With a good pair of sneakers, cat burglarlike agility and a lot of courage, Kristof Grina will climb nearly anything.
Kristof, 13, and his friend Tor Travis, 14, both of Georgetown, are part of a burgeoning sport called parkour, a phenomenon that originated in France and is making its way into American culture.
David Belle, who is credited with inventing parkour with his friend Sebastien Foucan in Paris, was featured in the British Broadcasting Corp. promotional film “Rush Hour,” which premiered in early 2003.
The sport’s objective is to create a “run” — a path where an obstacle is overcome by going over it without any equipment. Obstacles can include walls, statues, monuments and, in some cases, buildings.
Tor became interested about six months ago after seeing Toyota and Nike commercials featuring the sport.
He found some information on Web sites such as urbanfreeflow.com, and began practicing, eventually drawing Kristof into the sport.
“That’s how it usually happens,” Kristof said. “Someone tells someone and word spreads. [Urbanfreeflow] had 1,500 members a few months ago; now it’s up to, like, 3,000.”
Tor, who participated in swimming until he got “bored,” said he does parkour daily.
“At night, indoors, for exercise, you can do it almost anywhere. If you’re really into parkour, you’ll already have been doing it.”
Kristof and Tor, both students at Hardy Middle School in Northwest, recently took a train to a parkour event in New York, where about 50 people participated.
“New York was awesome,” Tor said. “One kid actually fell in the Hudson River trying to leap across a small stretch of it.”
Tor said companies such as Nike already are making money off the sport. He said he is glad to be on board at the grass-roots level in the United States “before it gets corporate and sells out.”
On May 30 during the World War II Memorial ceremonies, the two hopped on Metrorail along with Tor’s swimming buddy Jill Choate, 14. For about two hours, Kristof and Tor climbed and leapt from various walls, buildings, and sculptures. Jill occasionally captured the action with Kristof’s video camera.
Public reaction from tourists was mixed, from the “how-did-they-do-that” marveling of children to adults shaking their heads at the “monkeys” scaling the side of a federal building.
A few security guards told the boys to leave, but a passer-by gave them the biggest scolding as the two climbed the side of a building.
“You’re going to be in so much trouble,” she yelled as they descended the wall.
“Part of the fun is doing it at places where you can get caught,” Kristof said.
The two apparently were little concerned with authorities or injury, despite the hazardous nature of the sport. Urbanfreeflow.com offers a disclaimer that participation has a high risk of damage to property, personal injury or death.
“You can’t think about getting hurt,” Kristof said. “That just messes you up.”
His parents are aware, Kristof said, if not necessarily approving. “They tell me, ‘Just don’t get hurt.’”