Free runner Ryan Doyle finished third in yesterday's Red Bull Art of Motion in London, but for the victor of the original event in Vienna four years ago, it's never the winning that counts, it's the taking part. We caught up with him…
What is it about Art of Motion events that make them special to be a part of?
To be around other guys with so much energy – you don’t even need to speak to them, you just know what they’re all about. You know the way a Jedi can recognise another Jedi? You communicate without talking, through movement. It’s fun, and you have so much respect for each other. They’re like my family.
So, though Art of Motion is a competition, it’s more about the taking part than the winning?
It’s more of an exhibition of different styles. The audience down on the ground want a winner, obviously, but there are no losers. The judges are judging the environment, not the athletes. It’s not 25 free runners competing against each other, it’s 25 free runners competing against the course every time – almost like 25 different tournaments. All we’re trying to do is find which style is best suited to this course. It’s not about being the best, it’s about each course giving you a different winner.
What’s the best trick you’ve ever pulled off?
I came up with a new one called the Wall Gainer back in 2004 or 2005, and I’ve got videos and tutorials on that on YouTube, and there’s only two or three other guys in the world who’ve been able to pull the same trick. It’s kind of a signature thing for me.
'When those slip-ups happen, you don’t want them to be more than five feet off the ground'
Have you ever gone into a move and thought, “Uh-oh, this is going to go badly wrong”?
Yeah, all the time! You know when you walk down the street, you trust yourself to walk, don’t you? And then you trip over that little bit of the pavement. Or you can walk up the stairs and you miss that top step, and you’re like, “What the hell?” That can happen with free running too, and sometimes it goes wrong. It’s never 100 per cent, there’s always a risk there. But when those slip-ups happen, you don’t want them to be more than five feet off the ground. I’m actually really clumsy. It’s probably because I spend more time focusing on the more difficult movements that it’s the basic skills I lack! [Laughs]
Have the standard and skills improved since, say, a year or two years ago?
Oh, totally. You’re talking to guys who have come from other disciplines – I come from a martial arts background, Tim [Shieff] from dancing, Damien [Walters] from gymnastics, someone else from capoeira – we’ve just come from disciplines that involve the human body. But now you’ve got kids growing up with a free running background who are standing on the shoulders of giants and are taking it up to the next level. And it’s those guys that you’ve got to watch out for. They’re doing something in two weeks that took me two years. They’re taking what I’ve done, twisting it and then turning it into something new. But the next generation will do the same to them – that’s just the way it works…
Is there anything you’d want to change about the parkour scene right now?
There are a lot of arrogant people who believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. I think it’s pretty naïve or even stupid on their part to say that it’s some kind of a sport and there’s a set way of doing it. If you look at our bodies, we’re completely different shapes and different sizes. He’s six-foot-two and I’m five-foot-eight – he takes the high level that I can’t reach, so does that mean that I’m a worse athlete? Or does that mean I’ve got to do something different because I’m built differently? Different styles emerge, and people have to understand that.
So Art of Motion is just that to you – an art…
An art is a personal expression, so I’ll do it this way because I come from martial arts. My style is a cause-and-effect reflection of everything I’ve been subjected to, from the people I went to school with to the movies I’ve watched. Everything contributes to how I perceive the environment, and if you don’t understand that… People say, “Trust me, this is the right way to do parkour.” Yeah, for you! [Laughs]
'I had to shave my legs, wear a bra, then glue a wig, hat and sunglasses to my face'
Some organisations now offer full parkour coaching qualifications…
How can they teach me moves that I made up for myself? You can’t teach somebody parkour, you can only help them discover it within themselves. If I teach kids now, I don’t teach them my style. I teach the basics, how to be safe, and I’ll let them progress. Because at the end of the week, you’re learning from them! [Laughs]
How did you end up as Ellen DeGeneres’s stunt double on the Ellen show? [Watch the YouTube clip at the foot of this article, it is very good]
I was the same height, the same build and the same hair colour! [Laughs] I had to shave my legs, wear a bra, then glue a wig, hat and sunglasses to my face. It was a job that came up through the World Free Running and Parkour Federation, and I just fitted that role.
Would becoming a full-time stuntman in Hollywood be something you’d want to do?
It’s always a possibility and I could fall back on that at any time. At the moment, I’m a voice and a face, and that’s what I’ll lose if I fall into the stunt industry, I’ll just become a number. I just don’t like other people getting the credit. You know Tom Cruise sued a stunt double for accepting an award? So Tom Cruise does his own stunts? Like f***! I want to do the flips and tricks and then look at the camera and say, “That was no double, I did that.” And I’m going to try to do that for as long as I can. If I can get into acting, along the lines of The Bourne Identity, say, that’s a doorway I’m going to step into very soon.