Jesse La Flair ’08
Major: Fine Arts (Sculpture)
Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.
Profession: Professional parkour athlete and freerunner, stuntman
Years before he became YouTube’s most-subscribed-to parkour and freerunning athlete, Jesse La Flair ’08 (Sculpture) was an undergraduate art student at New Paltz looking for a new hobby. He stumbled upon some fellow students “jumping around” outside Hasbrouck Dining Hall, and was immediately intrigued.
“One of them did a back flip off something,” said La Flair. “I saw them and I went over, and just sort of jumped in. I was hooked right away.”
The group turned out to be an unsanctioned parkour club, an activity La Flair was unfamiliar with at the time. He had experience with extreme sports like skateboarding, but was looking for something new.
While parkour deals more with “moving under, and over, and through obstacles,” La Flair said, freerunning is “more like self-expression through movement. … Like dance mixed with street-style skateboarding.”
After graduating with his Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture in 2008, La Flair moved to New York City, started showing in galleries, and maintained parkour and freerunning as a hobby. After work, he’d venture into the city for a couple of hours each night to train. It remained a “pure thing I was doing for myself.”
But then he learned of an opportunity to audition for “Equinox,” a parkour/freerunning-inspired short film by Eastman Kodak. He landed the lead role and spent five days in Rochester shooting.
“It was an amazing experience, and I realized that I can actually potentially make money off of something as fun as this, something I was passionate about,” said La Flair. “I never actually looked at it as a career. It opened up my eyes, and I started looking for more stunt work and film work.”
He hasn’t looked back since. La Flair moved to Los Angeles in 2010 with his wife, fellow New Paltz grad Brianne (Roenbeck) La Flair ’07 (Theatre Arts), and started creating YouTube tutorials on freerunning and parkour. He has since garnered the most individual subscriptions of any freerunning/parkour athlete on YouTube, with more than 173,000 followers and 17 million individual views.
However, La Flair is perhaps most well-known for his appearances as a top finalist on the NBC sports competition series “American Ninja Warrior,” which he was encouraged to pursue by his YouTube fans.
La Flair competes in freerunning and parkour competitions nationally and internationally, and is a member of the professional Tempest Freerunning group.
“The sport is still young,” said La Flair. “It’s gotten a much bigger audience than even skateboarding at this point, but it still hasn’t hit the mainstream in terms of the extreme sports competition realm. Part of our goal is getting it into the X-Games.”
To that end, La Flair and his Tempest teammate, Cory DeMeyers, directed a documentary film called “From Here to There,” which chronicles the “unfolding of an amazing journey I had with one of my teammates and best friends.” In the summer of 2013, the pair raised $8,000, acquired some sponsors, and set out on what turned into an international freerunning and parkour tour. They started at a grassroots competition in Seattle and ended up traveling to Sweden for the Air Whip Challenge (La Flair’s first major professional competition) and then to Greece for the Red Bull Art of Motion, the world championship of freerunning.
“We set out on this mission to legitimize ourselves in the sport and make America’s presence in the sport better known,” said La Flair.
La Flair and DeMeyer kicked off a series of screenings of “From Here to There” in late March in conjunction with their “Off the Edge” tour, which spans from Austin to Los Angeles through mid-May. The film will be shown in New York City on April 10. Find out more about the event here.
“Where I’m at in life, is if I’m not having fun doing something, I’m just not going to do it,” he said. “I’ll find a different way to go about it, and hopefully that way will be a little bit more fun for me.