If you’re looking for an extreme hobby, one where you don’t need any real skills, where you don’t need equipment and one that is truly uncomplicated, then Cliff Diving is the hobby for you. You don’t have to buy expensive equipment to practice cliff diving nor do you have to buy special clothing as you would for scuba diving, and one of the coolest factors is you don’t need to hire a provider or someone’s services. You depend on yourself, your guts and your adrenalin! It’s basically just you, your body, the air you’ll be gliding through from extreme heights and then the water. Diving right into the water, into the unknown, is one of the most exhilarating experiences some people experience. Usually the height is around 85-90 feet, that’s just over 26 meters! That’s what extreme hobbyists aim for!
You won’t be competing so don’t worry about achieving that height right off. Competition cliff diving comes from the Olympics, it’s a mutated form of high diving, with a little bit more insanity sprinkled into the mix. Cliff diving itself however goes back years, to 1770, when the last king of Maui took a scary leap off a 20 meter cliff. It’s ironic that he was that last king of Maui, but the interesting part to this story was that he made his way into the water from that height without a single splash, not a drop. His soldiers and fighters would dive off it later to prove their courage; similar to what you’ll be doing too!
Cliff diving became an actual recognized Olympic sport in the summer of 1996 when the World High Diving Federation (WHDF) was created. Now, years later, cliff divers, hobbyists just like yourself, travel the globe in search of that perfect dive, the most awesome spot, the adrenaline high of all cliff dives. Most of the cliff dive locations you’ll visit are exotic, beautiful and simply breathtaking from natural flowing pools in Switzerland to the hot tropics of Jamaica and more. Don’t let your mind drift, you’re not cliff diving for the beautiful locations; remember, you’re doing it for the gravity defying free plunging dive through nothing but thin air and extreme speeds into a body of water you can’t see past the surface of. Is your heart racing yet? It better be.
Cliff Diving Explained
When you take that leap into thin air off the side of a cliff, you go into what’s better known as ‘free fall’. This is where gravity becomes the only physical force around your body, the only thing accelerating you with absolutely no resistance. It’s not like running down a steep hill or even snowboarding down the Alps. No, with cliff diving, and your body going into free fall, there’s no friction, period. There’s even little to almost no air resistance if you dive it just right. Remember, gravity is one of the most powerful forces on earth; after all, it keeps everything and everyone from floating into outer space.
So when you dive, this gravity pulls you closer to earth with no obstacles in its path to slow it down. If you want numbers to crunch, then you’ll be falling at almost 10 meters a second, just over 32 feet. If you want a breakdown of what that means, realize that since time becomes a factor in the free fall, it means the longer you keep falling, the faster you’ll be going. What happens is known as acceleration and every single second you’re falling, there’s an increase in velocity for the next second, and so forth. Think snowball effect but in terms of speed, that’s basically how it plays out.
Popular Cliff Diving Spots
The birthplace of this crazy sport and hobby, cliff diving, is believed to be Hawaii where the king plunged off the cliff and got his soldiers to practice the same thing. For forty years in fact, that very same spot is host to a show, re-acting the jump in a show stopping entertainment expo. But that location where the king used to dive from is not the only location, there are several other amazing and note worthy cliffs in Hawaii that attract cliff diving hobbyists to the scene who all want to have a go at it and test their courage as well as get the adrenaline flowing.
Mexico is also a hot spot for cliff divers of all ages, young and old. It’s mainly due to a legend, a story that took place there in 1934 when a young boy of 13 years plunged off the La Quebrada in Mexico. The cliff attracts thousands of tourists, pros and hobbyists each month now. There’s even a show that takes place every single day when the sun is setting, where they all line up and hurl themselves off the cliff in synchronization and with the acrobatic excellence of some of the world’s greatest divers. It’s a show unlike any other as the timing, as well as the skill involved are monumental. They jump every day, and have for years without a single serious injury, and only minor ones not even worth noting. They time the jump just right every single time, hit the waves with precision accuracy and do it all like it’s a walk in the park. Watching them dive will have anyone hold their breath.
Another amazing location with breathtaking scenery is Croatia. In Dubrovnik, there’s a sea known as the Adriatic Sea, where twice a year there are major Competitions held where cliff divers of all skill levels take to the cliffs and do their thing.
Some divers end up competing at insane heights of a little over 28meters which are among the highest anywhere. The beautiful surroundings and location make for breathtaking dives, but don’t be fooled, the air there is something special. As you get higher in altitude, the air becomes a little thinner, so you get to pick up amazing speeds on the way down and that along with the nice high waves that help break the dive into a painless one add to the excitement of it all.
The next location is known for its amazing pearly white sandy beaches, equally amazing sunsets and laid back nature, not so much for its real treasure. All the adrenalin junkies know about it, if cliff diving is your hobby, then seeking out that ultimate thrill is your job, and it has just become easier. The 10-20 meter limestone cliffs in the west end cliff range in Negril, Jamaica are where you want to be. Natural pools and the most abnormally calm clear water you have ever laid your eyes on, it truly is a one of a kind locations. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants which do their part by providing their own regulated diving platforms so you can train before taking to higher cliffs.
