So I’ve Been Watching These Parkour Videos
So I’ve been watching these parkour videos.
Storror’s the name of the group, a portmanteau of “style” and “horror” — like “steezin” — I assumed. Cool!
But nope — it’s just the middle name of two of the members. There are seven of them in total, plus a few satellite members and camera people. Brits, all — and total lads. Benj, Max, Toby, Sacha, Callum, Josh, Drew — together, they’re best friends and a team. A squad? Their fans are their army: Storror Army, as in, “Big ups, Storror Army.” They’re talking to me; I’ve enlisted.
And it’s good to be back! The last time I was into parkour in any sort of non-zero way was in middle school. My friends and I made up a prodigious-feeling carpool, and for some unrememberable reason, our usually prompt moms were usually about a half-hour-to-an-hour late in picking us up after school. No problem to us — a half-hour-to-an-hour of added parkour time was a treasure we couldn’t afford to risk undervaluing.
The canopied spot outside Rice Middle School’s cafeteria proved a choice location for four burgeoning parkourers, by which I mean it had a low wall and one picnic table. Well that, and the hardly-investigated legend that some eighth grader (the name changed with the telling) had once parkoured onto the roof of the school’s iconic rotunda, overlooking our spot. Even the whisper of such reckless heroism was enough to anoint the location, converting the empty backlot to an arena of ghosts: the masters of parkour, returned to this hallowed ground to watch us test our wings.
“Were we any good?” you’re wondering. We were eager. It wasn’t long before the relatively scarce education available on YouTube brought us our first seemingly replicable move: the vault. As in, “Here’s a picnic table and I’m going to vault my little preteen body over it.” Overthinking was the enemy of doing, we might’ve thought, so across the chasm between not knowing parkour and doing parkour we flung ourselves in all the adolescent abandon we could muster.
It wasn’t too hard — it’s easy to recall now — because preteen bodies are made of that cartoonish elasticity that seems to make them either totally indestructible or broken in multiple places — a perfect binary. We put that binary to the test as soon as the final bell rang each day, clumsily chucking our limbs over the table until we felt thrice as smooth as we looked (and were only one or two faceplants worse for the wear). Little did the French inventors of Parkour know, their art of movement was being wondrously torch-born by four brace-mouthed, middle school brass players in Plano, Texas.
Another band of brothers — Benj, Max, Toby, Sacha, Callum, Josh, Drew — put out a video every Monday (and Friday, if you’re a paid “Joiner.” “Big ups to Joiners.” I’m not one yet, but it’s a matter of time). The variety is astounding; sometimes they’re bopping around Brighton for some tik-tak technical challenges in spots that appear mundane until they unveil their precise gymnastics, and others they’re in Hamburg or somewhere equally exotic to this American, making inch-specific bridge jumps over water or else clearing 10+ foot gaps between 40+ story buildings.
They all provide different thrills, but they all provide thrills — if not the vicarious adrenaline of some death-defying stunt, then the smaller (and larger) ground-level buzz of doing some cool stuff with your friends. We look at their world and see pipes, ledges, pedestrian little corners; they look at their world and see Super Mario’s.
The hardest move I ever attempted was a maneuver where I’d begin on top of the table, feet in front of me, knees bent, right hand behind me gripping the edge, elevated in a sort of crab walk position but with my left arm out perpendicular from my body. From there, I’d jump backward while maintaining contact with my right hand, effectively backflipping to the ground. At least, that’s what it felt like. I don’t have a name for the move because as far as I know it’s never been deemed difficult, graceful, or cool enough to even be worth an attempt from any real parkourers, and I can only imagine now that it looked clumsy at best and chiropractic at worst. And yet, I’m physically unable to remember it looking or feeling like anything other than a virtuosically athletic backflip/hand plant combo — something Simone Biles and Storror and Ezio Auditore would hold in equal reverence.
Still, the inarguable peak of my friends’ and my parkour career counterintuitively went down inside a typically-suburban North Dallas house (sorry, Mrs. Kurak :/ ). Home alone and hopped up on semi-sweet chocolate chips (straight from the bag, serving size: non-existent), we sized up what would be the stunt of our young lives: a diagonal jump from the upstairs game room balcony to the downstairs living room couch. That may sound minor, but you have to consider a few things:
- North Dallas (and Plano in particular) has no dearth of space, so the houses tend to stretch skywards even when it’s not even close to merited. Meaning: this jump was at least a story high, and airy.
