sure. I found parkour about 12 years ago. At first, it was just a hobby. I was pursuing a career in architecture. I worked for local government. As I progressed through that, parkour became more important to me, understanding the impact I had on people’s lives, and getting deeper involved in the community. I started up the Movement Creative. I ran the North American Women’s Gathering. What really occurred to me, as I was getting deeper and deeper in the community was that, we really needed a neutral platform for all of our community organizations, leaders, coaches, practitioners, where they can come together, and have conversations and you know, exchange ideas.

Craig: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point right there. You wouldn’t … One wouldn’t necessarily notice that there’s a need for that neutral space or neutral platform, or whatever exact term you wanna use for it. You wouldn’t notice that we need that neutral area until you start trying to do something with the community, and then you discover that, “Oh, I have to do everything from scratch.” There’s no place that I can go to communicate with [crosstalk 00:01:51] other community leaders. That [crosstalk 00:01:53] struck me about your story, that strikes me as one of the things that you had a unique perspective on, early on, well before you got involved with USPK.

Caitlin: Yeah, there were some really wonderfully long established organizations that had generated a lot of resources, have built a lot of insight into best practices, when it came to student welfare, building construction, you know, community outreach and inclusion. That’s why I started the Art of Retreat initially. One of my long goals with the Art of Retreat was to help facilitate conversations about creating a governing structure in the future.

Caitlin: The reason that was so important to me, my work in architecture for example, I got exposure to the AA, which is the professional organization in that field. I really could understand the value they offered, specifically in the capacity for the AA to build public trust. This is what parkour really needs in the future is, a way to build and maintain public trust, not just within parkour, but to parents, to municipalize in local governments, to schools, groups that you want to work with.

Craig: Right.

Caitlin: If we have a organization or association, we can all affiliate to that sets, you know, a professional standard of care. Best building practices, that provides a network of resources, legal, financial. We can be much stronger as a community, a better force for good. I think overall, be doing what we do, much more successfully. I mean, I could go on as to, I think is -.

Craig: Every one of those individual things is something that we can unpack further.

Caitlin: Yeah, exactly.

Craig: One question that springs to mind is, your exposure to the professional organization for architects, when you first encountered that, I’m gonna bet that, that wasn’t something you thought was super necessary, it’s a hoop you had to jump through as part of the job, or the education that’s …

Caitlin: Absolutely.

Craig: And then, as you begin to draw on it for resources, you start to find it more and more useful. I think with any professional organization, you have this sort of chicken and egg problem where, why do I need that thing? Oh, well, it’s already established. I’m just gonna go with it.

Caitlin: I think that we are very culturally conditioned to be independently oriented, like had to do it yourself, don’t rely on anyone else, and to be suspicious of … Truthfully, to be suspicious of actual true community-

Craig: Yeah. Anybody try to tell you how to do it?

Caitlin: Yeah. That’s not exactly … That’s not what a governing [inaudible 00:04:20] is trying to do. We’re not trying to tell you how to teach your classes …

Craig: Yeah.

Caitlin: … we are saying, “This is … These are safety procedures you should follow. Here’s the best way to build equipment possibly.” This is not just one or two people, but this is experts in our community coming together, – on this neutral platform again, to get a list of recommendations of best practices. This is at the end of the day. This, only works by consent. It’s not that every person immediately must do these things. As our members become members, and say, “We will uphold ourselves to these higher standards.” That’s actually how public trust is created, it’s that, we’re saying that, here are these standards this organization has set.

Caitlin: Anyone from the outside can look at them, and then as a member you can hold me to these standards. We can hold ourselves to those standards. I cannot overstate the value of being able to provide a face of legitimacy and trustworthiness to the groups you work with in your communities, to the parents, to your students. It’s absolutely fundamental to creating a longstanding sustainable healthy community.

Craig: Yeah. After the work that you did for the New York City Parks Department. Let me make sure I got it right.

Caitlin: Yes.

