Here’s why we love cliff diving!

20 April 2017 by
First published: 29 October 2016

Want to take it to the limits? Well, here’s why we love cliff diving!

Everyone was hooked by the diving performances at the Olympic pool in Rio, but there’s a bigger, even more terrifying sport catching our eye. Cliff diving does what it says on the tin, and sees participants jump from up to 28m (nearly triple the height of those diving in the Olympics) from a cliff platform. We were lucky enough to witness the extreme sport first-hand at the fifth stop of the Red Bull World Series – the championship responsible for thrusting this sport into the limelight. From the sheer bravery (or madness) of its contestants, to the beautiful corners of the world it graces, here’s why we love cliff diving!

It’s seriously extreme

If you’ve ever braved a 10m diving board, you’ll know it’s high. Now imagine nearly tripling that height and hurling yourself off it into choppy, rocky sea water below. Impact alone is nine times harder at this height than from a 10m platform, and divers have to land feet-first (as opposed to hands-first) due to the force they are entering the water at. The leap takes no more than three seconds, but divers can reach speeds in excess of 85kph.

The seriousness of the sport is such that waiting in the water below will be no less than three scuba divers, who dive underwater as soon as the contestants enter it to check they are OK. An ambulance is also always on standby. A man-made water fountain sprays water onto the diver’s landing area in an attempt to make the water slightly softer for landing. It’s also used as a reference point for the athletes, as from such heights it’s easy to get disorientated.

Landing is where the highest risk of injury occurs. Apart from the obvious – landing wrongly (such as a pancake landing) from such heights can be compared to running full speed into a concrete wall – a well-executed dive still carries its risks. Why? During the landing phase, parts of the body in the water are exposed to absolute deceleration, while others above the surface are still at full speed. Here, maximum physical tension is crucial and immediately after hitting the water, the athlete must actively dive away to avoid compression or contortion of parts of the body. High diving does not bring a lot of time benefit due to rapid acceleration, yet the risk of injury increases disproportionately.

It’s held in some of the most beautiful places in the world

The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series comprises 10 stops each year, with the overall winner from all stops emerging victorious. And each stop is something seriously special. The competition kicked off this year in June at Possum Kingdom Lake in Texas. Otherwise known as Hell’s Gate, it sees two towering cliffs rising out of the region’s first water supply reservoir to provide the platform for the season’s premier stop. After that it was on to Copenhagen, where the platform was situated on the roof of the Opera House (as you do), with panoramic views of the royal palace, Amalienborg and the domed Marble Church.

July was a month of classics with divers returning to old favourites, such as the Portuguese Azores and La Rochelle in France; the latter garnering a record crowd of 75,000 spectators. Another favourite, Polignano a Mare in Italy, was where we joined the competition, which marked the half-time stop for the 2016 season at the end of August. Next up was the cooler climes of Wales in the UK. Specifically, the Blue Lagoon – a National Trust site in Pembrokeshire. From there, it was on to the ‘Stari Most’, the old bridge of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. October whisked the divers off to new grounds in the south-east of Japan to Sandanbeki, a cliff towering along the coast of Shirahama Town for a picturesque, all-natural setting, before the grand finale at the iconic Dubai Marina for the ultimate showdown.

Did we mention a Brit is the champ?

Five-time World Series champion, Great Britain’s Gary Hunt, is the world-leader in the sport. He’s the only athlete to have competed in all 50 World Series stops between 2009 and 2015 – and he’s won half of them. The 32-year-old was runner-up in the first world series in 2009, and since then has gone on to claim five consecutive victories – a feat no one else has accomplished, or even come close to. Frankly, no other diver in this series has more wins to his name, making the ‘brilliant Brit’ one of our all-time bests.