Ryan Murphey scales the sheer cement wall next to Thimann Labs. In a few short seconds, he’s up and over the wall, making it look effortless. Photo by Andrew Allio.
A student who walked out of his class was interested in the group, and decided to make the “long-short jump” after practicing with others. “Please don’t die,” Reno Nims pleads. Photo by Andrew Allio.

Next to the sea lion statue on Science Hill, there is a pair of staircases — but for Artem Chelovechkov, they are more than just steps. Flying across them at a height of about 10 feet, he will prove to himself that obstacles can be overcome. A few spectators stop by to see what, to them, might seem physically impossible.

“Parkour is my way to be free,” said second-year Merrill student Chelovechkov. “I enjoy the moments when you reach a gap. It’s a way to get away from everything.”

Movement is the word that best describes parkour, a sport created in France in the 1980s. It is not only about jumping up walls and climbing back down them — it requires a lot of strength, versatility and guts.

UCSC’s parkour club originally started four years ago when a group of friends decided to start climbing walls and doing jumps. It wasn’t easy at first, but gradually the group started successfully surmounting more and more of the obstacles.

“We watched some videos on YouTube and then decided to go out and try some jumps,” said Crown fourth-year J.D. Stockford. “If we failed, then we would go back and see the video and try again.”

Over the last few years, the club has become bigger and better. What started as just a way to imitate difficult jumps transformed into a club interested in building up strength and ability to do new tricks. Right now, the club has around 20 members, or traceurs, as they call themselves.

Ryan Murphy, first-year Cowell student, is a new member of the club. However, he has been practicing parkour since his second year of high school. To him, the sport is a guide for facing everyday challenges.

“The physical obstacles that you overcome in practice and training will manifest themselves as obstacles that occur in your life and that you get over in your life,” Murphy said.

Unlike many other sports, parkour is not a competition but a discipline, and as such, the the only competitor is oneself. Parkour has no definite rules.

“It is open to interpretation,” Murphy said. “You can interpret obstacles however you like and interact with them in your own way.”

UCSC’s parkour club is part of a bigger community: San Francisco Parkour, a fellowship that holds gatherings for parkour clubs all around the Bay Area. Once a month, the organization holds a meeting at which all the clubs can come together to learn more about the sport. UCSC has hosted one such event.

Because of its newcomer status, parkour lends itself to the close-knit community, but also to an openness for any and everyone to participate. Unlike baseball or football, parkour does not demand a specific training site. Instead, any place can become an obstacle or practice area.

The idea is that “any obstacle is not an obstacle. You can go over it and under it and through it,” fourth-year Reno Nims said.

Parkour club members keep discovering interesting places on campus where they can develop their moves.

And, Murphy said, traceurs have a saying: “The world is our playground.”