Craig: New York City Parks Department, and the work you did, basically in architecture and in that professional capacity. Then, you went onto, Parkour Visions was next. Can you just tell me a little, bit about what you role is there, and why did that draw you there. What’s unique about that opportunity that you saw?

Caitlin: Absolutely. Presently, I am the executive director of Parkour Visions. It’s a non profit, that’s based in Seattle. One of the big draws, I left the Movement Creative in New York City, looking for a new challenge. I’d always been, particularly interested in helping bridge the gap. I mean, even my work with the Movement Creative, getting people, increasing access to programs, services, helping people overcome the biggest barrier to participation in fitness which is always being access, physical access, financial access, cultural access.

Caitlin: PKB just, it always had been to me, a foundational stone in the larger parkour community. It’s been around for so long. It had this larger mission to teach build/share, and I felt that I could bring something really, unique to that organization and that community. That community in particular was uniquely situated to kind of effect that kind of change both locally and nationally in the longterm.

Craig: If I’m not mistake, when you were originally approached by the other people, who we will also be talking to, that came together to form this initial core group that was having initial discussions, you were sort of approached, because … I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, you were sort of, an independent person. At that point [crosstalk 00:07:10] in time, you weren’t running an actual organization for parkour, you were leading an event. That kind of made you uniquely situated to be somebody that could facilitate the conversation. I don’t wanna say, lead the conversation.

Caitlin: No, absolutely.

Craig: That’s kind of my question. I think it looks like you were kind of coming from a unique place …

Caitlin: Yeah.

Craig: … that those pieces fell together. That’s how you got sort of …

Caitlin: Yeah, when …

Craig: … volunteers. Nobody stepped back.

Caitlin: Yeah, when the United States, when the USPK first became … The earliest stage of the conversation, I was no longer with the Movement Creative, I was just running the Art of Retreat really. I think my role in the art of retreat put me in a place where I was having friendly relationships, peer relationships with people all over the country. I really didn’t have any sort of animosity to anyone. I acted very much as a facilitator, trying to create-

Craig: Yeah, and it’s clear you don’t have agenda, right?

Caitlin: Yeah, I really care about the value of leadership in education. If that was my … I used to say, “My form of philanthropy …” I would donate … I’d fund the event 10,000 dollars a year, to do this thing. I really just … Everyone has a way they find purpose in their life, and that’s how I was finding purpose. Yeah, I was approached sort of, because my role is effectively neutral. I was not a financially, get anything from that experience is really just …

Craig: Right.

Caitlin: I don’t know how else to explain that, but yeah.

Craig: Blake Evitt is the director of Parkour Generations Americas, and I had a chance to sit down with him in Boston to talk about his role on the board of the United States Parkour Association. Welcome, Blake.

Blake: Thanks, Craig. It’s great to be here.

Craig: Blake, in this first episode of the series on US Parkour Association, we are trying to give the listeners a chance to get some context and get to know the individual board members. Can you give me some of what brought you from your normal life, what brought you into this role of stepping forward to take up a leadership role?

Blake: Yeah, I guess my normal life is parkour, so this is kind of another iteration of it in a lot of ways. I think it’s really useful for the community in general to know who’s representing us and where they come from and why they’re there. My background is I’m the director of Parkour Generations Americas and director of Parkour Generations Boston as well, and my journey for parkour started internationally. I spent a bunch of time overseas training and kind of teaching and meeting with a lot of different communities and organizations and seeing how it was developed in other countries and how scenes had kind of started and were in various stages of development. It is a very new sport. It was pretty cool because I got to see a lot of all the way around the spectrum from brand new to very established. And then came back here to the US and found a very different kind of organizational scene.

Craig: Patchwork, maybe.

Blake: Yeah, in a lot of ways it was kind of a lot of different stages all mixed into one because the US is so big. And it was amazing but also very daunting. And I think based on how fast things have grown in the US, there’s so much potential here for growth, but there’s also a lot of potential for disaster, too.

