You might not know it to look at him or to read his name, but Jesse La Flair — yep, real name — is one of the world’s top athletes. A freerunner in fact, who’s been in more films this year than Ben Afleck.
Like Afleck’s Batman, you rarely see La Flair’s face, such is the role of a Hollywood stuntman. And he, too, is fighting a noble cause — to help bring freerunning to the world and get kids off the couch and into a sport that celebrates innovation and effort over no-holds-barred victory.
In the vein of skateboarding before it, La Flair is determined to see freerunning follow the same path forged by the Z Boys and Bones Brigade, and help freerunning transition from perceived novelty to high-participant sport. Hence the 31-year-old’s involvement in Red Bull Run the City, an unprecedented online video edit contest between nine of America’s best and emerging freerunning troupes representing their respective cities.
“It’s a weird thing where we’re at with the sport right now,” says La Flair, who went pro shortly after joining LA’s Tempest Freerunning Academy some six years ago.
“I feel freerunning is kind of where skateboarding was when I look back all those years ago, and then a bunch of committed guys had an influence on that sport that helped move it in the right direction to get it to where it is now. I kind of see myself as one of those guys, where every decision I make as part of Team Tempest can have a dramatic impact on the future of the sport — not just for myself but for millions of young kids getting into it.
“It’s a responsibility that I’ve self-bestowed and I take it really seriously. Some guys think it’s ridiculous how serious I take it, but I’m looking at it as a bigger picture.”
La Flair’s a freerunning pioneer who’s helped the sport develop from a niche crowd of creative parkour adaptors to an action sports phenomenon. And he’s enjoyed the fruits of his labor so far, most recently utilizing his hard-charging freerunning skills in "X-Men: Apocalypse" as the body double of kinetic mutant Nightcrawler - an aptly named role if there ever was one. And while a larger scale film career beckons, the former semi-pro inline skater’s sole interest — at least for the time being — is in growing the sport of freerunning.
Which means should Team Tempest come up short after four installments of videos and public voting in Red Bull Run the City, he’ll be celebrating even harder.
“Winning a competition like this isn’t what it’s about for me, it’s another avenue to help promote and grow the sport,” La Flair continues.
“No matter which team wins, the sport of freerunning will win. Win or lose, it’s an opportunity for the world to see the gnarly shit that so many of these people are doing all around the world.”
And purveyors of said gnarly shit include Run the City rivals Dodo, from Boston, an emerging crew in a thriving scene headed by 23-year-old Art of Motion runner-up Alfred Scott. One of the newest faces in the sport, the Californian product and his cohorts are driven by innovation, helping introduce freerunning to new people every day — largely on account of impromptu public performances.
“Man, sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll be like ‘Awe, I really want to do a cork right now’, and I’ll drop my things and do a Cork,” says Scott, who’s currently working on Dodo’s second of four challenges for the contest.
Eight years La Flair’s junior, Scott and his crew are the athletes the likes of La Flair and crew have helped introduce to the sport. The latter’s plan come to fruition.
Not that Scott, who recently returned from a jaunt to Sweden, or his team are running in La Flair’s shadow. Scott was the top US athlete at Greece’s Art of Motion this year. And the Boston freerunner by way of California found inspiration elsewhere - in obscure Russian videos of ex-gymnasts taking to the streets like they would an Olympic arena. Proof again of the sport’s global appeal.
“I always say I’ve been freerunning for nine years but when I was eight my parent bought me a trampoline and I’ve been obsessed with doing flips ever since,” Scott says.
“I knew it was my passion but I didn’t know exactly how to describe it until I found parkour on the internet in high school. And I was like ‘oh, I can do this anywhere, anytime’. So I decided I wanted to learn everything.”
Almost a decade later, Scott’s turned pro — sponsored and being paid to travel, film commercials and promote freerunning.
“I’ve been part of the scene for a long time but I didn’t consider myself professional until this year,” Scott continues.
“I actually spoke to Jesse and he was the one who told me there’s more to being professional than just making money — it’s about how you hold yourself, that good influence you have on others and being a good role model.”
As for Run the City, Scott’s team Dodo are one of nine representing their respective cities in a the online video edit battle, each completing a series or four challenges set by the judges and a video for each.
The first challenge was POV, each team showing off their city with GoPros strapped to their bodies, and this week he’s working on their round three Rush Hour challenge - shooting a team part during Boston peak hour, in and around the public.
“It’s definitely something different and it’s awesome to be able to showcase your city,” Scott says.
“Boston has such a strong freerunning community. In LA, you’ve got lots of gyms and Tempest and the film industry and stunt work, but that’s not the case here. But when I moved here from Santa Barbara, I thought the scene was the best I’d ever seen. There’s such an abundance of raw talent.”
In all nine cities in fact, from Dallas to Denver to Orlando. Check out the clips and vote here.