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The Switch Walk and You: exploring style in parkour with Trevor Kunkel and E

The switch walk is one of the most polarizing and despised methods of locomotion ever proposed to the parkour community. Since its appearance in the U.S. in 2020, the switch walk has been insulted repeatedly by big and small names, with Motus’ own Giles recently quoted as saying, “I’ve said some very mean things about the switch walk, and I stand by them.” Giles declined to further comment, and is now afraid that I am infiltrating Motus from a pro-switch walk perspective. My job may be in jeopardy, as I am unafraid to say I am entirely pro-switch walk. (Viva la revolucion!) This goofy movement is as simple as walking backwards looking over one shoulder, into or out of other skills for the purpose of style and progression. Trevor Kunkel (@trevoutthecan) and E (@movefearless, @freerunsell) are two of the parkourists responsible for unleashing this supposed eyesore on the community, and were willing to explain their opinions and experiences with “walking switch.” 



Me: Where does the switch walk come from?


E: So when you hit me up about switch walk, I was like, “Cool, we gotta talk to Trevor if we’re talking about this shit.” For me, it came from Trevor. You could say that Trevor and Josh Malone kinda go hand in hand, since they were living and training in the same area. I guess from my perspective, Josh was like, “Man I just wanna do the craziest, hardest ski tricks, like dub 10’s and cork zero!” And Trevor was like, “Yo, but what if we walk backwards into our tricks.” I was like, now we’re talking! At the time I was thinking about ways to train that allowed me to still do hard things that weren’t being done without destroying my body; then watching Trevor I was like, “That’s crazy. What the fuck’s going on here?”
Trevor: Hahahaha for sure, thanks E. For me, I think it was Spencer (@i.shovel). Spencer is part of the Beans Out the Can, he’s a skier, and he’s probably the main person who brought that ski influence to the Beans, so I mostly got it from him. I rollerblade as well, and I love riding switch, so why can’t I do that on my feet? There’s no reason not to. It’s a little silly for sure, but it’s fun. I just like moving backwards. 


Me: It legitimately is really fun to do, which is a big deal. I was interested in whether it was inspired by skiing or rollerblading specifically, but I guess it’s anything you can ride switch, is that right?


Trevor: Yeah, skateboarding too. They’ve got different stances that they ride up in, and land tricks out of; it’s all about the stance. Something that I really like about all of those sports, skiing, rollerblading, skateboarding, is emphasis on everything but the trick. The ride in, the landing, the ride out. You can tell if someone is good if they have a good ride in and a good ride out. They’re confident, and it’s all about the stance. 


Me: That’s really cool. It’s interesting to approach stance in parkour, because it seems like people are more focused on flow and sticking landings for some reason. 

Trevor: Exactly, parkour is doing the opposite of those sports–it’s all about the trick, and the before and after aren’t really part of the picture at all. 
E: It’s like people are thinking, “Can I do the trick and still land standing up, oriented in any way? Then I did it.” Cool, I guess, but what if you could decide what direction you wanted to orient to, relative to the technically correct one. Like what if you say, I want to set this full and land at 45 degrees, this one at 90, next one at 135, and the next at 180. Adding and subtracting degrees of rotation because of the stance you want to land in. I feel like something that gets confusing about the switch is that in those other sports you know what direction switch is definitively. You have to move parallel with your body, your skis or blades can’t move you side to side, unless you’re doing a grind or skid. In skateboarding you have this other scenario where you’re moving forwards or backwards on the skateboard, but side-to-side with your body. So you can look at switch as how your chest is oriented, how your knees are oriented, how your feet are oriented, the board, etc. In parkour it’s similar, but people aren’t really thinking about it, or very few are; but you could potentially define your orientation based on your shoulders, chest, hips, knees, feet, to determine which direction you’re facing. If we take cork zero for example, I land most of my zeros at 45 degrees, or I’ll take off at 45 and land at neutral.  