One of the last of the main hot spots is without a doubt, Switzerland. Home to the WHDF in Avegno, the amazing cliffs located in and around the Brontallo area are buzzing with activity every year around June-July. Although this is limited to the professionals around that time and if you’re looking to watch you’d have to get one of the limited slots for watchers, it’s amazing. Acrobatic diving like you have never seen. The great thing is after the competitions are over, you can take to the same cliffs yourself to take the plunge yourself. Some other locations include spots where competitions are held that you as a hobbyist could even enter.
Safe Diving is Key
It doesn’t matter whether you’re diving from a 5 meter cliff, or a 28meter one, no jump is a safe jump, no matter how little the distance is. Without a single doubt, and very few will argue this, cliff diving is among the single most dangerous extreme sports on earth. If you thought that was a little much, some tourist locations based in and around the hottest cliff diving zones don’t even mention it when advertising, they know it’s too dangerous to promote.
Some of the highest cliffs that professionals dive off reach amazing speeds. A diver can reach speeds of up to 190kph on a 24meter dive and 40kph on a small dive of just 6 meters. Think about it for a second, you’re traveling faster than a 911 turbo’s top speed, in the air, pretty much naked...no air bags. It’s dangerous, simple as that. If you hit the water wrong, wrong being if you hit it horizontally or back/stomach first it’s considered as hard as landing on solid concrete from that height. You have to make the jump and hit the water with your feet straight, toes even, or fingers with your body straight vertical line. A small 6meter dive if made wrong can easily compress your spine and break bones.
Points on pool depths in connection with safety:
Now obviously seeing as how there is such danger around diving from extreme heights the WHDF has recommended to the general public that no one dive from 20 meters and upwards. Unless of course there is a professional team of rescuers at hand and located around the diving spot. It’s not a law, but a recommendation that is voiced loudly so that anyone planning to go to a well-known diving location is made aware.
Among the injuries that are caused by cliff diving:
• Broken bones
• Compressed spinal chords
• Dislocated or broken discs
• Paralysation and even death
Many professional divers around the world who compete in major events end up diving from heights as intense as 26 meters. In one location on earth, Acapulco, the Quebrada divers make it from a little over 46meters. The only reason they live to dive again and again is because these divers are trained from childhood. Some train their entire life before making that dive. They not only master the art of cliff diving, but memorize by heart the cliff diving location, learn the wave habits, times and more, so they become one with the cliff and dive itself. But, having said that, they too get hurt from time to time though no fatalities from this group of divers has ever been recorded in the last 30 years and over 10,000 dives each later.
Diving Tips for the Eager Hobbyist
If you just can’t help yourself or contain your excitement, and truly want to take cliff diving on as a serious hobby, then you need to consider some of the following tips to help you master the art and manage to paddle away from a successful dive safely:
• Baby steps, there’s no shame in taking it slow and working your way up the ladder, or cliff in this case. Before you even head to a diving spot and pick out your first cliff, try some dives from diving platforms at deep swimming pools. Try to perfect your dive, landing, entrance into the water, pencil dive and more. Just be sure someone is around when you start off to be on the safe side. Try the pencil dive first with your arms pointed down and arms close to your sides plunging feet first, back straight. The aim of this dive is to make the point of entrance/impact as small as possible to reduce the force at which you hit the water.
• Again and this cannot be stressed enough, never ever dive on your own. Always have someone with you; no matter how great a diver you become, it’s important to have someone with you. Be it a fellow diver or a watcher, someone who’s close the impact location but far enough not to obstruct your dive.
• Before you take that first leap, or any leap for that matter, swim around the area you’ll be lading in. Make sure it’s deep enough and that there aren’t any rocks or hidden obstacles that could injure you or prove fatal.
• Another important note to keep in mind is how you’re going to get out the water. Many times novice divers take the jump into the ocean with waves high that break their dive and help them in a softer landing, but forget to check where these waves are headed. Whether or not they’re drifting and crashing into rocks/cliff side or worse. So make sure you know how you’ll be getting out the water, picture the dive then swim out how you intend to on the actual dive.
• The wind plays a big role. If it’s really windy, be careful. Wind strikes you at an angle, and if that angle pushes you towards the cliff, then you’re in trouble, so check and double check on that. Gusts of sudden wind might skew your dive projection into a cliff side if it’s high, inches and less matter here due to the speed you’re falling at so always keep that in mind. Jump from a safe location that won’t prove fatal and dangerous if a little wind does come up.
• Consider dressing right. A wetsuit is great for higher dives, or any dive in fact. What the wetsuit does is gives divers an extra layer of cushioning that reduces the force of impact on the body a little. DO NOT WEAR WATER SHOES. What that will do is increase the impact area that hits the water, you want to reduce that as much as possible, so bare feet, toes pointed down every time for a safer, less painful dive.
That’s about it, if you dive safe, you’ll be fine but remember, as with any hobby or sport, or anything in fact, nothing is 100% safe. Find that perfect location, challenge yourself and take to the cliffs, remember to always take someone with you and most importantly, be safe and enjoy yourself!