‘Aotea Square is Auckland’s premier Parkour spot; its location, beauty and variety of architecture lends itself to some of NZ’s best lines and creative movement.’
I wish I could say this about Aotea square, but I can’t.
Aotea Square is and always has been the major meeting place for the Auckland Parkour community; it is where we warm up, chat and where newbies get a first taste of parkour. Despite this, it is also acknowledged by seasoned ‘professionals’ to be the scourge of the Auckland Parkour community and I am here to tell you why.
When you first arrive from outside Auckland, or are new to the sport you jump on the Auckland Parkour or Auckland Movement Community page (RIP) and find out that you should meet at Aotea square at 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes Jam’s will start there at 11am on weekends and public holidays, so you catch your bus, train, ferry or mum’s boyfriend's car. You make your way using those easy transport options to Aotea Square. It couldn’t be easier, public transport and google maps have made it a breeze as you get excited to meet the Auckland community… or so you thought.
If you are new you arrive about ½ an hour early and realise that Aotea square is huge, there are sets of obstacles everywhere and you can’t quite determine where you are supposed to meet the others. You walk around in your Nike freeruns and massive backpack with water, spare jumper, iPod, more water, snacks, first aid kit, wallet stacked with old receipts and a hop card. You don’t see anyone doing parkour. You keep walking around looking for the endless possibilities.
You spot some movement over the far side and walk over the long way round, there are some people moving fast and jumping, you get closer… skateboarders. Scared and too embarrassed to ask them about parkour you move away.
You search on Facebook where the meeting spot is exactly and luckily the good grace of Pearmill Johnny Chow has a zoomed-in picture of where we usually meet. You make an A to B line straight for it. On your way you encounter a park bench, what better way to practice that sweet side vault you learnt from Jesse La Flair’s tutorial? You get some momentum, your large backpack alters your balance a little and you land slightly backwards, but turn around trying to look like you did it on purpose and jog off, looking around to see if anyone was watching. You don’t think anyone was, but they all were. They always are.
You find a spot beside the raised garden and sit in the shade and wait until 5.38pm when Matt shows up. He greets you, gives you a disturbingly satisfying high five, asks you a few questions and then warms up with some double kongs. Everyone else slowly dribbles in and some people ask the same questions. What's your name, where are you from and how long have you been doing parkour for. This establishes 2 key points: 1) Have I seen you on the parkour page, do I know anything about you already? And 2) Are you a complete newbie or are you better than me?
Most people are stretching and chatting, Kristov or Reece do a gainer off the planter box onto concrete. You do a couple of precisions and kongs and try to ask people for help without really asking and trying not to interrupt their training. They are happy to show you, but even happier to move spots ASAP. You don’t quite know why, this spot looks good, people are warming up and doing things. But still they insist moving on.
If you're a seasoned traceur, you show up late and everyone has left. You only have Isaac’s number but he’s not replying, so you train at Aotea thinking this place surely isn’t as bad as you and your mates say. You manage to warm up well, practice some plyometrics and hurt your wrists a bit as you land too heavy on your kongs.
Sure, you haven’t learnt anything new. Sure, you haven’t pushed yourself very hard. But at least you’ve picked up a bit of a sweat and got outside – in the end that’s what it’s all about, right?
Regardless, your motivation to train has dithered and you head off home.
So why don’t we like to train at Aotea? A newbie will see vaults and jumps all around, a seasoned traceur will have the chance to practice fundamentals, the place is open and central – what could be so wrong?
Well, there are three reasons:
1) It’s huge, spread apart and flat.
The Square itself is about the size of 2 large rugby fields with a massive expanse of flat concrete, some of which has had a layer of dirt and grass placed on top. It’s a tricker’s dream, not to mention the amount of endless handstands and flat ground precisions you can practice… and did I mention the rolling?! However try to make any sort of decent line between obstacles and you are out of luck.
Furthermore, the only obstacles that you do find are incredibly low; perfect only for step-ups and awkward vaults.
2) Because of what it used to be.
Back in the golden days of 2008, Aotea Square was a concrete paradise. Vaults, levels and odd pieces of architecture stretching out as far as the eye could see. We didn’t know how good it was till it was taken away and it has always made me a bit sad knowing what it was. Sure, the grass is a nice addition and the concrete is a happier colour, but I still miss the opportunities of yesteryear. Check out the old Aotea and some cute chubby faces of modern-day Auckland Parkour celebrities in this video:
3) Because we always train there.
During the waiting and warm up period at the start of the session, we exhaust our enthusiasm for the spot. Some might say that the repetitive visits to a single spot must surely lead to us pushing our limits and moving creatively, but this is just not so. As we are never quite at our peak when training there, we spend any motivation on simple movements and then grow uninspired.
Okay, now that the ranting is out of the way - here is how I rate the spot:
Accessibility: 9/10 – It is the centre of Auckland; everyone can find it easily and it is close to many transport hubs. Parking fees are ridiculous.
Location: 8/10 – City centre, not exactly an ugly spot but also does not have any outstanding features. We only rarely get kicked out or told off for training there; a massive bonus. Often council events are held in the areas clear of obstacles which provide a positive atmosphere that definitely benefits your enthusiasm to train. Decently lit at night.
Obstacles: 4/10 – I have already said it, the obstacles are limited and spread out, these can spark creativity but get boring if you have none.
Overall: Mathematically, this makes the spot a whopping 7/10. But I would rather give it a 5/10.
So I leave you with the question; what do we do about this? Do we try to change our attitude to the spot? Push through our boredom and actually challenge ourselves to find creative lines in a tricky area? Or do we simply maintain our routine and acknowledge that Aotea Square will always be what it is; somewhere to warm up at, move on from and complain about in long blog posts? You are the Auckland Parkour community, you decide.
Maika and Isaac.