Bay Area Parkour

Train Hard - Stay Humble

SafeNSure requested that I post a bit about my dealings with the high-ups at my University in terms of parkour, so here I am obliging him.

Before I begin with the actual story, let me highlight a bit of my parkour background. I started a pretty small group at the University of Redlands during April of my Junior year there (2007) because I was interested in parkour and wanted some people to do it with. At most we had 14 people at one session, but we usually had around 4 each jam. Towards the beginning, me and my friend Andy were the most active and influential members of the group, and we were also staying in Redlands over the summer. So, we kept the jams consistent and enjoyed the very empty summer campus.

During July, through PKCali we were contacted by a reporter for the Press Enterprise, a pretty large newspaper in southern California. A little while later and we were being interviewed and photographed for their article on parkour (along with another traceur in the area, Jason). We had a good time and eagerly awaited the article.

When the article came out, we bought a few copies and were pretty happy with it, although the reporter was pretty inaccurate and didn't ask us a lot of questions he should have. He also made it sound significantly more dangerous than we ever were. Regardless, we sort of forgot about it a few weeks later, until I was contacted by the head of Public Safety.

He had seen the article and wanted to talk with me about it. I ended up on the phone with him for about a half hour discussing precautions we took, safety levels, but mostly exactly what the sport is. He was actually really nice and cool about it - he said if the school allowed it then he was totally fine with it. He even asked us to teach the officers a thing or two.

So I was feeling good about it, but then a few weeks later I had a meeting scheduled with the dean of students. I knew that she was going to have the head of public safety and the University's insurance lawyer there, so I made sure to prepare as best I could with answers to the questions I knew I would get.

It was a long discussion, and I think I did a very good job trying to be reasonable and understanding. Here is something I posted on PKCali a few months ago detailing the discussion:

By the end of the discussion, the dean of students was undecided, the head of public safety thought it was fine, and the insurance lawyer was totally against it. No matter what I said, he wouldn't change his mind.

His arguments and my counter-arguments went something like the following:
Him: You can hurt yourself and might sue us.
Me: We assume full responsibility for what we are doing and will sign waivers of liability.
Him: Those waivers don't really mean anything, you can still sue. [i](this is sort of true. Basically, if we decide to sue, the school will show the waivers to the judge. The judge can decide to throw them out if he feels for any reason they should be thrown out.)[/i]
Me: Well what about people on the football team? Although it may not appear to be true, football is significantly more dangerous than parkour and percentage-wise there are many more injuries.
Him: There are medical personnel on site to deal with any injuries.
Me: There are currently four people in the parkour group with emergency medical training, including me. [i](this was true.)[/i]
Him: Well football is backed by the NCAA.
Me: I'm telling you now that if I got hurt I would never sue, I will sign a hundred papers saying so, I'll swear it in a court of law, I will do absolutely anything needed. I know that everyone else in the group would do the same.
Him: Whether or not you would sue, your parents will.
Me: No, I can say with certainty that they wouldn't.
Him: Yes they would.
Me: NO, they wouldn't. [i](here is where I started to get angry.)[/i] My parents don't believe in lawsuits and know that everything I do is my own responsibility. They wouldn't.
Him: Well the insurance companies would force them to sue, because they wouldn't pay the damages.
Me: Oh yeah? Well then they would sue the insurance company.
Him: Okay, but regardless, the buildings aren't meant for that sort of activity.
Me: We don't go onto roofs. We stay on the ground and on fences, benches, etc.
Him: But a bench still isn't meant to have someone jump onto it, you could damage or destroy it. And if you break a railing off a building are you going to be able to pay for it? That's thousands of dollars.
Me: We're very careful about what's breakable, and I would pay the money for the repairs if I broke it.
Him: Well then you need to give us a list of all the possible locations you go to, and we need to come see what you do there.

Obviously there's a lot of paraphrasing in there, but you get the idea. In the end, I got permission to do whatever on the quad, or anything that resembles something another sport does and is in the same location. I never bothered to give the guy a list of all the places I would go, because I didn't think it was worth my time. Pretty much when he started saying that I could damage a cement bench by doing vaults over it (probably exerting like 50 pounds of force, maximum, and these benches can hold two football players no problem), I realized that he was never going to change his mind. If I did bother to make a list and show them all the spots, he would approve very few spots or none at all. They also said that people from off campus were never allowed to come at all.