- Outside of our middle school sessions, we had no meaningful training at all. Meaning: we had no meaningful training at all.
- The jump was in no way “straight-on” or “failsafe.” Because the upstairs balcony didn’t extend far enough to align directly behind the couch that was our landing pad, we had to approach it from an angle. Meaning: we were jumping diagonally, trying to shoot the gap between the hard back of the couch and the hard glass of the coffee table a foot on the other side of the couch. There was little room for error, so we had to stick it on the first try — or in the parlance of Storror, we needed a “one-banger.”
Look, it’s really hard to capture without visual aids. My friend and parkour teammate whose house was our gym couldn’t find any pics from those pre-iPhone days, but I was able to find some workable (if pixelated) images from an old online listing (sorry, Mrs. Kurak :/ ).
It’s not perfect, but this shows the main living room/landing zone space. You can’t see the balcony we were jumping from here but you can get a sense of the heights at play, and I’ve leveraged years of graphic design skills to place markers representing the couch and the coffee table. Also of note in this shot is the jump we used as a warm-up, marked with a red arrow; we started from the off-screen balcony at level height to the on-screen walkway and jumped over the banister to the mid-stairs landing. Because of the shorter distance and higher landing area, this was a good challenge from a stupidity standpoint. Because of the banister hurdle and the drop, it was a stupid challenge from a property-and-bodily-damage standpoint. But you have to remember: we were indestructible until proven broken.
So now we arrive at the Main Event. This angle is shot from the doorway visible in the back right corner of the first image and shows the very bottom of the game room balcony from which we tossed ourselves. The couch is just visible around the stairwell, and of course our flight path is traced in the same neon red we narrowly avoided bleeding. I went first, I believe — most likely due to some self-esteem stuff and feeling like I had the most to prove vis-a-vis daredevilism.
As if reaching into the future to draw from the advice Storror videos would give my 26-year-old self (“Assess the mental challenge. Once you overcome the barriers in your mind, the jump is just a formality”), I dutifully climbed over the balcony’s railing to the narrow ledge, accepted my place in the indestructible/breakable binary, and bravely/dumbly leaped into glory or bodily trauma.
A second in the air, a day as a bird, a year as a plane.
Then glory. The one-banger was in, the couch cushion acted as such, and the cheers cloaked me in heaven. My mission complete, I instantly learned the same lesson Alex Honnold learned the second he summited El Capitan: Mission Complete really only means Mission Two is a Go, for moonshotters like ourselves. I was Neil Armstrong, just on the other side of airless death, begging for another shot in the rocket.
So up the stairs I went, barely watching as my friends gamely and safely made the same jump in turn, blinded by the thought of another go. When it was my turn, I discarded any residual hesitancy from round one and flung myself without thought into the two-second abyss.
Well, as went any hesitancy, so did any carefulness or flight precision. I hit couch, it’s true, but only with my left leg. The right landed safely enough between the couch and the coffee table, but the unexpected shock sent my knees knocking together with enough force for me to see my entire walking life flash before my eyes. Ten walkless minutes of fear and agony later, I was basking in my once-again-indestructibleness. But where moments earlier my unending love of parkour had filled me with an adventurous spirit, there was now a cold memory of fear. My parkouring career, over as soon as it began.
(An aside, but writing about this incident and texting my brother [who gets credit for introducing me to Storror] reminded me of another incident too painful [for him] and hilarious [for me] and difficult to describe [for this] where an attempted vault over a high, stair-descending railing ended in the rarely-seen two-story stomach-slide/splat-fall [for him]. Ha!)
Like anybody this past year, I’ve been guzzling from a constant stream of distractors of varying effectiveness: movies, video games, books, puzzles, workouts, crosswords, etc., etc. — all in the vain hope of dissuading the Pandemic Pointlessness from settling in for the day. Sometimes it’s a war of attrition, the sheer amount of “entertainment” (though can it still be called that when it’s used less as a relaxing reward than a shield against trauma?) stacking up enough to hold off the daily downers. But most times it’s a half success, helping me make it to tomorrow but not unscathed.