Craig: An opportunity for disaster. So I first met you when I came to an American Rendezvous, and it strikes me having been to a few events, it strikes me that American Rendezvous is unique in the states in like its potential to draw people, not just from within the states, but from around the world. And I think that, if you care to expand on that event, I think that that is also an interesting demonstration of your ability to like … I’m going to say think outside the box, but for you to see opportunity and to figure out like, “Okay, how can we make this vision happen?” And that would be a very important skill to apply to something new like United States Parkour Association.

Blake: Yeah. I think our mission with American Rendezvous since the very beginning has been to kind of create a community space, a collaborative space, a neutral space where a lot of folks can kind of come together from all different backgrounds and disciplines and different histories or legacies of parkour or ADD or freerunning and train together. And that’s something that has been integral to the events since the very beginning. And that’s something that I think is really important in a national governing body because at the end of the day, if we’re going work together, we have to feel safe, we have to feel like our opinions are being heard and our voices are being heard, and we have to feel like that’s representative.

Craig: Right. So I obviously enjoy American Rendezvous. I’ve been there several times. But the first question that should come to everyone’s mind is how does running a successful event connect to being able to be a governing board member of a national governing body? So what’s the line that you’re asking us to draw there from that event organization success? What’s this takeaway, the skill?

Blake: Yeah. I think in a lot of ways an event is just kind of like a snapshot compared to something that we’re looking for for a national governing body, we’re looking at years down the line.

Craig: Yeah. A living thing, too.

Blake: Yeah. And what we’re trying to build is really a connection between the different groups here in the US, a network. And that’s what American Rendezvous is about, and it doesn’t matter kind of that it’s a once a year thing. We’re bringing people together from around the world, from around the country, for a shared experience. And at the end of the day, USPK is bringing people together around our shared passion and our kind of desire to make this into something bigger and something more legitimate, and also something that will endure for the long term.

Craig: Frosti is an owner of Tempest Freerunning, and he was the first sponsored American freerunner. He’s currently the host of Red Bull Art of Motion. Welcome, Frosti.

Frosti: Hey, great to be here, Craig.

Craig: Frosti, can you give me a couple of thoughts on what drew you into the US parkour project?

Frosti: Well, I’ve been involved in the parkour community for almost 20 years now. I’ve seen it grow and develop, change and evolve, so much over that time. And the one thing that has always seemed the most important to me is that the people who are involved in the sport, who care about it, they should be the ones directing where it goes. The more that influence comes from outside of the sport, the farther it gets from what I think makes it truly special. When I started to see more and more influence come from outside the sport, I was already searching for myself for ways to …

Craig: Like a vehicle …

Frosti: To create the kind of culture that I know we’ve been investing ourselves into, that we’ve been building our community around. USPK seemed very much like the answer we had all been waiting for. Something that probably should have happened a long time ago. When you have all these people that are so passionate about being involved in something, in participating, and building it, sometimes I think the necessary framework, the boring nuts and bolts of creating worldwide movement can be less exciting than going out and doing something you love with your friends.

Craig: Frosti, can you give me some of your background and experiences that brought you to USPK and what about your experiences do you think really applies?

Frosti: When I was 14 years old I discovered parkour through a martial arts teacher and immediately sunk myself head first into it. It connected really deeply with a lot of things that I was searching for, and beyond just the escape of movement, I also was drawn to a blossoming community. Something that didn’t exist yet, that was looking for people to create it. Since this was in the pre-YouTube days, it really had a wide open field. There was so much space to grow and explore. I’ve had such incredible opportunities being one of the first sponsored US pro parkour athlete, I was able to travel the world. Take incredible opportunities to work with everyone from Madonna, to Sebastien Foucan, to meet David Bell. Early, early on before there were huge jams going on and tons of opportunities. Now, I feel like I’ve been able to put myself in a position to become a voice for the community by hosting all these major competitions, working with companies like Red Bull and Air Wipp, and now being one of the owners of Tempest Freerunning, I’ve really had a chance to see all facets of this community and culture.

