MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now an introduction to something that's developed a loyal and growing following. It's called parkour. Lu Olkowsi went out on the streets of New York to catch its practitioners in action.
LU OLKOWSKI reporting:
Parkour combines the endurance of a long distance runner and the moves, the jumps, vaults, leaps and rolls, of a gymnast. It looks like a chase scene from a blockbuster movie. A guy running through the city, scrambling up fire escapes, leaping from building to building like Spider Man, landing as gently as a cat.
Mr. EXOUSIA PIERCE (Parkour instructor): All right, gentlemen, you're going to participate in what we call a stealth run. Basically, in a nutshell, it's a more advanced version of follow the leader.
OLKOWSKI: That's Exousia Pierce. Everybody calls him XO. He spent the winter and spring teaching teams how to do parkour. They've been practicing in a gym on huge squishy mats. Now, about a dozen kids are ready to try out the same vaults and leaps outside - on concrete.
Mr. PIERCE: Ready? Parkour.
OLKOWSKI: The guys jog away single file.
Mr. PIERCE: Woo, sorry about that, keep going. Keep going.
OLKOWSKI: XO catches the attention of Samuel Tapia(ph). Samuel doesn't do parkour, but is friends with a lot of the guys who do. He does a little play by play as XO prepares to scale a 15 foot wall to reach a fence that runs along the top.
Mr. SAMUEL TAPIA (Parkour enthusiast): Well XO, known as Spider Man, oh here he goes, here he goes. He's running. He's running up to the wall, he hops off, he jumps up, picking up his speed more. There he goes, jumps up, he scales the wall, he gots it. Higher part of the wall, climbing up the fence, there we go, there we go. Climbs around the fence. He's just looking cool.
OLKOWSKI: What they do looks dramatic and free and loose, but XO says it's far more controlled.
Mr. PIERCE: After about the fourth or fifth move, then I'm entering, like, the zone, where it's like I'm one with the obstacle course. I'm one with my movement, with my body and with the environment. It's like a wormhole opening in your mind and nothing else matters except what you're doing, so in that worm hole of movement is freedom.
OLKOWSKI: Eventually, the guys run onto the Manhattan Bridge, where there is a pedestrian walkway along the train tracks. XO tries to climb up the suspension cable to the next level, where there's no subway and no cars, but plenty of obstacles.
Mr. PIERCE: If you can't try it, don't try it. I, however, am tempted to see the view.
Unidentified Man: Yo, what are you doing?
Mr. PIERCE: Let's go.
Mr. TEDDY BAILEY(ph) (Parkour enthusiast): XO got in trouble. He actually got yelled at by a grown-up.
OLKOWSKI: Teddy Bailey is a lanky kid, the only one who comes back smiling, not out of breath at all. As for being yelled at, XO says that's understandable. That grown-up works for the MTA. They're responsible for maintaining the trains.
Mr. PIERCE: He's like, what are you doing? Then again, I'm trained enough to know what I'm doing, so I know that I'm not going to do anything that's going to get me killed.
OLKOWSKI: In fact today there are just a few scrapes. This weekend the guys host a national jam. Practitioners of parkour from all over the country will come to play in New York.
For NPR News, I'm Lu Olkowski in New York.
NORRIS: You can see photos of XO and others leaping and soaring at our website, NPR.org.