The Knot

The urban gait surfer locates traces of itself throughout the archives of the city and the annals of its moving bodies. This city is understood as a history of structures and flows, each interplaying with the other, constraining the possibilities of the other, and creating the other anew. But these are by definition only partial traces, gratuitous appropriations from an ever-changing trajectory of nomadism (the flâneur, the psychogeographer, the surfer, the street skater, the parkour athlete) to situate a particular social, cultural and political moment, as the twisted plaits of a braid form a beautiful (and communicative) knot in a macramé pattern before separating to become elsewhere and when.

Cresting Signal and Noise

"Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports," says Gilles Deleuze, perhaps the philosopher most concerned with the question of bodies and flow. The surfing, flowing body finds its rhythm in a whole continuum of matter-states, from the gaseous waves of the hang-glider or skydiver to the concrete waves carved by the street skater, to the frozen in-between waves of aqua and terra shredded on the slopes by the snowboarder.

But we must remember that surfing has its origins in the smooth space of the ocean, with only the logic of the tide and the deep swell accompanying a hybrid of body and board on its path of creative potential towards the beach. From the very beginning then, despite its forays into other matter-states, the surfing body has always been a liquid body.

Today we are all becoming surfers — surfers of waves, surfers of electromagnetic transmissions, surfers of relational databases and other networked information-constructs. One need not have a board to be a surfing body. But one does need a body. The question today has become one of embodiment. Does the body sense? Does the body move or create?

Is the body liquid?

The surfer is equally comfortable navigating between signal and noise. Slight murmurs and adjustments made by the finely attuned body maintains an optimal position while riding the liminal edge between the two. For the waves that surfers call home are nothing if not the pure signal of the cresting swell in its becoming-noise, before crashing to shore at the feet of the masses lying recumbent on the sand: aqua meets terra where the noisy wave hits the beach.

The relationship between the two becomes more distant when moved to the urban context, though there is still a connection in noise. Today, aqua and terra are the noise to the constantly throbbing signal of dwelling and commerce. The tree, the pond, the park, the rain: all are noise to the decaying spaces and shiny interfaces of the contemporary city, connected in signal through the boulevards and underground conduits of the city, as well as the fluxes of people navigating the urban everyday. Though they, too, will eventually become part of the total communications infrastructure, for now they remain the playground of the surfer.

This urban playground, however, remains largely unused. For too long our sport has resembled the factory production model and for too long our surfing has been that of the data-net sort. Sport can be the anti-work, but only insofar as one is embodied and creative, or as one is a playmaker.

Interestingly, Deleuze describes the runner as the sporting figure obsolesced by the emergence of the contemporary surfer. We should not be surprised by his diagnosis, since the sprinter and marathoner seem increasingly to be products of the industrial laboratory, while the surfing body remains largely unchanged, except for the growing variety of energetic systems in which it realizes its potential. But obsolescence is not an entirely accurate diagnosis, however, for the dynamism of the surfer has folded back upon the runner, as we see embodied in the parkour athlete who contours and traces the asphault, concrete, bricks and mortar of the urban cityscape. In other words, a body can change.

Traditionally, the playmaker has been the figure in sports who makes plays, that is, who manufactures positive outcomes in the clutch, who embodies drill, discipline, execution and repetition. But everywhere surfing has replaced the older sports. Instead of making plays, one must now embrace the challenge of making play, rescuing it from the seriousness of industrial manufacture and the factory production model. To make plays, one blocks out the noise of the crowd and visualizes the task at hand. To make play, by contrast, one embraces and engages the noise of the crowd, sensing one's self in space as an affective body, athletic and full of creative potential.

Make play. Surf. This constitutes the tactile burden of all playmakers, regardless of their material habitat: to feel the heaviness of the body at the same moment one feels the lightness of its liquidity. To move, perform, create, liberate.

Modern Sport vs. Parkour: A Preliminary Comparison

Unit of Group Identity team crew/clan
Group Size fixed by sport variable
Attire uniform/functional variable, based on style code
Gender male-dominated male-dominated
Space enclosed, surveillance permeable, sousveillance

Introducing Parkour

Parkour, also known as free running, could be described as a hybrid of street skateboarding, orienteering and martial arts, in which the goal is to navigate a route through an urban environment with fluid, forward movement and no pauses or breaks (think Permeability in the sB post "A Foundation for Sports Geography"). The aesthetics of various body positions along the way, as well as the aesthetics of the entire journey, are of utmost importance to the sport's philosophy. As PLSJ's Anne Galloway notes in her "Advanced Studies in Urban Cultures" course at Carleton University, there is a strong link between parkour and skateboarding's "performative critique" of the urban environment.

Courtesy of CBC Radio 3

(click on the image for a Flash introduction to parkour from CBC Radio 3)