Craig: You have a unique point of view from the inside, from behind the scenes, as well as from the front, which is what most people see. What I’ve always seen is the view from the outside. And maybe it seems like you’re really interested, maybe I’m reading between the lines, but really interested in having a chance to give back, to help facilitate that journey for other people who would just be starting parkour tomorrow?

Frosti: Absolutely. I think when I started, one of the things that I really recognized is how much having people around you, there to support you, not even necessarily to teach you specifically, but just to support you, can help your own personal journey and your growth, just exponentially just go off the charts. You’ll hear a million people say this when they’re like, “Oh, man, something that took me two years to learn, somebody learns in two weeks now.” Some of it is because we’ve developed places like Tempest Freerunning Academy, that is a state of the art facility.

Craig: Perfect environment.

Frosti: Totally. But, I also know that things like YouTube, where parkour has taken hold or it has found its international home, watching a tutorial from somebody who knows how to do a cheat gainer, or somebody that can stick a precision 10 times out of 10 on a rail. You can learn something that you wouldn’t necessarily just get on your own, trying to figure this out by yourself. There’s stories of Olympic athletes now coming up learning how to throw a javelin on YouTube and making it to the finals. It’s this amazing new way for us to connect with people and to also to grow something that doesn’t have to be just about the kids in your neighborhood. It can go so much more beyond that. I’m really excited for the opportunities that I’ve had, things that I thought I was going to do when I was an old man, “Back in my day, we were doing kong vaults uphill both ways.” I imagined as a kid, when I was first starting on drifting off during junior year of trigonometry, because I’m imagining, “Some day I’m going to live in a house where people all do parkour-

Craig: Like an artist studio movement.

Frosti: Or like, “Someday I’m going to be watching the parkour games and calling the shots from the booth.” I think all of those things happened just way faster than anyone could have anticipated-

Craig: Imagined.

Frosti: Yeah. I was immediately offered opportunities to do things because people connected with us. There was automatically people that wanted to come together and live and be like, “Yeah, there’s nothing else I want to do other than this.” I think once I started to see things like competitions really starting to grow, and outside sponsors becoming more involved, I really recognized, I have an ability to get involved in this sport in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of people who are very talented physically, and I think very few people that recognize the value of this other side. So, getting involved in commentary and hosting, emceeing, I think was my way that I could help, like you said, translate this to a whole world of people. Even to people that participate in it, I don’t think they always grasp what it was that they were doing and it how it could be expressed and shared with the rest of the world.

Craig: The unknown unknowns you don’t see about what you’re doing.

Frosti: Absolutely. Putting things in context I think can really shift a perspective. When you see somebody land a precision on a rail eight feet in the air, it’s amazing, but then you’re also seeing somebody do a double back flip next to it and it’s like, “What’s more impressive?” I think having a culture where people have come to appreciate that, is really amazing. And it’s grown so fast that I think the outside world hasn’t even had the chance to really understand what it is that’s going on. It’s one of the reasons that I feel right now, we’re fighting as a new entity.

Frosti: As a community and culture to try and catch the world up with where we’ve been because they only see this little part of it, this outer tangible … Yeah. The analytics of the YouTube video, they get. They get that this is good, and that if you slap a logo on it you can get some views. I don’t think they understand why it connects with people, why it’s so powerful. That’s what I hope that we can do with things like USPK, is try to evolve that part of the sport, that still needs support from all the people that have gathered and gained so much from it, like myself.

Craig: Well, Mark Toorock is the founder of American Parkour obviously, and it’s a pleasure to talk to you today.

Mark: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Craig: Mark, can you tell me a little bit about your background and for those who don’t know what APK is, talk about some of the things you’ve done over the years and what brought you to the place where you are now.

