Despite being developed in the 1970s, parkour – or free running – only made it into the mainstream in the late 1990s, thanks to videos shared on the Internet. The non-competitive sport sees ‘traceurs’ trying to get from one point to another, negotiating obstacles – buildings, benches and staircases – by manipulating their bodies without the assistance of any equipment. There are injuries aplenty, but the rules remain the same: get from A to B in any way possible.

“Parkour makes you creative,” says Mohamed Hesham, one of the innovators of free running in the UAE. “Once you learn the basics, you can develop your own style with no limits – acrobatics, martial arts, breakdancing – it’s all part of free running. All you need to do is get over the obstacles.”

The free running community in the UAE now boasts approaching 150 members – and as more people find out about it, the more it continues to grow. “Parkour has really taken off in the UAE,” says the 24-year-old Hesham, who spends his time performing and organising parkour performances for live shows, TV commercials and music videos. “What started out as some people sharing videos online has developed into a community in just over five years.”


But despite the difficulty and risk that comes with the sport, the UAE community is far from being an exclusive club. UAE Parkour organises daily meet-ups in Abu Dhabi, alongside monthly get-togethers in Dubai, through its Facebook page, which encourages anyone to come and join in.

“As the UAE parkour family continues to grow, I’m sure that we can push the scene to all of the emirates and, one day, elevate it to be one of the country’s main sports,” says Hasham. It’s a brave call, but then for parkour guys, bravery is par for the course.

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This article first appeared in What’s On in March 2013