Ryan Doyle, Tim Shieff, Oleg Vorslav. All iconic names. But beyond their success, they sponsor athletes through the World Freerunning Parkour Federation, and play a critical role in promoting the discipline. They helped bring it to the masses with MTV’s Ultimate Parkour Challenge in 2009, and now organize live events, sponsor athletes, provide parkour insurance, offer a teaching certification program, and make shoes and other apparel. WFPF represents 30 elite athletes, several hundred affiliate teams, and Hot Shot teams for people ages 12–18. CEO and co-founder Victor Bevine spoke to Vertical Floor about WFPF’s growing certification program and social media’s role in the organization.
Overall, what’s WFPF’s role in the community?
Victor Bevine: I think there’s generally a real respect for WFPF and what we do. And we really do have the best interest for the long-term growth of the sport at heart. That’s what our main goal is. We try to lead with a velvet glove, listen to what the community wants. We’ve partnered with Red Bull on the three competitions they did in the U.S. They came to us to bring athletes together to organize the mass community for the events. And a lot of smaller organizations (local parkour communities statewide) come to us for help with jams or competitions.
How did the WFPF create the requirements for its certification program?
VB: We brought together some world-renowned parkour athletes who were also very experienced teachers (Ben Jenkin, Daniel Arroyo, Robbie Corbett, Justin Sheaffer, etc.) and met over a two-year period in Miami. We had differing opinions, but came to a consensus and then, together with the insurance company, developed our level-one and level-two certification programs.
So is it fair to say the WFPF is the ultimate authority on parkour?
VB: We’re not trying to control the sport. We still acknowledge the sport is evolving, and we encourage its evolution and encourage people to have different teachings, just as they have different styles as athletes. We acknowledge that parkour is a self-taught discipline, but once you decide to start teaching other people, especially younger people, then you take on a greater responsibility. Our certification program teaches a way of more safely teaching a sport in a controlled environment.
WFPF’s main revenue is the shoe brand KO. After European shoe brand Kalenji refused to work with you, how did you go about designing the shoes?
VB: It was a steep learning curve. We knew nothing about it. We went to the athletes and asked, “What would you want?” We based a lot of the ideas off Kalenji because people liked it, and then we asked the athletes, “How would you change this?” So we made the KO, which is now very popular. We’ve probably sold close to 10,000 of pairs of shoes in the last three years. They’re sold in over 30 countries around the world.
What role does social media play in the company’s growth?
VB: We haven’t had the money for major advertising. So just in terms of the shoes, the kids have advertised for us. They get the shoes, they do videos, they wear them. They’ll do reviews of the shoes and put them up on YouTube and Facebook. That’s our main source of getting our message out there. In terms of our YouTube page, we are working with a company called Base 79, which is based in the U.K. They are one of the YouTube aggregators, and they had a channel called Flow. They brought together most of the important athletes and organizations in parkour. All our videos are there on Flow so we’re working together.
How do you choose which athletes to work with, and what does WFPF sponsorship mean for their careers?
VB: For our elite athletes, it has been a combination of somebody being recommended to us, us discovering somebody, or athletes coming to us and saying, “I want to be part of WFPF.” And we ask what their expectations are because a lot of people think we can make somebody a movie star right away. That’s kind of unrealistic because parkour is still gaining overall in the mainstream. But we hope to encourage athletes to be leaders in their communities and advance the cause of the sport. We help get them performance teams, more hits on their videos, and definitely send them merchandise. Many of them are sponsored by KO.
What’s your vision for the future of WFPF?
VB: We certainly want to do more live events. In the beginning we focused on the top athletes when we did the MTV show. Then we spent a couple of years focusing on the grassroots of the sport, trying to build the worldwide community at WFPF and help the average athlete get started. Now we want to spend some time again on the top athletes creating live events. We are talking to TV folks again about some more opportunities in that area. We’re also planning on rolling out level-three and level-four of our certification program in the next 12–18 months.
Additional reporting by Xiaonan Wang and Ruth Li