On the one hand, it’s mere numbers: 27 metres, three seconds and at least 85kph. On the it is pure, thrilling and exudes a fascination that is spreading around the globe. Put together, cliff diving is jumping from an eight-storey building, accelerating faster than the sports car in your garage, bringing it to a stop in less than five metres and walking away in perfect health. Overwhelming and captivating.
As everything happens extremely fast in this sport, breaking it down into its most important parts is the best way of showing why this numbers’ game is so fascinating and those who we are about to pass over to are the pros.
The height for a Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition ranges between 26m and 28m for the simple reason that it allows the athletes to do more difficult dives during their three-second flight. “You have to have a lot of control and it’s the barani part of the dive where you need to have control. We finish the dive after about 12m and still have 15m to go and we need to have a lot of control to do that,” explains Orlando Duque (COL), the sport’s 37-year-old figurehead. With 25m, a lot of the dives the cliff diving elite do would be difficult to squeeze in, whereas every metre above 27, the impact increases massively. Gary Hunt, the two-time winner of the World Series, calls it “the compromise we found between enough height to fit in a lot of somersaults and twists and somewhere where our bodies can handle the impact.” Duque’s horizontal comparison makes things even more clear: “If you’re going 85kph in your car two metres takes you nothing, five metres takes you nothing, even 10 metres takes you nothing. So if we went to 35m we’d gain 0.3 seconds and that’s not a lot of time to add to your manoeuvres; only the impact is much harder. Even if we could go higher it would not add much besides a higher risk and more danger to the diver. I think we have gotten to the level where there is still
a lot of risk but somehow we can control it.”
Like a car crash…
While accelerating from 0-85kph within three seconds, the impact of the water entry brings the diver’s body to a complete stop in a bit more than a second. “When you do a cliff dive you hit the water so fast that the water stops you equally as fast. If you just jump off the side of a pool and you go straight down you might probably go pretty deep. But if you go higher just the tension of the surface breaks us up and you scoop and only go three metres”, says US diver Kent De Mond. For nine-time world champion Duque it’s an “extreme deceleration. Within one and a half seconds you’ve stopped. The body goes through a lot of tension upon entry and it hurts every time, even when you do a good dive, but you don’t feel it until much later. It’s almost like a car crash where you walk away. In competition we are basically crashing a car four times without any protection and at the end of the day we are walking away.”
Head or feet
Thinking of cliff diving a certain picture pops up in most people’s minds: Acapulco and the kamikaze divers disappearing head-first into the sea. “It is possible to go head-first; you’ll probably be injured and be doing it only one time. We are doing difficult dives and the impact is about nine times harder than the highest platform in the Olympics,” says 29-year-old De Mond. The unanimous answer to this question is as simple as it is rational: The leg muscles are simply much stronger than your wrists and neck.
Every time a World Series diver steps on the platform and gets ready to dive, down below, three scuba divers get ready as well. Besides helping in case of emergencies, their job is to break the surface. A lot of times the water is so clear – similar to a glass table – that you see straight to the bottom and you’re looking down almost 37m. The splashing makes the spotting easier while the divers are flipping around. They only see the water for a very short time and if they can see the water a bit better this helps them to line up better.
Adrenaline and Fascination
Cliff diving is undoubtedly one of the purest sports on earth and holds a fascination for doers as well as watchers. For Colombian Orlando Duque a lot of this lies in the impact: “When you reach the water it’s really fast and really loud. Above water it’s really fast what happens, then you can hear a loud bang and all of a sudden you are under water and everything is quiet. And all you hear is the bubbles around you. It’s surreal. Once you are underwater you go “wow, what just happened”. And the impact, the adrenaline, everything that is happening to your body is a big rush that you feel. I think this contrast of being scared while jumping in the air, the speed and then in the water is what makes us completely happy. And that’s what gets us divers into the sport more and more.” And also those who came into the sport only recently and got infected by the cliff diving bug very quickly, as last season’s rookie Steven LoBue confirms: “I love this sport because it offers a sort of feeling that you don’t really find anywhere else. It’s so pure. It’s just you and your body and what you trained your body to do. That almost flying feeling captured me.”
About cliff diving explained here
RED BULL CLIFF DIVING WORLD SERIES 2012
The best cliff divers in the world versus gravity. Twisting and flipping 27 metres through the air and hitting the water after three seconds at 85kph. Three years after its inception, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is established as the pinnacle of high diving competition. In 2012 this unique
championship will once more be the platform for the world’s most dizzying dives in seven stops between June and September in Europe, North America and the Middle East. Eleven athletes will compete head- to-head for the prestigious World Series title and spread the spirit of cliff diving all over the globe.