Mark: I feel that one of the things that I have and bring to the parkour community is that I had corporate desk jobs for 16 years before I started parkour. And I think, essentially I’m old. That’s my super power is I’ve been in desk jobs, I’ve been in different things, and have a lot of different experience from IT world to printing, to software development to banking. And those things may not relate directly to parkour. But one of the things, especially when we look at the board and the governing body, is that this isn’t exactly about parkour, it’s about management.

Mark: It’s about management of a thing that is important and critical and dear to all of us. But it’s not just being good at parkour that is going to make that survive. It’s giving parkour a protective shell that requires a certain set of skills, whether that’s attorneys or IT people or spokespeople or fundraisers or all kinds of different talents and requirements for people that are needed to run a sport and to grow that sport and to guide that sport. So I feel that that’s where some of my experience, being old can come in and have a slightly different perspective than a lot of other people who really came up through parkour and most of their jobs were in fact parkour related.

Craig: Mark, APK is an organization that’s quite experienced, it’s been around for a while and I think it would be useful to talk about some of the details, some of the projects that you guys have taken on and accomplished because I think that gives you a unique perspective on the things that USPK would face.

Mark: I think one of the projects that really comes to mind is implementing parkour in the DC public school system. That’s a project that frankly was scary though. The way that came about, I was expecting to run a small pilot in a couple of schools to test things out to work with a couple of teachers and I was honestly expected it to take several, if not five years to implement a program in DC public schools.

Mark: However, the woman in charge of the program, Miriam Kenyan, who I have so much respect for, she is a doer. She is a get it done person. She brought in her top five staff. She’s the director of physical education for a district of Columbia public schools. She, within a week of calling me, brought in her top five staff members for a training session. At the end of the training sessions she said, “We all have different backgrounds, we all have different abilities. You met each of us at our level. You made it fun for each of us. You challenged each of us. We are putting parkour in DC public schools.” And I said, “Wow, that’s fantastic. So do you want to start with two schools or three?” And she said, “I want you to put together a quote for parkour in 27 schools.” “Oh sure, we’ll do that tomorrow.” And it’s a bigger project than anything I’ve taken on.

Mark: So that, that was daunting. And obviously it’s also just the enormous gravity of the responsibility of putting the first public school program in the US. Just the weight on my shoulders from that right of that is a huge representation of parkour, and who am I to do that? How many ways could I possibly get this wrong and how many ways could I possibly get it right. Just wanting to be so careful about the way that parkour was portrayed and what it became and what got across as this is what parkour looks like in a school.

Craig: So that experience is, like having done it once, that actually may be worse than USPK’s hurdles that it faces. But having seen that, it kind of gives you a steel like experience that you can bring to the table and say, “Okay, these are the kinds of challenges we’re gonna face.”

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. I think the other thing is having done a lot of performances and the performances themselves, when we do a corporate performance, when we do a product launch, we’ve done everything from … we’ve had people go on tour with Madonna to product launches for Mercedes Benz to some pretty world recognized brands. And so those bring about a lot of stress. But more importantly than that, every single one of them has at least five things that goes wrong. And frankly that has formed my definition of what professional is. And that is, professional means you know that things are going to go wrong, you take them in stride and you find a way to still deliver an excellent product on time in a place that it needs to be. That’s what professional is. It’s not necessarily being the best at something. It’s the fact that things are going to go wrong. A lot of things are going to go wrong. Nothing with USPK is going to go necessarily smoothly. It’s not like we’re going to go through and check off a bunch of boxes. Everything that we want to tackle is a thing, right?

Craig: Yeah. It’s challenge in and of itself.

Mark: Exactly. So I think that just having been through a lot of situations where you get, and I don’t want to say battered around because not that anybody means to do these things, but at the last minute they take away your rehearsal time. So you’re rehearsing it three o’clock in the morning on a set that you mapped out with masking tape on the floor of a hotel room. Right? And you still do your rehearsal and you still go on and perform the next day because you can’t say, “Well, you took my rehearsal time.” They’re going to be like, so? Just having that, there’s always a way to get it done.

