Damien Puddle

Damien Puddle isn't Superman, but he can leap things in a single bound.

The Chief Executive of New Zealand Parkour is one of the leading parkour practitioners in the country, spearheading the growth of a pastime which sits somewhere between a sport and pastime.

Defining parkour – also known as free-running – "depends on the person", he laughs.

Damien discovered parkour while living in Canada in the early 2000s with his family.

"I was dabbling in a bit of breakdancing – there are some crossover things – and at that same time I saw an ad on TV, and these guys were climbing on rooftops and stuff," he recalls.

"I was like 'what is that?', and ended up finding out it was parkour. I had no idea about how to get into it, and thought 'do I just run outside and leap on bollards, or what?..."

Returning to New Zealand, he met one of New Zealand's first parkour exponents – a "traceur" to use the correct term – Barnaby Matthews, who took Damien to the Waikato University campus to give it a try.

Damien is now at Waikato University doing a PhD in parkour and won the Sport Waikato Administrator of the Year Award for 2017. He says there are different motivations for parkour exponents – some enjoy the physical challenge, others the sheer fun of it, while others use it as training for other physical pursuits.

By 2010, New Zealand's parkour exponents were connecting online and gave it some structure. Damien wanted the best for parkour in New Zealand, and his involvement developed into organisational and leadership roles within the newly-formed New Zealand Parkour.

There is a nationwide parkour event every year usually held on Waitangi weekend, and organised parkour gatherings in numerous New Zealand cities (including Hamilton), although Damien says natural environments are also locations for parkour alongside urban areas.

"You can do parkour anywhere you find obstacles," he says. "The value in parkour training is you get to choose what you do."

"Traditionally and primarily, parkour is non-competitive," he says, pointing back to parkour's roots in France in the 1980s (the training discipline of clearing obstacles can be traced back even further to World War I).

Part of the attraction is the freedom parkour allows.

Although many purists are interested in competition there is a growing number of the parkour community interested in competitive parkour formats and New Zealand hosted its first in April this year.

Damien says it's hard to put an exact figure on the number of parkour exponents in New Zealand, although its profile is growing through movies, TV commercials and organic growth of the pastime. He acknowledges that, like many "action lifestyle" sports, there are participants who don't feel the need to be part of a group or organisation – but Damien estimates at least 8000 people "having some kind of parkour experience every year".

Damien's role in parkour now includes a position with Parkour Earth, the global body for parkour.

His advice for the city's young people?

 "You have to hunt out opportunities," Damien says. "When you've found a niche, it's not about what someone can do for you – you have to go and put it in people's faces. If you find something you love, just go for it."

Page reviewed: 21 Dec 2017 1:26pm