Me: Okay, so what’s your opinion on the switch walk as an element of parkour, a skill if you will, and what inspired you to add it to your movement catalog?


E: What’s a parkour skill? Is walking a parkour skill? I would argue, yes. I would also argue, no, that’s just fucking walking. I think you can apply the same thing to walking backwards, like yeah it’s just walking, but… I don’t know. I think of it like a scoot. You know the first tricker who ever did a scoot, the rest of the people in that session were like, “Yo what the fuck is that shit, hit a cheat gainer like the rest of us.” This dude is like, “Nah bro, this is gonna go somewhere.” And they’re like, “Pick your hands up off the ground, weird ass.” I think of the switch walk like a scoot: it isn’t really a move, maybe it is, it’s really just a technique to implement other moves. 
Trevor: I like that, a technique to implement other moves. For me switch walk is like… I just don’t take it very seriously hahaha. 
E: Seriously, it’s walking!  
Trevor: I’m just walking backwards hahaha. I think it’s good that people are talking about it, and people are talking shit. But for me it’s just fun and adds new opportunities and ways to do tricks. It’s like, there’s so much you can do with your body, and parkour is so rigid and defined. Everyone's an “athlete” trying to accomplish skills. I just don’t think of it that way. I’m an artist. I’m still an athlete, but I’m an artist first. There’s no reason for me to ignore something that has potential. You can do so much with it, and it’s just more shit to do. That’s it, you know? 
E: It’s a progression. I think that’s what people don’t understand. The way I learned parkour is that if you’re hurting yourself to do everything, you’re not going to be able to learn because you’re injured. Since 2019 I haven’t had consistent access to a gym, so most of my training since I learned switch walk has been outside on concrete. I’d rather take things back to basic movements to establish this foundation that allows me to land in any way and be totally fine. To achieve that you should probably get comfortable with moving backwards, twisting from backwards, and learning to spot both directions while moving backwards. It’s that simple, it’s a progression and safety mechanism. 
Trevor: Yeah, along those lines, I’ve been in a mindset lately of doing more low impact movement. For a long time I had the mindset of going out, getting bangers and doing my hardest tricks so that I can get clips. That’s how everyone thinks about parkour right now. There’s so much more. I go out to the session now to have fun, play, and create. My body can also do that every day, I’m not destroying myself trying to do some really hard tricks and then feeling fucked up for a week. It’s fun to go out and do hard shit, but there’s other stuff you can do too. 

Me: So what do you think of the hate that switch walk receives? 


E:
Bro I love it. Parkour hate is the dumbest hate ever, parkour people are just jokes. Once you get real world hate, where people actually want to physically hurt you, parkour hate is literally the biggest joke in the world. I literally have these little kids from Utah harassing me online because of the movement style that I choose to do, and I think that’s so funny! It was at the point that at SPL I had some big name people come up to me like, “Yo, you’re that dude that was walking backwards? I don’t really fuck with that but I know about you because you do it.” The type of people who should not know who I am with my 4,000 followers doing my shit alone in Philadelphia, but definitely have an opinion that what I’m doing is weird hahaha. I love it. Since pretty early in my parkour, I’ve received diss for the things I choose to do and the way I carry myself. I love it bro, I feed off of it.
Trevor: Yeah, shit talk is what you wanna hear. We’re doing something new, we’re doing something different, and people are upset about it. It’s a good sign.
E: People are scared. You have these people whose identity is wrapped up in how well they can do parkour. That’s what we have, whether we like it or not. So you think you’re a great parkour athlete and we’re over here like, “Hey, maybe parkour is bigger than the way you’re looking at it.” People get very uncomfortable and you get a scared, guttural reaction, because “That’s parkour, that’s my baby, you’re disgracing it!” If you vandalize a church, the people in the church are gonna start bugging out. We’re vandalizing parkour, shit.
Trevor: That’s exactly what I wanna do, change the way people think about parkour. That’s the goal. 

