Life of a Maltese Sportsman

Episode 3 – Parkour

Written by Kurt Aquilina

A series of articles about different Maltese athletes in their different ‘habitats’, getting a feel for what their experience of playing their sport really feels like to them.

Parkour is a relatively new sport here in Malta. First developed in France during the late 1980s, parkour has become quite popular across the world because of its use in movies, and advertisements throughout the years. Since the late 2000s, Maltese people began to find their way into the sport. Unlike the ones mentioned in our previous episodes, parkour is primarily an individual sport where despite having different teams, one performs using his own two hands and feet. This is the same here in Malta.

To get a better view of all this, I spoke to Neil Bezzina who is one of Malta’s earliest parkour athletes. Bezzina started his experience in 2011. He described parkour as something which gives him a kind of “high” because it takes up his total concentration in a way that makes him forget everything else. He started out when parkour was considered an unknown sport in Malta and together with a number of other athletes, Bezzina helped the sport grow by starting out the earliest YouTube videos and Facebook promotion for the sport.

He talked about how the Maltese parkour community has grown so much since his start. They began to realise this when the gym where they initially started out became too small for them. They moved to a larger gym which helped them improve and grow further. In fact, as far back as 4 years ago, the level of Maltese parkour athletes matched that of internationals. However, he admitted that it looks like Maltese parkour has fallen behind in the last two years.

Neil was the first “teacher” of the sport in Malta. Nowadays he is no longer instructing others however, official training sessions are being held on a regular basis by other athletes in a local gym. He believes that in the future, the sport can become recognised through an institution. At the moment, it is still based on groups of friends who build their own team. Neil himself once formed his own team which was called ‘Leap Squad’. Together, the team ran across the island and even abroad on one occasion. Bezzina stressed that the sport is not restricting in any way and that individuals who stand out have even been sponsored by large brands like Red Bull.

Just like all other sports in Malta, most parkour athletes train on a voluntary basis. Teams meet up whenever they find time between their other commitments. Because there is no static administration of the sport, most of the exposure comes from the athletes themselves. Bezzina said that without funds allocated to the sport, the only way to promote parkour is by filming and editing videos themselves. These are then shared by friends and family in order to create a bit of exposure.

Parkour events work in the same way as training. Bezzina recalled the last Parkour event held in Malta last December and helped me understand how these athletes prepare. Parkour athletes meet in the morning and spend the first hour warming up. Gradually they move onto some basic training which is mainly going from ground level, then to what is called ‘Follow the leader’, where one athlete gets from point A to Point B in a free run while others follow in the same way. Finally, they go into a ‘The Floor is Lava’ situation where the athletes stay away from the ground in all of their movements. When the training is done, the official event begins.

The Parkour event is a combination of beauty and skill where the athletes are given 45 seconds to run around the course. They are then judged on their technicality, level of difficulty, flow and creativity. The event starts off with 16 competitors and the final 8 are passed into the final round. Bezzina said that these events are inspired by ones called ‘the Art of Motion’ which is an international parkour competition. He said that wearing the right gear helps in the way you look and feel while performing your run. Most athletes wear baggy clothes to cover certain areas of the body in order to make your run look more ‘flowy’. He insisted that this is a vital part of the beauty of the sport.

Asked about dangers of the sport, Bezzina joked about the time he tried barefoot parkour and how he is not planning to do it again in the near future. However, he suggested that doing parkour with gear such as helmets and kneepads make the sport much less rewarding. In terms of performing a jump, most of the time is usually spent calculating distances and taking precautions. When filming, a 3-minute video generally takes at least 15 hours of calculations and training beforehand in order to stay safe and capture the best possible shot.

He also mentioned the ‘fear factor’ where he simply admitted that “When you are not comfortable, you won’t do it.” Despite this, he said that if you fight this fear factor, you’ll beat it. In parkour, certain opportunities of a great jump only come around once and so you either do it now or never do it at all.

At the moment, Parkour has one ‘official’ park, situated in Mosta where most athletes meet. Neil’s best experience throughout his parkour years was in fact during the opening of this park in 2013. He recounted the 13-foot jump he attempted in front 60 spectators of all ages, who gave him the confidence and support he needed to beat his fear factor.  

Parkour is not confined to this park only- one can practice the sport anywhere he or she lay eyes on. Nature is a parkour athlete’s friend as this is generally the starting point for everyone. One starts from training in a gym, and then onto soil, and finally on the tarmac. The sport has seen groups of friends become teammates who practice and achieve new milestones with the aim of reaching the so-called “high” which is associated with the sport.