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Backyard Parkour with Colton Pearson

The ideal setting for parkour is often a bustling urban environment, featuring sturdy walls and inspiring architecture– a sprawl of obstacles fit for a slew of street rats. Unfortunately, there are many of us who live isolated in rural communities, without the blessing of immediately available parkour spots. In this case, and indeed even if you are in a good location, many dream of building a home parkour setup to rival Dutch public parks. Colton Pearson of Toasty Lizards Movement was one such athlete. Living in rural Missouri, Colton had to make due with the materials immediately available to him. Thankfully Colton’s dad is a welder by trade, and was incredibly supportive of Colton’s desire to swing, jump and tumble across their property. This weekend, I received a virtual tour of Colton’s backyard park and a rundown on the build, both the good and the sketchy. 

Me: So before we jump into the specifics of your backyard setup, I wanted to say that it looks fucking sick from what I’ve seen.

Colton: Thank you, thank you. It’s super sick, and it’s been a long process to get that all done; like since I started training type shit. Everytime I wanted to do anything I would just go to my dad like, “Can we make this setup?” We just have all these supplies from him being a welder and bringing all kinds of pipe home. 

 

Me: So tell me about the backyard build, do you know the square footage?

Colton: So I don’t know the exact square footage, but let me take you around the setup. (Colton proceeded to walk me around his family property via Zoom, describing the parkour implements and builds.) It’s pretty big. So this is the pipe pile, (a massive pile of piping materials towers from the grass, all kinds of lengths, different gauges of metal, etc.) You can see there’s tons of shit.  (Colton gestures to the monkey bars.) This is the first piece of equipment we ever built. My dad built these before we ever did parkour or gymnastics or anything. You can see the platform area there, which was supposed to be a tree house, but it’s not. It’s just a platform. But I did monkey gainer off of the far side, which isn’t too bad. Here is the main bar setup. (Colton showed me the four sided bar cage, with varying heights and distances.) We cemented the bars into the ground to keep them from wobbling, which of course I still have to deal with a little bit. We have a gymnastics beam, which is pretty nice. It’s also concreted into the ground, but it’s getting kind of wobbly. My dad just has all of this random stuff from work that he brings home. Like these wooden cable spools, literally just massive spools that come up to my chest, and I can move those around and make different challenges wherever I want.

Me: That’s sweet, I actually use the same wooden spools, just rolling them around my yard to make different setups. 

Colton: They’re so convenient right?

Me: They’re incredibly convenient! So what all is scavenged, and what have you paid money for? Obviously the pipework is from your dad, but what about the beam and stuff?

Colton: It’s honestly all scavenged. My dad just has so much at his work, and over the years he’s brought home so much that we can more or less build whatever we want. So I just go to the stash of materials and pull what I want. Like this yellow bar, (Colton points out a yellow bar bolted between two trees) I spent a couple of days digging through my dad’s pile before I found it. Then I took it to him and asked if we could put it up, and we bolted it to these trees. I didn’t realize at the time that one of these trees is mad dead. Whenever I swing it’ll sway the whole tree.

Me: Hahaha that’s so terrifying. Do you think the park is near completion or is a constantly growing project?

Colton: I would say that it’s never going to be completely done, because I always want to add more stuff. It’s at a point now that I can enjoyably train here, and work on whatever I want without getting too bored. 

Me: That’s awesome. How modular is the setup, is anything besides the spools movable?

Colton: Yeah, so we made a kicker out of a storm drain, and that’s completely movable and even adjustable for different kicker heights. The spools of course, hmm…. Not too much else, but between what I have I can change my setups as much as I need to. The spools really make a huge difference in changing the spot. 

Me: What are the advantages of having a backyard park?

Colton: There are so many. I would say being able to wake up and just feel what you want to work on has really changed my training and the way I think about challenges. Like whenever I go to a spot it’s hard to think about doing what I’m feeling, or finding a spot to complete a specific skill. Having a parkour park so close has made my progression a lot easier. I can just wake up, go outside, think about cast gainer or something, and immediately have a spot to practice. The nearest spot to me is like an hour away, and I just want to train. 

Me: What are the disadvantages?

Colton: One thing I will say is that it’s really nice, but people think it’s more grand than it is. I train here every day, so it’s hard to keep things fresh and interesting. Trying to make it so that I have fun training here all the time can be a challenge, just like any other spot where you train really regularly. I have to be proactive and think of unique ideas and setups to do so that I can keep having a good time training at home. You lose adaptability I would say. When I go to parkour-heavy concrete spots it makes it difficult. A lot of those moves are tougher for me to train because I can only really adjust the spools around my yard, and that’s where I practice my jumps and things, so I feel that puts me at a disadvantage. It can be hard to get in the groove of training real spots again if I’ve been training at my house for a long time. 

Me: What kind of regular maintenance do you perform?

Colton: So we haven’t ever really done any maintenance on anything. We just kind of build them to be sturdy. 

Me: Hahaha holy shit man! Did you ever consult a structural engineer or anything like that?

Colton: We really just put it all together ourselves, we didn’t think it was necessary to involve anyone else. It’s kind of like, what I want isn’t necessarily the safest, and I’m okay with that. Obviously connecting a high bar to a dead tree isn’t the safest decision, but it works. Everything here is a little sketchy in its own way, but it works for me and my dad wouldn’t let me die or anything. 

Me: What did you help with as far as the actual labor?

