World champion free runner and parkour athlete Ryan Doyle popped by our urbanised island state for the Shine Festival early this month. He exhibited an exhilarating performance along Orchard Road, showing the local community and the public why he is the ultimate urban ninja.
Sponsored by Red Bull, he boasts accolades that include two-time world champion in Art of Motion and three-time national tricking champion. He is also a founder of Airborn Academy that teaches the art of parkour and free running.
We seized the rare opportunity to catch this creative and fearless athlete while he was in town for a chat to discover more about his work and aspirations.
Nookmag (N): When you visit a new urban environment, do you immediately fantasise what you can do with the structures and obstacles around?
Ryan (R): Yes, I do. First question – what can I do on these structures. Second question – what’s the law like in this country. Then we’d just take it from there. Usually the best thing to do is to make a connection with the local parkour guys. I can come here and try to make my skills fit, but it’s going to take a few days to adapt and create something unique that only works at this location. If I meet the local guys, they would take me to the hot spots and to where they already know. I will level up much faster being around those guys.
N: With parkour, how differently do you see your world and surroundings?
R: There’s actually a difference in the way we see the world. When you don’t train for a certain amount of time, you can feel yourself becoming ‘normal’. You’ll walk around the fence, instead of over the fence.
I’d go straight over the fence – I don’t even question it. And then someone gives you a funny look. The obstacles around you become apparatus and the world becomes a playground. When you can see the world like that, every location offers something new and you can go back to the same location every single day because you see it in a different way each time. The more movements you ‘unlock’ (like a game) within yourself, you’ll have more to play around with and that changes the perspective again. It’s a constant life progression.
N: What is an actual obstacle for you?
R: It could be this chair or that desk over there. If you’re talking about parkour and you need to get to your destination, it’s anything that avoids a straight line. It’s something that makes you want to turn, go up and down. But how often do you use parkour? I’m never getting chased; I don’t really need to be that efficient. At the end of the day, when you watch parkour, it’s not really that interesting, it’s more about running, jumping and being efficient.
The free runners of the world are guys who stand for the freedom of movement. It’s not about going from point A to point B. It’s about point A and what you can do there. And how you can get from point A to B in the most creative way, not the most efficient way. You can spend the entire day at the playground or the park just working and trying to understand what your body is capable of. I mean, you can’t be efficient unless you understand how the body works first. Free running is understanding what your body is capable of. If the time comes when you need to use parkour, then you can pick and choose the movements that are right for you because you spend time exploring that your body is trained to do this and that it is definitely the most efficient way for you. We are all of different shapes, heights. What’s going to work for one guy is not going to work for the next guy.
N: Who needs the bus if you have such skills?
R: Well a lot of people have said that to me. If you have a long distance to travel, the most efficient way is to get a car or something. When it comes down to short distances like in your local area, it’s good to have that ability to open the door and break into this urban ninja.
N: What’s your limit?
R: Well yeah, there is a limit of how high the body can hit the ground from. I won’t do it if the drop is more than 15 foot. If you watch the Red Bull Art of Motion, you can see the next revolution of human ability. It’s getting ridiculously crazy. Every year, 10 new crazy movements come out. Athletes are going higher and stronger. I don’t compete any more. I’ve done the tournaments. Now, I like to be creative and make videos. I’m trying to keep the community alive and growing the sport of parkour. It’s pretty much in every major city around the world. The internet has spread it. One of the local female parkour athletes said that they have at least a thousand athletes in Singapore and that makes me smile. Urban ninjas crawling all over the city! At night, they would go on night missions. It’s a big thing – the actions and the skills you use. You don’t want to do anything illegal, you just want to explore. If you climb up somewhere high and look down, you’ll get to see your surroundings like your school, your house… It’s what we like to do. Maybe we’re like the next evolved human or something. We should create some kind of army.
N: Yeah and make video games come true.
R: I did the live action trailer for the Destiny video game recently. I think it’s going to be released in August. That’ll be interesting.
N: How do you constantly innovate your moves?
R: That’s not easy. When we first started training parkour, we were creating new moves left, right and centre. We realised that there were only a few who would explore the movements and now, people are taking the movements and doing little variations of them but they are kind of the same. It’s getting harder to come up with new movements. This year, I came up with three, which is not good. I’m competing against the rest of the global parkour community on being unique. You can take two different movements and mix them together to create a new movement that’s weird or freaky. That’s usually the easiest way to create something that’s never been done before.