 

 Me: What do you think of the praise switch walk receives?


Trevor: I mean, I appreciate it. It’s kind of funny. We get a decent amount of love on the Beans account, at least. We get a lot of shit, but we have some fans. There’s this one kid Owen (@owenlz.flips) that is totally taking after our style, but making it his own and having fun with it. That’s what I want to see, people looking at what we do and thinking, “Hey I could do that. Let me go have fun today.” 
E: It took a second before I saw any appreciation whatsoever for moving in switch. I don’t know about you Trevor, but it was like six months of moving like this before I heard anything positive. Whether it was casual trolling or more intense, it was always like, “What the fuck is this?” Honestly the Beans, they inspired me. I go out to Colorado frequently to train with them, and they’re the ones telling me to keep on that route like, “Don’t change what you’re doing just because there’s bullshit.”

Me: Despite the hate, switch walk is spreading in the community. Why do you think that is?


E: I think that parkour has this inherent problem that skateboarding doesn’t, especially when it comes to style. To do parkour you have to get dirty a little bit, and be okay with placing yourself all over the ground and what you’re training on. Something I like about the ski movements, you just have to put your feet on shit. We’re just using our feet in a different way. Something that really appeals to me is staying clean. I don’t want to get my clothes dirty all the time. Sometimes I want to wear a fresh-ass fit, I want to wear $1,000 on my body, literally. I want to go be fresh as shit, and do parkour in a way that people don’t do parkour, and have people say, “Damn that fool is drippin'.” That’s something I want, and if I’m rolling around on the ground all day, that isn’t going to hold up. But if I’m running around in switch and hitting 180’s and 360’s and shit, I can achieve that. Skating has achieved that really well. That’s a huge advantage to me personally, and I think that’s one of the attractive things about moving like this. 
Trevor: I don’t know. Like it’s really surprising to me every time I see someone switch walking. I don’t know why people like it, maybe they think we’re cool? I don’t know man.

Me: Do you think it’s a fad, or is it here to stay?


Trevor: I guess switch walking might be a fad-type thing that happens, but there’s a much broader idea of movement behind switch walk that I think will stick around. 
E: I think things tend to lean toward a degree of intensity before it returns to a neutral resting point. Like a few years ago, parkour was looking really gymnastics inspired to a point where some of us were like, “Okay this is bad.” If we want our own sport, but we’re just taking gymnastics and doing it outside, then we’re in trouble. When we take more sports and apply them to parkour, it makes it more our own. My whole moveset doesn’t exist in gymnastics. No gymnast is going to replicate my movements, inside or outside. I feel like a lot of parkour skills are easily replicable by gymnasts. And maybe the extreme of switch walking, like running backwards 15 feet with your arms to one side, maybe we won’t keep that, but the ideas of axis and direction are just the next level of parkour. I actually met Spencer before I met Trevor, and even though I attribute my idea of switch walking to Trevor, Spencer had introduced the idea to me. A few years ago, I was on a road trip across the U.S. from Philadelphia to California, and we met all the Beans along the way, and as we went I got to see the Beans develop this concept. By the time we got to California, Josh had just hit cork zero, and it was like chapter one of different influences in parkour. The ideas of “this style vs. that style” instead of, this is all parkour, is backwards. What is a parkour? Josh has said this before, but skateboarding is parkour. That doesn’t mean that parkour is skateboarding, but skateboarding fits inside of parkour. So does rollerblading, so does skiing, circus, gymnastics, breakdancing, ballet, so does fucking horseback riding. It’s all our idea of how we navigate our body in a space, whether we’re in that space on a bike or on skis, or just on our feet amongst the obstacles, we’re navigating obstacles.

Me: Is there an athlete that makes switch walk look really good?


