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By Buster

Photography by Miranda Henderson

Generally regarded as the birthplace of Parkour; Lisses is the home town of David Belle, Sebastien Foucan and the rest of the founding fathers.

It is also a bugger to get to. Before going I emailed quite a few Traceurs who had publicised their trips there and asked for help – how do I get there? Any contacts? What should I see?

With the sole exception of Kiell who gave me some good pointers, I got no response. A little disappointing, to say the least. So – here is the quick guide…

The Dame Du Lac

Eurostar to Paris Gare De Nord.
Cheap if you book early enough in advance and go direct through their website. Cost us £40ish each way. The Trip takes 3 hours plus an hour for check in. Take your own food and drink – the overpriced crap they serve is outrageous.

From the Gare De Nord you get a train to Evry Corcouronnes – this is not the same station as Evry! This is a dirt cheap journey of around a fiver and takes about 40 minutes. The double decker trains are cool, too.

At Evry Corcouronnes you walk left from the station entrance and up to the Bus station, where you get a number 53 bus for about 1 euro and head for the Dame Du Lac stop. It’s about six stops from the station and you get off just after a big roundabout. From the stop you’ll see the sign announcing Lisses. You’ve made it!

Lisses is a quiet, tidy, clean, small town. There is a park, an estate, a small shopping concourse, a school, and a public library. There seems to be absolutely nothing for young people to do. Which might just explain why they started running up the walls…

Having walked through the town and had a brief play on the major sites, we encountered a local Traceur who spent the next four hours giving me a master class along the guided tour route. We failed to do a decent job of exchanging details, so I have no definitive version of his name, but for the purpose of the following we’ll call him HA. My wife Miranda Henderson took all the photos.

What follows is a hot-spot description, but it comes with the following advice. We went to Lisses on a specific mission and in relation to a larger project – meeting HA was complete luck and without him we would have missed a great deal. I would recommend you only go to Lisses if you have a contact there to show you around, and you go with a total respect for the local residents and their property.

It’s obvious when you’re approaching someone’s private residence – SO DON’T CLIMB ON IT! The last thing we need is a “local’s only” sign on the edge of town…

The First Jump
In what seems to be nearly the geographical centre of Lisses, right outside the entrance to the school and between the school and the estate proper is a courtyard area. In the centre of this lies “the First Jump”. Three brick built and concrete topped platforms form with their outer edges a broken square, and with their inner edges a broken circle.

In the Jump London Documentary Sebastien Foucan tells us that after school the local children would congregate here (they still do). Someone would always jump the gaps between the platforms. This was, he says, the first jump.

The size and displacement of the three platforms, the tree, and a nearby lamppost all make for a host of PK possibilities. Any vault can be achieved somewhere on the platforms, and their irregular shapes allow a progression of skill – to vault first the narrowest and then the widest points. The three obvious jumps are also graded – there are three different distances between the adjoining sides of the platforms, and an outer step on one of the platforms introduces a fourth, much larger jump – from the outer step of one platform, over its width, over a gap, and onto the next platform. The lamppost opens up the possibility of a tic tac onto the lower or upper step of a platform. The two heights are also perfect for training and teaching palm spins. And finally the tree adds a whole other dimension with many possible dismounts, and branch – to – branch manoeuvres.

The Bollard Run
A stones throw from the First Jump is the Bollard Run at the edge of the shopping concourse. 9 Bollards divided by a circular planter and stationed between a large square planter at one end, and a wall at the other. Simply very well spaced and a nice height, width, and surface area to commit to a fast bollard run. The precision jump onto the edge of the planter is reasonably simple, the precision jump from the planter down slightly less so, particularly if you ignore the nearest bollard and increase the distance to hit the second one.

Hard to describe the emotions this humble emergency staircase can conjure up in the heart of the Traceur. Featured in several PK videos – most noticeably David Belle’s “Speed Air Man” these stairs offer a whole host of possibilities.

Obvious ones first: Straight jumps down from the two levels, equally most vaults can be accomplished over the lower rail. The higher is one strictly for the hard-core. There’s a nice wall tic-tac at the side of the lower level. Rail to rail precisions at both platform heights, lots of rail balances, the theoretical rail to rail precision from the top to the bottom level. Lots of balances are available. There is a nice straight forward cat leap from the lower platform rail to the nearby wall. I thought this was too far for me but was cajoled by HA who said this was the first serious jump anyone in Lisses must do when starting Parkour. Feels good to nail it. This jump can also be done with a turn over on the rail, followed by a 180 degree cat which proved just inches too far for my current capabilities. David Belle throws in the additional challenge of the horizontal 180 but he’s 20 years further along his practice than me. HA used the upper level to practice pull ups, walking his hands up the bars there. I could hang on, but didn’t have the strength to pull up from there without using the adjoining wall for foot-purchase. The large gravel floor surrounding the lower level and the grass at the back of the upper level make for perfect soft landings and PK roles.