Last summer I was doing a Warner Brothers movie called DxM. I created a unique movement for that and named it after the character called Voltaire. A Formula One video came out recently and the Voltaire movement is in it too. I spun off stacking 360 off the wall – three movements combined into one. I was happy when I came up with it. I was asking everyone, “Is this definitely unique? Have you seen any Russian kids do this?”
The Russians are the crazy guys. They are the ones who would go on to the next level. We’ll practise in the gyms and then head out to the streets but they’ll practise on a lamp post. They’re just no fear and advancing quite rapidly in the sport.
N: Shoes must be an important part of your gear. What are your preferred ones to wear?
R: I like the Puma FAAS 500. Puma has given me a lot of shoes like these (referring to current shoes). I have these because they are quite efficient – I don’t need laces. They are pretty cushiony and have thick insoles which give me an extra inch in height. I mean that’s the thing with most urban sports – they have equipment. For example, you could use a bike to get that extra 10 feet. The human body has a lot more limits. All you really need is a pair of shoes for free running. Well, that’s not even true. There’s some barefoot parkour training online. It just shows that you don’t need anything to be a free runner. It’s hard to get sponsors because we don’t have anything to brand. I know it’s been around for about 20 years but it’s still young. It still has a long way to go, which is exciting.
N: You have numerous accolades under your name. What’s left to achieve for you?
R: After I won the Art of Motion twice, there’s not much I can get from competing in it. It’s held at Santorini every year now. It will take place at a different part of the island this year and it makes me want to compete again because it’s a different location. But I never like to repeat the runs because there will be the same white walls, blue skies. Years ago, Art of Motion used to tour to different countries and that would produce different kinds of winners. The winner is not the best athlete; it’s the one who could adapt their style to the environment. If you keep changing the environment, you would get more unique winners. I think Art of Motion needs to change its environment soon because many of the athletes know the course and they have an unfair advantage.
I was doing an MTV series. We wrote it out and got a green light for a full season with seven or eight episodes and lived in LA for a while and that led to Freerunner the movie. I played a lead character – the bad guy called Finch. I already had an acting background before I was free running. Last year, I did another movie, which is my second major feature called DxM. It’s action sci-fi. I can’t wait for it to come out next year. I like acting and playing characters that aren’t me. It’s fun. It’s something that I want to be doing more in the future. Same goes for online series as well. My online series ‘Travel Story’ won a ‘Best International Series’ award. I got two more projects for world tours. There are a lot in the pipeline for me.
N: Do you think you get to engage a different creative side of yourself when you do movies?
R: Yeah. It’s pre-recorded action. I know what I want the audience to see and feel from my movements. It’s also about creating the character, playing someone that is not yourself. That side of life is really interesting to me.
N: What are the perks of being a Red Bull athlete?
R: Red Bull is the best company I’ve ever come across. It’s just the way they do things. They have really cool marketing techniques. If I think of a decent project and present it to them, it can get to anywhere in the world. If it’s good enough, they’ll make it happen. Being the first Red Bull athlete for parkour and free running, I have a responsibility to pave the way for the next guy. It’s hard – a lot of people are looking up to me. Now we have four more Red Bull athletes who are free running. At the end of the day, we’ve got this opportunity because the sport is so young. I told the other athletes that they have to make good decisions because people are going to listen to them. It’s fun being part of something so innovative and new where I can express my opinions with confidence from personal experience.
I also teach at Airborn Academy in the UK. My brother is the head coach there. It’s good to go back and give what I’ve learned to the next generation to kind of save them really. I don’t want them to get hurt like I did. I went through some bad injuries to get this far. I want them to get further without any injuries. Learn from my mistakes and progress. The academy is where they can practise safely and hone their skills before taking them to the streets. We recreate a lot of stunts there and I live there – I love the place. It’s home.
N: How else do you inspire young people?
R: Just do my videos. I’m an artist when it comes to my movements. I was in university for media, television and production not because that’s what I wanted to do but I wanted to know how to capture the movements. It’s about how people see the movements. I can show you a backflip shot in a different way. Hopefully, this type of presentation of movements will inspire people. You can show the love for it. I want people to tune their aerial awareness, which is knowing where the ground is from every angle. If you know where the floor is at all times, you know you’ve got a good aerial awareness because the floor is the only thing that is going hurt you. To me, that is part of life. Why do we have to be afraid constantly? If you tell people to lean backwards, their heads would come forward because they are not used to going off balance. So it’s kind of like you’ve got to unlock all these life skills. As far as I’m concerned, if you use your body and the environment to their full potential, you’re living life to the full potential.
Catch more action on Ryan Doyle’s YouTube channel.