Made of Tougher Stuff - Oliver Nordin
This week I explore the fascinating life of Swedish freerunner Oliver Nordin - also known as Mr. Bail! I ask him about his biggest falls, and what makes him so tough. He also talks travel tips, and his 'Blind Man Parkour' video that went mega-viral.
So, what I’m interested to know first is… how did the nickname Mr. Bail come about?
I got that name early on. Ever since I started training in 2007 I have pushed myself to the edge of capabilities and people instantly recognised me as the guy with a sketchy style. I bailed a lot, a friend started calling me Mr Bail and it caught on.
I watched your bail sampler, and what’s crazy is how you make each fall look so comical, despite going for really difficult and awkward things! How do you do that?
Hmm, I don't know... Could it be because I'm almost always quick to get back up with a big smile on my face? :P
Yeah. Two times come to mind. My well known scorpion bail in Bangkok (last clip in bail sampler) where I overextended my back until my feet hit my head (I was going for a diveroll gap and slipped in the take off which made me loose distance). I was just able to take myself to the hospital where they, to my surprise, sent me home after a quick check up. I wasn't even able to lift my legs over the 10 centimetre border of the hospital bed. I spent the next week mostly in the hotel bed where it would take me several serious attempts, almost to the point of me crying, to get me out of bed. It took 2-3 months until I was back in training and my back was fully recovered soon after that.
The second one was last last summer when I slipped while doing an awkward rail pre at 2.5 meters height. I landed on my side and banged my head into the floor. I woke up some hours later at the hospital where I stayed a few nights to recover from a concussion and a small crack in my skull. I was back in training around 1 month later.
I don't remember seeing any worse bails than those in person.
It hasn't affected my confidence. However I have changed my approach over the years. Back in the day, if I found something cool I would go for it straight away. Nowadays I try to break down tricks into smaller steps as much as possible to minimize the risk. That could mean finding somewhere to do the same trick, but with less risk and practice that until it feels safe. Best case it makes you avoid an injury, worst case you lose a couple of minutes. But I still really enjoy doing hard stuff and I still take more risk while training than the average practitioner.
Why do you think you enjoy attempting hard things, and taking risks so much? Have you always been like that?
I think I was born with it. I liked pushing the boundaries from an early age and I didn't mind much if I failed. In school I always balanced on the two back legs of the chair. The first 50 times I fell everyone in the class turned around and wondered if I was okey. After that they stopped turning around, they know it was me and they knew I was okey.
Obviously I want to go to places with great spots. I also like if there is access to skyscraper rooftops, as well as cool architecture and design over all. I like nature and adventure, so places with cool mountain hiking, waterfalls, surfing, cliff diving and stuff like that. Climate is important. Like most North European people I prefer to escape the cold winters. I try to avoid too warm places like south Asia in summer. It's a plus if the cost of living is low.
I also enjoy visiting new cultures. I think it's beneficial to see life from different perspectives. I like to have freedom when I travel. It's great for me to travel in Europe because I don't need to think about visas and I can enter countries without having a return ticket. It makes me less likely to go to places like China where I would need to provide information about where I would stay every night of the entire trip before entering the county.
It's nice if other people are training in the city. I love to train with new people and get inspiration from their styles. If someone invites me to the city I'm much more likely to go there.
I always go to Tripadvisor.com and search for things to do in the city. Then I go to Google and search for "Things to do + the city" to see if I missed anything. Often I also do Instagram research. I go on Instagram and search for the hashtag of the city, or combinations of the city+insta/igers/ig/
photography to find cool photo locations. For some big cities like Hong Kong and Los Angeles it works even better to go to YouTube and search for city+instagram and you will find lots of cool photo locations.
If I don't know anyone within the parkour community in the city I usually go to Facebook and search for city+parkour and I often find something. I that doesn't work, try searching on YouTube.
I almost always try to learn at least a few basic phrases in the local language, which makes it easier to connect with the locals. You can use Duolingo, podcasts or YouTube. In new cities I usually go by foot to where I'm going if it takes less than an hour or so. I see it as an adventure. You can often find places to train, other cool things or just see more of the culture.
I try to live like the locals as much as possible. For example eating and traveling like them. This will expand your comfort zone and you will experience more of their culture. The locals usually have good reasons for doing things the way they do. I always travel light. I only bring a small backpack of maximum 30 liters which gives me much more freedom.
That's some awesome travel advice. What do you think of your home country - Sweden? Would you recommend people travel there?
Sweden is really nice in the summers. All the big cities are close to beautiful nature and the ocean. It's easy to get around and everyone understands English. Winters are cold and people usually spend most of their time indoors. At least we have a lot of high quality indoor gyms, maybe more than any other country (per capita). Most parkour athletes who's been there seems to like it and want to go back and stay for longer.
When you're not training and traveling, what else do you like to do? Do you have a day job?
I don't have a day job because I rarely stay in places for more than a month.
I like reading and learning stuff over all. I read everything non fictional, stuff like psychology, economy, biographies, game theory and evolutionary biology/psychology. I like nature, adventure, rooftoping and trying new sports. I enjoy making things. It doesn't matter if it is parkour videos, funny videos, photography, music, art or writing.
I also like strategy games, but I only play poker. It's hard for me to justify playing other games when I predictably can make money playing poker. Online poker was my main source of income for around 4 years and it was under this period I started travelling more.
So you recently went super-viral on Facebook with that hilarious blind-man parkour video. How did you come up with the idea for that?
At Halloween around 3 years ago I got the idea to dress like a blind person, drop the pole and do a backflip. I did the prank on my friends and they thought it was hilarious. I got the idea of doing a video with the prank, but the idea just sat there.
3 years later I talked with Vladimir Polianskii who makes some of the funniest parkour related videos and he inspired me to create videos with the potential to go viral.
I came up with all of the ideas for the blind man series except one. Including all accounts I've seen sharing it, it has over 100 million views. I couldn't imagine that response.
Yeah. I always have ideas and I get new ones faster than I can execute them. I keep track of all of my ideas in lists (personally I use Google Keep. A lot of people recommend Evernote as well). If I didn't I would forget most ideas. Currently I have over 20 ideas for things to do in blind man videos. And 80 ideas for other videos.
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So that was a tiny window into the life of Mr. Bail. Quite possibly the only freerunner who funds his lifestyle through online poker! Many thanks to Oliver for the interview!
You can find Oliver Nordin on Instagram @olivernordin1