The Library
HA took us to the back of the library where he gave me some finger strengthening exercise. If ever proof was needed that Parkour is not just about spectacular rooftop jumps; this is it.

The aim is very simple. Make it all the way along the face of the building without touching the ground. This includes crossing the gap jump (takes a little cat but is a welcome break from hanging off of quarter inch ledges by that point). It took me almost to that point to realise that there was a lower toe ledge too, but by that time any hope of me doing the fourth face was gone. I made three of four faces before my fingers cramped.

Children’s Playground
The wooden structure was used for under-bar pull ups, and for balancing practice. Using the rails at the top for squats as well build precision in the balance, as do the posts around the end. The two benches make a great place to practise gap-jumps, first with a run up and then from standing. The sprung chair is another balance tool, and the nearby building the perfect height to learn wall runs and PK rolls.

The Avenue and Subway
Down the avenue from L’Escaliers there are a variety of trees which we had assumed were un-climbable, despite seeing HA’s prowess at the First Jump. The nearby posts were good for precision jumping, and an adjoining gate became the station for a vaulting lesson. One thing that really struck home here was the inventiveness of the Lisses Traceurs. Everything that could be used was. The nearby subway entrance proved too high for me to make more of, and was ignored by HA when we returned there with him. This doesn’t mean he wouldn’t use it – probably just that he could see I wasn’t up to it.

The Subway and Beyond
On the other side of the subway is a nice long chain of boulders, well placed to jump from one to the other in a sustained run, occasionally utilising a tree branch. The long low bollards are also good for this – we saw a great selection of different bollard styles around Paris. The four gates near this field also make reasonable vault and turn over practice, but aren’t ideal.

The Parc du Lac and around
More random collections of boulders, and lots of children’s playgrounds (though age limits are marked on them). Picnic benches are great for Kong vaults. The fence is used for a specific fence based move – very beautiful and very difficult.

The Dame Du Lac
It’s impossible to say too much about this remarkable sculpt. It seems from the faded sign and the actual surface of the structure that the Lady of the Lake was intended as a rock climbing practice – there are lots of old-school hand and foot holds, and a few hooks ratcheted in that look as though they once took ropes.

It’s easy to see why there is now a six foot fence around the structure – modern health and safety standards being what they are – but the pointlessness of the gesture only reinforces the “self-policing” angle discussed earlier. Best not to do this without a local on your side.
The Dame has to be the bench mark for all usable architecture – not only has the Dame looked down on the best Parkour ever achieved – often on her face and by the Lisses based Traceurs – but she must now stand as the international symbol for Traceurs everywhere.
There is something remarkably reassuring about her. Without sounding too mystical – and my intention is quite the opposite – one feels nurtured on the Dame Du Lac.

There is something in a name of course, but the curvature of the Dame’s face as well as the essential structure and its composite parts have a great femininity. The textured face is also comforting under the hand – it is not sheer, but brushed and there are many hand and foot-holds in addition.

The edges can be walked up reasonably easily. The front structure which juts out from the face has a tunnel like entrance one can climb into and up through onto a squared ledge. From here one can tic-tac (or if one is David Belle wall 360 or even 720) across to another sloped face, which forms one side of the “rabbit run” working up the Dame’s face.

The three finger like structures on the left side of the face can be climbed onto easily, and can be jumped down to from a ledge about 4 feet above the upper finger. Another platform rises above the first, and this can be gap-jumped from the top of the rabbit run. The whole is topped by a third platform reached from the edges.

Last Thoughts
The trip to Lisses was an incredible eye-opener for me, and I think would be for anyone serious about Parkour.

There is a remarkable condensation of obstacles into a very small area, and if you can get into the Lisses mind set you’ll find more and more with every step.

Since returning I’ve felt that my level of ability has taken a huge leap forward. 4 hours at the birthplace of the art form with one of the Lisses based Traceurs has improved me more than the previous six months of self-initiated training.

In the Jump Britain doc Kerbie remarks that having gone to Lisses he now knows what he’s looking for whenever he goes out training – and there isn’t a better way of summing up what you get back from the pilgrimage. You go to find something, and come back knowing what to look for. And if we are to learn, we first have to learn HOW to learn. Maybe that’s the best thing you can ever know.


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