Piratpal Singh, also known as Lavish, is conquering the city one skyscraper at a time
Piratpal Singh has adrenaline junkies across the city fixated on his athletic abilities, which have seen him perform harness-free, gravity-defying stunts atop of some of Hong Kong’s most famous rooftops. His Instagram page isn’t for the faint of heart: photos of him performing pull-ups from skyscrapers near Kowloon Peak, climbing beams at the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter and leaping between high-rise ledges near the Hong Kong Space Museum populate his @youngdreway feed.
Combining panoramic views of the city with fitness has become a passion project for Singh, whose love for athletics began at secondary school in Tseung Kwan O. Describing himself as a “very skinny” teenager with a fast metabolism, he started practising calisthenics, a form of strength training largely based around bodyweight exercises, at the age of 15.
“When I was in high school, all the boys used to hang out at a building near the school which was a few storeys high. I practised there before I took [my training] to another level by joining competitions to show off my athletic performance,” says Singh, who is also a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a US fitness training provider.
In 2016, Singh competed professionally for the first time and won the top prize in the novice category at the Hong Kong Street Workout freestyle competition, which judges competitors on feats of strength and agility performed using the urban environment. Later that year, at the Hong Kong Arnold Classic Asia street workout competition at AsiaWorld-Expo, he won silver. His wins led to sponsorship deals with calisthenics equipment companies Calisthenixpro and Sesh Workout Family, for which he currently serves as brand ambassador.
Though Singh has a talent for making his jaw-dropping rooftopping stunts look easy, the real work, he says, is behind the scenes. His pre-stunt ritual includes meditation to ensure his mind is in tune with his body. “I meditate for five to ten minutes and talk to my body. [Some moves] put your body under extreme stress and if your mind-muscle connection isn’t right, then you probably shouldn’t be doing the stunt,” he says. He emphasises that the key to rooftopping success and safety is to start small with one-storey buildings before moving on to bigger heights. “It’s all about progression,” he says.
As his footage is filmed by his best friend, Arpan Sandhu, Singh feels safe knowing help is nearby in case things go awry.
“I try to do things safely and I never perform these stunts alone. I also use gymnastics chalk for better grip,” he says. The possibility of falling 300m is real, and Singh has had his fair share of scares; one in particular came while he was rooftopping during a typhoon No 8 signal. “I was doing a handstand [and the view from the top was spectacular], but I felt strong wind pushing me sideways. Luckily, I hit the platform on my stomach and saved myself,” he says.
Some aren’t so lucky: in 2015, a 15-year-old rooftopper fatally fell from a Mong Kok building after posting a photo of herself, and hundreds of people around the world have died while trying to perform stunts or snap selfies from precarious locations. As well as the obvious safety issues, climbing buildings in Hong Kong also carries legal risks. Although climbing a building isn’t technically illegal, there have been cases where rooftoppers and parkour artists were arrested for trespassing and vandalism.
Although Singh is fearless, the confidence that he can perform these manoeuvres stems from full-body control and the diligent training he puts in at the gym, where pull-up and dip bars accustom his muscles to lifting his bodyweight. Singh, who was born in Hong Kong to Indian parents, says, “[Training] makes me feel like a superhero. Some of these movements are extremely difficult and have taken me a very long time to achieve and hold for even three seconds. I don’t think there are any limits to my athletic ability, though, because I push myself to improve constantly.”
Before TikTok ceased its operations in Hong Kong, Singh had amassed more than 100,000 followers eager to gain a bird’s-eye view of Hong Kong from the safety of sea level.
Singh has one particular building in his sights: K11 Musea in Tsim Sha Tsui. The different stepped levels and green oases dotted across the exterior make the shopping centre a tempting climb. He says, “I have seen some other rooftoppers climb it successfully, and they’ve shot some really epic content from the top. It is such a unique structure and it would be my dream to get up there.”