Mark: Attitude is something that that experience has brought for me. And I think that that’s something that’s going to be helpful in USPK. And I think everyone in USPK really has that and has that ability and we’re all problem solvers and we’re all, don’t see problems as insurmountable, we see them as challenges. So it’s fun to be on a team full of really capable people in that vein.

Amos: Hello. My name’s Amos Rendao. I’m owner, GM, head coach with APEX School of Movement Headquarters, founder of APEX Boulder, and founder of ParkourEDU.org, creator of Parkour Ukemi, Parkour Randori, and I’m on the transition board of USPK.

Craig: Amos, can you give me some of your background? The things that you did before you joined the USPK board?

Amos: Yeah, so I have been working for APEX School of Movement for, geez, probably over 10 years now and running businesses, writing curriculum, designed the coach training systems, and also launched ParkourEDU, which is our sister company, our online academy. Over the years, there have been talks about national governing bodies and I think it had been tried quite a few times to failure and APEX was often in that conversation just because we’re one of the veteran communities. I mean, the first community in the western hemisphere so naturally whenever those discussions started, people would reach out to us. And in the past, I think in the U.S. the reason it never really gained traction is because, and this is kind of the culture we live in, it’s like the private sector just handles these things. And in many ways, you know, we created standards that other people would follow and it was all very natural. We didn’t see a huge need for a national governing body.

Amos: But I think this last conversation got more serious because what we all realized is that if you leave a void there, someone will fill it. And we started to see that happen on an international scale and definitely in the U.S.A. as well. So, I think it was natural. It kind of started with I think Mark and Caitlin and myself were talking about it and we decided, you know, we need to start taking some steps in this direction. There’s the big problem of too many cooks in the kitchen so I think that’s the reason some of those last attempts failed is just way too many voices, which creates a lot of conflict. Everyone wants to go different directions. So we decided we were going to try to stay as neutral as we could on a lot of very controversial topics and come together and build something so that the community’s voice can be heard and then those discussions and arguments can be had as far as the direction, but at least just the framework of how this national governing body could be successful.

Amos: We could get together some of the veteran communities, the leaders who have been doing this the longest. Get them into one room, small group of people, talk about what needs to happen, and volunteer our time to build out the things that no one wants to do like the by-laws, some of the foundational structure of the organization, which can be brutal. And that’s how it all started, just a conversation with Mark and Caitlin. I believe this was a good fit between this crew and reason that they involved me as well is I think I’ve always been someone in the community to kind of approach parkour as a martial art, more responsibly or less so like Jackass stunts, extreme sport angle of the like skateboarding culture. You know, in some ways I’ve even unfortunately made myself out to be Mr. Safety because I spend so much time on falling, that’s my expertise.

Amos: And so that I think paired with the fact that generally I think my spirit is one that, in most cases I’d like to be positive and show love, avoid negative talk but also I think there’s space to speak truth to corruption and speak out when there are abuses in the community. And so over the years, I think I’ve kind of gotten that … I guess painted that picture of myself to the community that I won’t remain quiet if there are abuses and that made me kind of a good fit for this role, even though I’m not extremely passionate about governance and sitting in this role. It’s almost like I see this as a need in the community and it’s more of a sacrifice that I’m making that I think is valid. Some of my passions outside of parkour are martial arts, that was my background before getting into parkour. I spent a lot of time studying Aikikikai Aikido, Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, ninja too, and also I love to dance.

Amos: So I kind of see parkour and martial arts as this tri-force and they all influence each other and help me be better at the others. So, I’m really into hip hop. I even do contemporary and house is probably my favorite form of dance. I was the lead director of APEX International 2016, one of the biggest competitions in North America and to date at our organization I wrote the coaching certification for ParkourEDU back in, I think, 2010. We’ve had that public since 2011. We’ve had a ton of coaches go through that. And some of my main gigs at APEX are I write the curriculum for our schools, I’ve had a big role in designing our band system. I wrote the coach training systems for our apprenticeship. Yeah, that’s most of the stuff that I’ve had my hands in.