A stroll along the prom at Southsea with Mitch Lee can be a disconcerting experience.
Don’t expect a leisurely bimble and deep, meaningful conversation.
For show Mitch the sea wall, a bench or a rubbish bin and the chances are he’ll be off at full pelt, hurtling across the pavement, leaping onto the obstacle and somersaulting off it onto the beach.
Things get even stranger a short distance inland in Portsmouth’s city centre.
Here he performs his own unique brand of high-speed expressive gymnastics on the steps of the Guildhall, across the carriageway divide in Winston Churchill Avenue and high up on the parapets of multi-storey car parks and nearby rooftops.
Place him in front of a wall and from a standing start he’ll ‘walk’ up it, perform a backwards somersault, land on his feet and then dash off to bounce his way along the street cannoning off kerbs, kiosks and cobbles.
The 24-year-old is a bundle of nervous energy – lithe, supremely fit and forever on the look-out for any piece of street furniture he can use to express his daredevil prowess.
For Mitch is one of Britain’s top freerunners, a member of an elite handful of street gymnasts who enthrall passers-by and often large crowds with their ability to move across the urban landscape in their own inimitable way.
It has become his life. He is the only professional freerunner in the south and is regularly in demand by the likes of Nike, Red Bull, Calvin Klein, Bench and other top brands to promote a cool, healthy and sporty image to young consumers. His eloquence and good looks have also turned him into something of a pin-up.
The sport has taken him around the world and he is shortly off to promote it at a festival in Dubai.
He knows what he’s talking about because freerunning changed his life when he stumbled across it by accident as an overweight 15-year-old at Cams Hill School, Fareham.
‘I watched a Channel 4 documentary called Jump London in which freerunners careered across all these iconic buildings in the capital and I was transfixed.
‘I had to try it out and my older brother took me along to an event happening in Southampton.
‘There were about 70 people there and it was really organised. I got my first taste and absolutely loved it. And it was cheap – all you need to start is a pair of trainers.
‘When I was about 15 I was overweight even though I played the usual team sports at school, football and rugby, as well as tennis.
‘But when I started freerunning I suddenly became much, much healthier, started eating properly and exercising well in the gym.
‘In the first three months I lost two stones because I was training all the time.’
He adds: ‘I knew I wanted to get better and would have to change my life to do it.’
There are no rules and it’s this freedom which appeals to Mitch. ‘Its about finding somewhere you can express yourself, and for me, it’s so much fun running, jumping and climbing. It feels like being a kid again, but with more purpose.’
Always he’s enjoyed the team sports, freerunning was a pastime he achieved all on his own.
‘It’s self-improvement in a way. You might not make a jump, but if you make it the following week you feel great.’
But surely you don’t set out to become a professional freerunner? Mitch didn’t. It kind of crept up on him.
‘After Cams Hill I went to Peter Symonds College in Winchester and did maths, physics, ICT (information and communications technology and sport A-levels because I wanted to be an engineer.
‘But after the first few weeks I realised the only thing I was really enjoying was the sport.’ So after A-levels he got a place at Bournemouth University to study sport.
But between college and university he joined a team of freerunners in Portsmouth called Team 101 and his destiny was sealed.
‘We did all kinds of shows in Portsmouth and Southampton representing people like Calvin Klein and Bench. It was great fun and got me noticed,’ he adds. He was then signed by a leading sports agency.
When he’s not bouncing off walls Mitch has turned his attention to blogging about food and has gleaned 13,000 followers. ‘I’m a bit of an obsessive about food. It started when I came back from a holiday in 2010, looked at the pictures of me and didn’t like what I saw,’ he says.
‘I’m very conscious about what I eat, but I love my treats so I’ve become a big fan of intermittent fasting.
‘It means that I eat my daily quota of calories in the eight hours between midday and 8pm and then fast until noon the next day. For me it works, obviously coupled with all my workouts.
‘But I wanted to find ways of still being able to eat all my favourite foods so I started writing the recipes on my blog and it seems to have become quite popular. It’s certainly not something I ever envisaged doing.’