‘Just negotiating obstacles’

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … two guys and a girl jumping off buildings for fun?

Long after classes have ended and night has fallen, sophomores Zach Immler and Stephen Hauck are making use of various structures at USF in ways the architects never intended. They call themselves the Green Monkeys, and their mission is to constantly move forward while maneuvering around impediments – be they bicycle racks, hedge walls or Castor Hall. Adding some estrogen to the Green Monkeys is its final member, Clearwater Central Catholic student Nikki Copes.

“It’s a combination of martial arts and acrobatics in an urban area, where we’re basically just negotiating obstacles in different ways,” Hauck said.

Parkour, or free running as it’s commonly known in the United States, was developed more than 10 years ago by David Belle and Sébastien Foucan. For active participants, parkour isn’t just a hobby – it’s a lifestyle that Foucan and Belle actively promote through their Web site, parkour.com.

“Life is made of obstacles and challenges – to overcome them is to progress,” states the site’s philosophy section. Enthusiasts view the obstacles that they climb, jump over and dodge as barriers of negative energy that they must actively overcome. Hauck founded the Green Monkeys after learning about the site and viewing various demonstrations of parkour online.

The group’s name came about when Immler searched online for a possible logo and came across a picture of a monkey, the climbing ability of which he found comparable to that required for parkour. “Green” serves as a fitting description not only because of Immler’s fondness for the color, but also because parkour is practiced strictly outdoors.

The Green Monkeys typically perform their stunts around 2 a.m. so they don’t attract unwanted attention. They engage in parkour because they enjoy the adrenaline rush and agree with its message, not because they hope to gain notoriety. Though the awed faces of passers-by can be exhilarating, questions from the police can complicate their fun.

“A cop once stopped me and said he was really impressed before we officially started doing parkour, but he told me never to do it again,” Immler said. “We wear dark clothing and generally try to stay out of people’s way.”

As part of a good-luck ritual, Hauck and Immler both write their nicknames across their knuckles before taking part in any free running. Immler goes by “Monkey,” while Hauck’s hands bear the name “Fenix.” Parkour advocates focusing one’s attention inward while taking each obstacle individually. These personas not only add to their Parkour identities, but also serve as a visual reminder to maintain their confidence.

In the group’s two and a half-month official existence and the duo’s five months of practice, only one trip to the hospital has been made for a parkour-related injury.

“I sat in the hospital and got bored and left,” said Hauck. “I still have the wound from six weeks ago. I tried jumping and hit a wall; my shin hit the corner. It’s an extreme sport, and when you’re jumping from heights of 15 to 20 feet, it’s easy to slip up and injure yourself. It really shook my confidence, though, and it took me about two days to work up to our bigger stuff again.”

Two of the Green Monkeys’ biggest stunts involve moving from Castor Hall to the Argos Center to Kosove Hall without ever touching the ground, and jumping from the second floor of the HMS building to the grass while pushing themselves far enough outward so that they don’t fall onto the cement walkway directly below them. As though the danger involved in these acts weren’t daunting enough, Parkour also requires Immler to face his fear of heights head on.

“I just do it and try not to think about it too much,” he said. “Sometimes we just stare at it and think, ‘Can we do this or not?’ Sometimes we’ll just do it, and sometimes it can take half an hour or an hour to work up the courage to try it. When you finally accomplish something that you thought was impossible, there’s just this emotional high. It’s better than sex.”

Though their antics may seem reckless, the Green Monkeys make sure to educate themselves on how to properly absorb the shock from their jumps and what the safest way is to approach certain tricks.

“My advice to anyone interested in parkour is to take extreme caution in doing this,” Immler said. “Go online, read up on it and take it at your own pace. I’m not going to say not to try it, but make sure that before you do you’re well educated.”

Immler and Hauck gain most of their knowledge from the official parkour Web site and by searching online for instructional videos and Web sites. The Green Monkeys are forming routines and courses across campus in an effort to create a film to publish online and introduce more people to parkour.