Colton: For the most part, my dad did everything. I was around, but I didn’t weld or anything. I’m more of the idea guy, and then I go to my dad to make it all work.

Me: What is the sketchiest obstacle in your park?

Colton: Okay hold on... (Colton wanders his yard looking for some decrepit apparatus before setting his camera on what looks like an old, well-weathered chest of drawers, sans drawers.)  I would say this thing. This used to be in my house, but then my mom threw it out, and I figured I could use it for parkour. It’s pretty sketchy because I’m not sure if I'm going to fall through it or not. Now the other spot that’s sketchy is the platform. Just because of the huge green bar on the side that doesn’t leave very much room to do tricks off the platform. So that’s probably the most mentally sketchy, and I think about it a lot actually. 

 

Me: What’s the biggest difference between training your backyard and your local spots? 

Colton: I would say that whenever I’m training at my house, it’s way more focused around one or two tricks. The other day it was kong gainer off of my beam, just because it’s been a dream of mine for a long time. So I would just sit down on a session and get into my mind and focus really hard on doing that trick or whatever it is. And when I go to a spot, I’m trying to do all of the challenges at the spot and have a good time. I might still do hard tricks, but it’s not as focused on a single trick or line, it’s more about having fun and doing things I’m happy with.


 Me: That’s cool, I like the idea that it’s a mentality change, like you’re a disciplinarian when you train at home. 

Colton: Yeah definitely. I feel like it’s easier to go about tricks that way. Out in my backyard in Missouri I’m solo all the time, so it definitely changes the mental a little bit. 

Me: It feels like the same way a lot of athletes look at gym training, more specifically focused on the difficult skills while they have the available setup. 

Colton: Yeah, I used to struggle with being a gym rat when I was young. I definitely took the gym rat mentality and brought it outside. I was kind of unhappy with that mentality, so taking the big skills I was hucking at the gym, and bringing them to my house and the mats that I have here really helped with my ability to take skills to concrete. I think partially because it wasn’t an entire environment shift between soft and hard landing. 

 

Me: Was it more important to you to build for a lot of variability to what you could practice, or to cater to your favorite skills?

Colton: I’ve never thought about that, that’s a good question. I guess I should have added more variety, but it just happened so piece-by-piece over so many years. It’s just whatever popped into my brain; if I didn’t have a setup for something, I would find a way to build it. So it’s not necessarily about variety, it’s more about making setups that I enjoy, and I guess more possibilities can come from that as well. It's all about having more fun. It’s become a really good variety now, but at the beginning it was a lot more catered to me just wanting to do bars hahaha. 

Me: What are the important steps you would suggest for people who want to make a similar build?

Colton: Hahaha have a dad that can do it for you! But in all seriousness, I don’t know how I would have done all of this without him. I would say if you have absolutely nothing, then there are a ton of ways to go about it. You don’t have to bolt your bar into a tree, for example Shawn Bautista just duct-tapes bars to his trees. Get creative with it, is my biggest advice. You can make it cheap as well, scavenging for the pieces is a good way to go. I know not everyone has the means to go out and collect garbage though hahaha. 

Building your own personal parkour setup is no small task, even for those who only desire a couple of boxes and a rail for the sake of basic training. However, there are some tried and true methods to obtaining your materials and building out an effective space for you to move in the comfort of your own backyard. That being said, these suggestions are all based on my personal experience, and your mileage may vary.

There is an actual subculture of pallet pirates– those who drive pickup trucks stacked to the heavens with wondrous wooden pallets. You can take a note from their playbook and visit places like hardware stores, department stores, your gran’s bakery, literally anywhere, and ask for pallets. Chances are, some kind soul will happily donate to your cause. Pallets can be screwed together in stacks for boxes, or in broad lines to form walls, slants, or anything you can think of! The same goes for the giant spools that both Colton and I rely on for modular changes to a setup. For spools, I would specifically search out cable houses and power stations, anywhere large cables are shipped or manufactured. Make sure to bolster the surface of these materials with additional wood of some kind, to provide a safer space for bare hands. Similarly, old car tires are a classic mainstay of the parkour communities in eastern Europe. Take a tire, bury it halfway in the ground and you’ve got yourself a whole parkour video waiting to happen.

Pipe can be more difficult to scavenge than pallets. Pipe of any length is incredibly useful for all sorts of rails, bars, wall mounts, etc. and it is possible to scavenge scrap piping from welding and fabricating shops, construction scaffolding manufacturers, or you can buy lengths of piping at your local hardware store at a standard price per foot. Searching local companies means you’re more likely to locate usable pipes to scavenge, whereas large franchises will often not allow the public to scavenge their piles. Piping can be combined either by welding the material or purchasing “key clamps,” which are pipe fittings designed to fasten multiple pipes to each other at different angles, and are commonly used by professional parkour park designers. 

Much like Colton’s park, some items are modular on purpose, and others require a semblance of solidity. Creating stability for obstacles is one of the more difficult aspects of building a backyard park, and should be taken very seriously. Obviously, without an area survey, it can be difficult to find flat spots to insure that an inert box stays that way, and don’t even get me started on above ground bar setups. Any bars that are going to be swung from, landed on, vaulted, or otherwise affected by momentum, need to be cemented into the ground, or effectively bolted to their respective columns, trees, whatever. Modular pieces can be weighed down by cheap items like cinder blocks and sandbags. Ultimately, even a small space can be crafted into a park that inspires you and pushes your parkour to the next level.