‘You Have To Keep Calm If You're Risking Your Life’ – We Talk Freerunning With Jason Paul
From consoles to colossus: how gaming and creative innovation took Jason Paul to the top...
The world of a freerunner is one of endless possibilities. Barriers and blockages become welcome sights and otherwise boring structures radiate with the stimulating scent of renovation.
City lines that were once only possible in video games become real-life routes. Movements that were previously only achieved with a controller in hand form the basis of a whole new way of thinking.
This transition from console to career is one that rings particularly true for Jason Paul, a Red Bull freerunner who admits professional sport was way out of his reach before he discovered parkour.
“Did I ever think I could making a living from this," he laughs. “Fuck no! I was 14 when I started and I wasn’t good at any sport.
“For me, professional sport was unachievable. At 14, I wasn’t really into most sports – I was a huge geek and just played video games all day. My heroes were from Prince of Persia and Devil May Cry!
“When you start doing it, you don’t look at things the same way. It was so fun to rediscover the world."
“These guys were jumping around doing flips and I was like – that’s just what I want to do. I didn’t think it was actually possible though until my friend came round with a two minutes recording of a crazy parkour programme.
“We saw these grown men jumping around and went out and tried it. Now I’m travelling around the world trying different things in different places and it’s all just great!"
The transformation from gamer to sponsored athlete was certainly no simple feat though.
The self-confessed slow-starter admits that without a sporting background, it was pure dedication and a love for the movement that carried him to where he is today.
He continued: “I could maybe do a few push ups or pull ups when I started and jump over a park bench or two but that was really it. It was a slow, slow progression!
“It took me two years before I started doing flips, first into water, then into sand. We had to just go out on the streets and figure everything out for ourselves.
“As soon as you start doing it, you don’t look at the world in the same way. You're thinking ‘I could climb up that’ whenever you walk around. It was so fun to rediscover the world."
It’s a long time since the now 23-year-old German was first getting started, but it doesn’t take a detective to work out that Jason’s passion for video games has continued to influence his work.
Take a look at his latest release. It takes the modern freerunning scene and merges it with the two dimensional world of 8-bit gaming, not only in graphics but in storyline and concept as well.
The piece is a great mixture of talent, creativity and comedy value, and it’s about as original as it gets.
The Frankfurt-born creative is no stranger to filming in the more stereotypical freerunning setting of the urban city though.
Integrating gaming into his videos is just one way the runner expresses his originality, but he admits that there will never be a better place to do that than the city streets.
"Skateboarders, freeriders and street artists all use something meant to contain us to express ourselves..."
“The city has contained people for so long," he said. "But people started to use the concrete, natural city environment to express themselves.
“London is always fun because there are some amazing athletes there and I love Hong Kong because it’s a crazy urban city with so much to explore and discover.
“Wherever you go though, you’ve got city skateboarders, freeriders and street artists all using something that was meant to contain us to express ourselves. It’s cool to see people making an urban space their own."
Chatting to Jason as we walk through the streets of Shoreditch – the street art and graffiti mecca of London – it’s not hard to see why the two expressive movements go so easily hand in hand.
We pass a wall emblazoned with a piece by the street artist Vhlis, pictured below. This piece was completed legally with a pneumatic drill, but much of the work around it was not so lawful.
Jason pulls a wicked wall flip on the feature and we move on, but at the next stop it’s his work that is deemed beyond the law.
A policeman heckles on and threatens legal action as the freerunner climbs up a building for a pre-planned backflip. ‘Don’t make me nervous,’ Jason simply shouts back. ‘I might fall!’
Of course, the local authorities will never disappear from the sport, but the freerunner admits that slowly but surely, they are becoming less of a problem.
He continued: “We get stopped less now than when we started, because nobody really knew what we were doing at first.
"We get stopped less now than when we started, because nobody knew what we were doing at first"...
“They used to think we were trying to break in somewhere or trying to break something. Now, they are normally okay if you say you’re a freerunner, but they might still tell you to get the fuck out!
“It depends on the police officer and the time of the day, but you just have to be smart about it. We try and find spots where we won’t get in trouble and go there more often."
The freerunning scene is one that certainly demands a respect for location and boundaries, all while pushing both of these factors as far as they can possibly go.
The results leave runners standing on top of breathtaking bridges, jumping from rooftops and flipping from balconies while mere mortals stand staring in utter astonishment.
Fear is not abolished in this nerve-wracking process, admits Jason, but neither does it take control. You have to channel the adrenaline to get in the zone, and only then can you push the boundaries.
“You’re always scared," he concluded. “Everytime you try something that’s out of your comfort zone, you get scared.
“It’s a lot about learning how to control that fear. If you just say ‘fuck it’ and do it, that’s how you get hurt, but when you get used to being calm when you’re risking your life, you can work with that.
“Staying calm is the challenge!"
He speaks with a grin on his face and an energy about life. Staying calm may be the challenge for some, but having watched this freerunner tear about London, it’s safe he's got that factor pinned.
The German is part of a movement with creativity at its core, and while fear is a factor, it’s a factor that is consistently overcome by the passion it takes to get involved in the first place.
The dream may have started from the guided world of a video game for Jason Paul, but the future of freerunning is as open as it gets.