So it’s almost a laugh, then, that seven British jumping bois have managed to do in 20-minute increments what so many master filmmakers and authors and musicians have failed to accomplish — hold my attention, raise my mood, fend off the demons of a world frozen in hell.
Because don’t be fooled — these parkour videos are not passing amusements. Sure, it’s a quick-bite way to lock in my newly shortened attention span, and it’s obviously a portal back to nostalgically pandemic-free memories and a portal forward to some alternate reality where I stuck round two of the Couch Jump and went on to parkour fame with my friends. But the pure, distilled joy I’m getting from these vlogs transcends simple entertainment or a straightforward exercise in nostalgia. I’m not distractedly chuckling while I work on my budget; I’m slack-jawed in wonder while begging, pleading with my lunch break to last long enough for one more video.
As far as I can understand why, the reason for my sudden and total reliance on English cool-jumping to get me through my days is a layer cake of wish fulfillment. Obviously, Storror is wish-fulfilling on a basic level because it’s cool and looks super fun, but that’s just the foundation. There’s a whole second layer where these endearing, mutually-supportive pals represent what I can only imagine is every average person’s pipe dream: messing around with your six best mates until you’re doing so professionally, as leading global experts in your field. Oh, and your field is criminal-adjacent and dangerous, yet harmless to others and nomadic (and inherently evasive) enough as to be unprosceutably legally ambiguous. They’re basically a team of international super spies working outside the layman’s justice system, only instead of killing targets they’re assassinating sick jumps and flowy lines.
And that builds into yet another layer of risk-free wish-fulfillment: whereas our fledgling parkour careers were always bound by the concrete fear of concrete and what even a sprained ankle could mean for our marching band or recreational youth soccer careers (or whatever), Storror gets to hurdle that risk-aversive fence by nature of their honed skills and the fact that it becomes more personally and financially justifiable to expose yourself to these kinds of risks when you’re paid handsomely to do so. And however they’ve done it, they’ve trained themselves to the point where stunts that would prove fatal to us one-hundred percent of the time are mere puddle hops for them. They’ve leveled up in real-time over the ten-plus years they’ve been running and jumping and climbing together, literally and figuratively ascending until they’re so far removed from attainable human experiences that you can hear the mental projectors whirring in all of their watchers-on, blowing a fuse just trying to map something recognizable onto this alien experience. It’s that Alex-Honnold-in-Free-Solo sweet spot again, where it’s so mental you just have to absorb it as something totally outside of yourself, as something authentically New.
Now imagine the value such a fresh vicarious thrill-and-fulfill machine could have in a time when walking outside without a medical mask is a risk on par with any the Storror men conquer. An exaggeration, maybe, but if I can boot up YouTube and live like Evel Knievel while I eat my fifth at-home lunch of the workweek — well, I’m certainly going to.
There’s a clunkier connection to be drawn, perhaps, between small men and big leaps and the gaps between us right now and so on, but I’m not going to make it because when I decided to write about parkour videos I did so without a thesis; I wanted to work it out in real-time because I felt how important these stupid-not-stupid videos already were to me even if I couldn’t articulate why, yet. Making the leap to connect these leaps to our current world could end in profundity, or a 40-story fall into hackiness. It’s a risk my middle school self might’ve taken, but not one I’m prepared to take now. For obvious reasons, I’ve gotten more used to living in uncertainty these days.
It’s already redundant to say so, but it’s been a really, really, really hard year. I miss the world I used to hardly notice, and I miss my friends and the stupid-not-stupid things we’d get up to. I miss taking worth-it risks that couldn’t even potentially kill anyone’s grandma, and I miss feeling the thrill of standing on the precipice of anything other than an endless tomorrow. If I’ve been lucky enough to find even an unexplainable, temporary salve, I’ve been smart enough to keep using it. So I’ve been watching these parkour videos.
And I’ll keep watching them. And maybe I’ll need them less as the world crawls back to normalcy and we can start reliving the mundane (and magical) thrills of normal life’s risks and rewards — or maybe I won’t. Who knows! For now, I know I don’t have a choice: I’ll make it through this week as I’ve made it through the past fifty-two, and I’ll happily see you next Monday for another Storror video drop.
And Friday, for “Joiners.”
“Big ups to Joiners.”