You don't have to be crazy to do this
AS THE MIST gathered around a platform 27 metres above a section of Grimstad’s island-dotted coast in southern Norway, the extremity of what was being undertaken became clear.
Performing complicated dives, the competitors hit the water with a gun-crack splash, trying to avoid massive jellyfish, and upon surfacing, they give the safety scuba divers the okay sign. Landing on one’s chest or back can cause serious injury, and then there are the more common forcible enemas that can be a result of hitting the water at such velocity. It’s a sport that can only be described as crazy – along with highly skilled – and next month, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is coming to Ireland.
On August 4th, 11 divers will come to Inis Mór to make use of the remarkable setting of Poll na Péist, or as it’s known by its slightly more dramatic modern English translation, the Serpent’s Lair. A blowhole rock formation that has created an almost perfect rectangular pool lies below a platform 28 metres above it that is idea for cliff diving. The event is open to the public but ticketed and strictly limited to those who won tickets from a draw on redbullcliffdiving.com. The Inis Mór stop is halfway through the series, after the Azores and before Boston.
Remarkably, the divers don’t get a chance to practise their dives before heading off to competitions. On the day before the dives are scored, they get a few practice dives in, but outside of competition time, they practise in fragments, only piecing the dives together on tour. Gary Hunt, who won the Grimstad stage, is a relative newcomer to the sport but is the reigning Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion, and is the executor of the sport’s most difficult dive.
“We train mostly on the 10-metre platform, sometimes on the three-metre springboard,” he explains shortly after his winning dive in Norway. “You just cut the dive into parts and train each part; the take off, the somersaults and twists, and then the entering. Then we put them together when we come to the competitions.”
Hunt started cliff diving in 2006. He began his career as a swimmer, switching to diving aged nine, but it was only when he was 22 that he got a chance to dive higher than the 10-metre Olympic standard height.
Such is the rigour of their training – each section of the dive is practised thousands of times – cliff divers’ bodies go into autopilot when each somersault and twist is pieced together mid-air. “It’s pretty complicated, but it’s all ingrained in muscle memory,” says Kent De Mond, a diver from San Diego who took third place on the podium in Grimstad.
“If you practise something enough times, your muscles almost know how to react and do that motion without even concentrating on it or thinking about it . . . A lot of times, when you’re going, your body will take over because it knows the feeling of the motion. I’m sure a really great guitarist doesn’t think about where every finger is placed here and there while they’re playing, they know what they’re playing and their fingers know what to do.”