Balanced 90 feet up in the air, the view from the top is astonishing. Sheer rock faces plunge into deep pools of water, wind whistles in your ears, and the insect-like size of the figures far below accentuates the feeling of danger. For most people, the first instinct would be to step away from the edge. But the daredevil divers who took part in Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series 2012 are definitely not most people.
American diver Kent De Mond steadies himself, takes a few deep breaths, and drops into the chasm. As the rock sides of Oman’s Wadi Shab flash by, he twists and turns, before splashing down into the pool at an incredible speed of between 53 and 62 mph. And if that weren’t impressive enough, consider this: the force of hitting the water from such heights is nine times greater than the impact felt by Olympic high divers when they leap from their 33-foot platforms. No wonder cliff diving is so thrilling to watch.
Last year’s final event was the first Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series finale held in an Arab country. Wadi Shab has long been a tourist favorite with visitors to Oman and boasts spectacular waterfalls, picturesque palm trees and terraced plantations. Then, of course, there are the rugged cliffs and inviting waterholes. The location even features a partially submerged cave, just waiting to be explored.
Unlike a lot of daredevil sports, cliff diving doesn’t require any fancy equipment – just a pair of Speedos and nerves of steel. And with such minimal tackle, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that it isn’t a new sport either. The first cliff diver is said to have been Maui’s last king, Kahekili, who took the plunge back in 1770. As the story goes, his history-making leap from the cliffs of Kaunolu was from a height of 63 feet.
King Kahekili, who was nicknamed “Birdman”, not only reproduced the dive many times himself; he also made his warriors perform the feat to prove their loyalty and courage. We can only imagine how his men must have felt about these enforced leaps.
These days, cliff divers travel around the world seeking out new and exotic places from which to plummet. In 2012, Red Bull held Cliff Diving World Series events in France, Norway, Portugal, Ireland, the US and the UK, before wrapping things up in Oman. Each location offers something unique for the competitors. And the overall winner is the diver who has the most cumulative points from all the different competitions over the course of the season.
Here we see French diver Hassan Mouti launching into his dive during the final leg of the series at Wadi Shab. The level of control required to make the right movements while simultaneously falling through the air is quite astounding! Divers are judged on criteria including their body position, rotations and revolutions, as well as their entry into the water. And the good news is that in 2013, women will compete in the series for the first time.
This shot captures the moment just before Russian diver Artem Silchenko enters the water during a training session at Wadi Shab. It’s a dangerous point in the dive because the impact of hitting the water incorrectly from even a 20-foot plunge can break bones, compress the spine and give somebody a serious case of concussion. And this dive is from more than four times that height! It takes a lot of training to be able to successfully complete these kinds of feats, and even then, there’s no guarantee that there won’t be injuries – or even fatalities.
Here, there’s no mistaking just how high and perilous these dives really are. In the shot, we see Michal Navratil of the Czech Republic, who looks like little more than a speck as he begins his descent. Below, tiny spectators add to the drama. In the end, Navratil finished sixth overall. “I think I dived better than I have at any point this season,” he says.
In this amazing shot, UK diver Blake Aldridge can be seen swooping down past the terraces of spectators. “I dived well all the way through to my last dive, which I messed up, but it’s new and I’ve not done enough of them to be confident,” says Aldridge, who finished ninth overall. “My arms were shaking and my body was shaking – I knew I had a chance if I nailed it… but it wasn’t to be. There’s always next year.”
Armstand (handstand) starts like this one, performed by Artem Silchenko, are judged on the quality of the hold and the length of time for which they’re maintained. The takeoff is crucial, as the angle and trajectory cannot easily be changed. Perhaps thinking about all this takes the divers’ minds off the huge drop beneath them!
In this image, Silchenko can be seen having begun his descent. The angle the photograph was taken from is particularly scary and emphasizes the rocky cliffs that surround the divers at Wadi Shab. Silchenko ended up coming fourth overall. “I’ve had a good year but my highlight was when I did my new back armstand in Ireland,” he says.
Here we see UK competitor and eventual series champion Gary Hunt in an open pike position – that is, bent forward at the hip with straightened legs and arms reaching out to the side. The concentration needed to execute the move can be clearly discerned on his face. “This year has been the hardest without a doubt,” says Hunt of the 2012 competitions. “It felt like everyone was on top of their game and you had to be diving really well to win it.”
“Every expectation of what I thought diving was has been blown away,” says US diver David Colturi, pictured here. “It was a rollercoaster at the start for me but I finally got consistent, and with two podiums – it’s all that I could have asked for,” adds Colturi – who has only been competing for a year and yet finished fifth overall!
In this photograph, Blake Aldridge looks like just another leaf floating in the wind. Judging from the position of his body and arms, it looks like he’s in the middle of executing a twist, a movement that is not only amazing to look at but also incredibly difficult to perform. During a twist, one arm is moved up and the other down, which causes the body to rotate; the arm positions are then reversed to halt the twist. And don’t forget: these complex maneuvers are executed in freefall. Just thinking about it is enough to make us feel dizzy!
Here, Kent De Mond is captured hitting the water, in a shot that was taken during a pre-finale training session at Wadi Shab. According to the rules of diving in general, the body should always be in a vertical position as it enters the water. However, in actual fact, it’s impossible for a diver to remain completely upright on entry, because of their rotational momentum, which keeps them turning even as they hit the water’s surface. Therefore, the divers coordinate their movements to create the illusion that they’re keeping their bodies straight as they enter the water.
From left to right, Colombia’s Orlando Duque, Britain’s Gary Hunt and America’s David Colturi proudly display their trophies from the Wadi Shab stop. “I didn’t think when I broke my ankle a year and a half ago that I would be in this position fighting for the title on my last dive and I’m proud of how I’ve performed,” says second-placed Duque. “I want to raise my degree of difficulty ahead of next year but you know that everybody else will be thinking the same," he added.
In this breathtaking photograph, American Steven LoBue launches himself from the platform. LoBue, who came third overall, says, “This final stop was a really good example of how the sport is progressing. We saw two scores in the 500s and six of eight guys in the final went over 400, which is incredible.”
As you can see from looking at these photographs, cliff diving is a spectacular, thrilling and dangerous activity that requires a huge amount of skill, balance and coordination. It also involves plenty of preparation and training and is not a sport to be taken up lightly. And of course, as with any extreme sport, the possibility of injury or death only adds to the appeal and fascination.