E: Trevor. That’s why I started doing it. I saw Trevor do it and I was like, “Damn he’s got so much steeze, what the fuck bro?!” It’s so cracked.
Trevor: Hahaha I appreciate that, thank you. I mean, I don’t see a lot of people doing it, but there are a few kids doing it with their own style, and killing it. And there’s definitely that “I wanna look good, I wanna be stylish,” aspect of switch walking, but the other side of that is, “that dude is walking backwards, that’s tight hahaha.” But Josh Malone looks sick doing it, he’s got a lot of steeze with it.

Me: Trevor, you mentioned style. What is the relationship between style and substance for you guys, and where does switch walk fit into that relationship?


Trevor: For me these days, style is the substance. That’s what I want to see, that’s what I’m looking for. Nobody’s going out to have style, people go out to bust out big tricks. I see someone rollerblading or skiing with style, and that’s what I’m looking for. Switch walking is a part of that because of skiing and rollerblading. They look so good doing it, I want to look that good, you know? Especially recently, moving has been a lot less about planning a line and executing it properly, and more like coming up with some ideas at the spot. Maybe I can connect them, maybe I can’t, but I’m going to do those ideas and see what happens in between. I’m going to have fun with it and It’s not going to be the same every time, and I’m not going to get that “one clip” that’s like “Yes, I did it.” I’m going to do the idea and play with it. Maybe I’ll do something cool that I really like, maybe I won’t, but I’m going to have fun. 
E: Dude it’s literally just walking. The only difference is that you have to move your head to do it effectively. It’s more about where you’re looking. It just opens up options. Honestly I’m fucking bored of parkour, and I’ve been at it for less time than a lot of people. A couple years ago especially, I just got so bored. It was like, I could do triple full all day, and I’m still going to struggle with triple, and that was the “substance,” you know what I mean? That was the direction to go. I gotta have my cast full, I gotta have my triple full, I gotta have double kong gainer; I’m not going to lie, I fucked myself up trying a lot of those things. It’s like Trevor said, style is the substance. When you watch a dancer, you aren’t always like, “Wow that was hard, so I fuck with that.” Most people think, “ Wow that was really beautiful, there was a lot of mastery of body and technique shown there.” It’s clear that their body can fluidly do this. In my opinion the best parkour looks like people have their brain turned off while they do it, like it’s subconscious. I just left Colorado, and the last day I was there we had this bomb session. Trevor was doing these long freestyle-type lines, and I know Trevor, you had a concept of what you wanted it to look like, but it really evolved as you were doing it, and every time, there were differences. I don’t know if you thought about it or not. But it’s like, being conscious about adding movements to your subconscious. Like if I never challenged my movement style, I’d still be doing double fulls to Didi rolls, because that’s what my subconscious wants me to do. A huge thing about parkour is that our bodies really affect how we move. Like I have a short torso and it allows me to get into a tight bio position, and bio 5 maybe a little easier than some people, and so I abuse that. This is what my body is naturally inclined to do, that is my substance. Whatever your body is better at than the people around you, that’s your substance. When they figure out what to do with what’s unique to their body, that’s their substance. The sooner that people realize that parkour is the glue that holds movement together, and not “sweet gymnastics 2.0” with overly specific techniques, the better off we are as a community. As a community, we all freaked out about that FIG shit a couple of years ago, and for good reason. They’re still doing their thing, hosting their competitions, but I want to see someone switch walk in a FIG comp. I want to see how that fits into their rubric. I want to see someone do weird-ass shit in one of these comps, and see how they handle it. I want to break the rubric. Let’s get together and do movements that no one has ever done, and have a good time doing it. 


In speaking with Trevor and E, my personal opinion on switch walk has only been bolstered. Walking backwards is the future of parkour and I’m not afraid to say it. I want to see people switch walking into running precisions, switch plyo’s, switch 360 pre’s and strides! I’m sorry Giles, but I have a fever, and the only prescription is more switch walk. Love it or hate it, there’s no debating that the switch walk has found its place in the collective skill tree of parkour. For all of my backwards walking friends, keep your head on a swivel, and your arms to one side, for we switch walk towards greatness.