So, I went off campus from then on. I think the lesson is really to try to keep under the radar as much as possible until you can't anymore. And if you're in a newspaper article, get it made in a public park and be sure to mention that you don't go on campus. That's what we did for the second article we were in, and all was fine. Also, don't do anything particularly annoying to people like going on roofs. If you're jumping over a railing, they will say, "stop it, you could hurt yourself," and that's it. Then you walk to somewhere else. Avoid high falls, leaving marks on walls, and the like while on a campus.

Businesses that take participants on endeavors such as adventure trips (like climbing or rafting) typically have a few levels of protection, which are:

1) Participants sign waivers of liability.
2) All leaders are medically trained and instructed rigorously on how to avoid negligence.
3) The company has a special kind of insurance that covers being sued, usually up to something like 3 million dollars.

Like I said before, a judge can throw out waivers if they feel the situation calls for it (so that's #1 gone). Then it will go to court, and the jury will have to agree that there was some sort of negligence on the part of the company or their employee. If they do, that's #2 gone. Finally, the company gets sued, and then they will lose their insurance after it has paid. #3 gone.

So if my University had actually allowed me to parkour, then they would have lost their ability to fall back on #2, which is big. Because if I hurt myself and sue them, then I can say that they were negligent by not stopping me. I know, it's stupid. But that's America.

Anyway, I've typed enough. Discussions?

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Great opener to the discussion. I think arguing directly with an insurance lawyer is impossible, as this exemplifies. Liability waivers don't mean much and really, they probably shouldn't since it's never really a good idea to sign away your rights for short term gain; it seems like a lot to someone signing them, but like other things in the USA, easy to ignore with proper legal counsel.

I think you were right to not spell out all the places you practice- aside from the immediate trouble of giving them ability to explicitly ban a place, it also creates the mentality that places need to be approved for pk as opposed to specifically banned. Not knowing the specifics of the property, I think it's better to assume that spaces are public and available for respectful use until otherwise notified. I mean, did the lawyer say that no non-university people weren't allowed to even stand by and watch you train? How would they desire to limit the public's use or even ability to walk through the campus? It's a ridiculous question, right?

As has been mentioned in another discussion, flying below radar also means not explicitly mentioning the P-word, unless that word is plyometrics (which is a lot of pk anyway). A latent benefit of the training that is practiced here is that most of it isn't truly differentiable from the non-pk workouts. Maybe by approaching any big whigs by emphasizing the fitness and training aspects which are common to general fitness groups, we can de-emphasize the perceived dangerous notions that come up when people first think of the opening to Casino Royale. As we realized yesterday at CCSF, it can be helpful to sound like a trainer by dropping fitness terms like plyometrics, isometrics, core strength, cardio, natural method, blahblahblah.

Getting more medical training in the group is always beneficial, too. It's been years since I had any and would be interested if anyone's got suggestions for basic training; I'm not planning to be an EMT, but are there classes that would help smaller injuries and maybe satisfy the concerns of a administrator?
no matter how many liability waivers u signed, and no matter how many times you said you wouldn't sue there was no chance an insurance lawyer was going to agree with you. insurance lawyers are always worried about this sort of stuff because its their job to take all the necessary precautions to avoid any chance of a lawsuit. correct me if im mistaken.
Yes, the conclusion is on target. Stay under the radar as much as possible.
007 lol
Hmm, seems like a great idea to learn a lot of the technical terms. I personally had to look up plyometrics... I usually tell people "just hanging out" or "just messing around" which typically makes them think I'm a drug dealer or something... better terminology would be great. :-D

I personally have a WFR (Wilderness First Responder) which is a 72 hour course (usually over 8 days or so) and one of the best classes I've ever taken. It's also incredibly useful, and can get you a ton of jobs in related disciplines (leading trips climbing and the like). I for example just led a trip to Costa Rica and was paid for it, partly because of the WFR. You also learn to be a first responder, which is literally knowing how to be the first person on the scene. You can stabilize spinal injuries, treat wounds, do CPR, etc., and you also learn much more complicated maneuvers like making splints or relocating limbs, but those fall under "wilderness protocols" and can only be legally performed when more than 2 hours away from help.

Yeah, I don't think an insurance lawyer is ever going to agree to anything, and I never really though they would. Originally I didn't know I wasn't going to have to deal with one - I thought it would be all reasonable human beings.
OUTSTANDING testimonial!
Thanks Demonpants...

(This is what I mean when I say that, in the Bay Area -for all the media coverage that pk has got- there haven't been enough efforts to enhance the general public and authorities acceptance/recognition of the sport... -Art, discipline or whatchamacallit...)

We need more of THIS talking and acting; this is going to propel PK much more than any kind of shoes...


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