Cars, walls, buildings – for a freerunner they are all part of getting there. Freerunners simply run, jump and climb over whatever’s in their way. One of the world’s finest exponents of this extreme sport is Germany’s Jason Paul, who discovered his passion for freerunning in a video clip, of all places.
Jason Paul is sprinting across the roof of a five-story block, heading for the edge, and leaps into the void. Below him, nothing but empty space; in front, the blank wall of the next building. Then, for the watching crowd, everything seems to happen in slow motion: flying across the gap, Jason stretches out his hands to grip the edge of the roof ahead, heaves himself up and signs off with a thumbs-up and a grin – job done!
It may sound like a death-defying stunt, but for Jason Paul it’s just another day at the office. He’s a freerunner by profession – a Profreerunner – and one of the very best. Where others take a detour, use the stairs or even give up and turn back, Jason has only one aim: to take the seemingly impossible route. To quote the great Far Eastern philosopher Confucius: “The way is the goal” or maybe “the journey is the destination.” Indeed, the Asian mindset seems to suit this particular top-class athlete because while he hails from Germany, he’s chosen to settle in Tokyo, the capital of Japan and the place where that phenomenal leap from roof to roof took place. “The architecture in Tokyo is incredibly diverse – from minimalistic to bizarre, from traditional to modern,” said Jason Paul recently in an exclusive interview with “The Red Bulletin” magazine. “And this diversity constantly inspires me to try new moves and tricks.”
Now 28, Jason grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, another city that, like Tokyo, is renowned for its high-rise blocks and urban canyons. But this was not the setting for adolescent daredevil freerunning exploits on Jason’s part, because “Up to the age of 14 I tried out all kinds of sports – everything from fencing and football to capoeira,” he says, “but none of them really grabbed me and often enough I’d drop them again after a week or so.” What sports failed to deliver, he initially found in a passion for video games to which he dedicated a large part of each day as a teenager. Until one day he saw a video of freerunning pioneer Sebastien Foucan: “I saw this guy running and jumping across Paris in a real strange way,” recalls Jason Paul, “and I knew right away this was something I had to try out.”
So together with a friend, Jason started climbing, running and jumping his way across Frankfurt, gradually covering the length and breadth of the city. At first, he’d leap over table-tennis tables and crash barriers, before graduating to jumping off walls and low roofs. And it wasn’t all plain sailing: “If you want to learn the art of freerunning, there’s a long phase in which you look anything but cool,” he says. Initially, he warns, it all looks a bit awkward and unintentional, until you get the hang of things. The next big hurdle was the somersault, which Jason got his PT teacher to show him time and again, practicing in the school gymnasium during the day and in the evenings on the high-jump mats at Frankfurt’s athletics stadiums. It wasn’t long before he started recording his tricks with a video camera, to present his skills to what was then still a relatively small freerunning community. When his video clips started going viral, he found himself invited to take part in the Freerunning World Championships in London, where he finished in third place. That marked his breakthrough and the beginning of his international fame. Since then, a lot has changed. Jason Paul has swapped local athletics stadiums for impressive venues around the world, not so much to compete as to film spectacular videos against breathtaking backdrops. “Today, photo shoots and making films is what I enjoy most,” he says. “And if, through my films, I can encourage young people to take up sports, that’s much more rewarding for me than winning a contest.”
In the early years of the new millennium, freerunning emerged from the sport known as “parkour” that had been invented in France and gained popularity in the late 1980s. The aim of parkour is to overcome obstacles in an urban setting as fast as possible with as little energy as possible. In freerunning, by contrast, the focus is more on the moves and tricks you use to overcome the obstacles. The discipline was established by Sebastien Foucan of France, one of its earliest practitioners. Foucan rose to fame not least through the James Bond film Casino Royale, in which he features in a freerunning chase with the British secret agent, played by Daniel Craig.
Today, freerunner Jason Paul is a successful film producer in his own right. One of his most successful videos, “Last Call for Mr. Paul,” has been watched more than 80 million times. In this particular clip, Jason performs all kinds of daring stunts to get from check-in desk to gate in time to catch his flight, where boarding is closing. Filmed at Munich airport, the video shows him leaping and somersaulting over everything and everyone that gets in his way. In another video, “Jason Paul Goes Back in Time,” he is pursued through an ancient temple complex by a horde of wild ninjas, and this adventure too has attracted millions of viewers. And if he’s not engaged in making another video, Jason can be found designing a range of clothing for freerunners or practicing new moves and tricks.
“In the early days I used to train for six to eight hours a day,” he says, “mostly before and after school, with lots of weight training in the gym and getting out into the streets whenever I could.” Today, though, making all those videos means that time is at a premium. “Now, with the little time at my disposal, I keep my training very targeted,” he says. Without sufficient practice, a trick can turn dangerous in no time at all, particularly if it takes place way off the ground. “If my head knows that I’ve mastered a particular jump really well on the ground, then I can take it higher,” says Jason. But it’s very important, he adds, to always have a plan B or plan C ready, just in case a trick goes wrong. “I have to be able to control my body even when something doesn’t go to plan. Where can I find a handhold if a jump falls short? What if I slip at some point? I have to plan for the worst case, so that I don’t end up falling on my back. If things get really tricky, I have to be able to spin around fast so at least I can see where I’m going to land.”
It’s a long time now since Jason lived in Frankfurt. Instead, he’s made Tokyo his home city. But truth be told, he says, he’s more of a vagabond, living out of a suitcase. “At some point I found I was traveling around so much that keeping a home of my own made no sense,” he says. And the next trip is already on the horizon. He’s heading for South America – for Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city in the Peruvian Andes to be precise. Here, at around 2,500 meters above sea level, he’s looking forward to bounding around among the ruins. Sounds like a plan – and it’s already taking shape. As ever, Jason Paul is one jump ahead.