Cliff Diving: take the plunge in the Azores

The extreme sport of cliff-diving is growing more popular, and takes place in some of the world’s most beautiful locations


Leaping from a platform 27 metres above sea level may be a daunting experience for many, but not for 29-year-old Briton Gary Hunt, who won the Red Bull Cliff Diving world series event earlier this month.

Diving into the Atlantic Ocean from a platform attached to a cliff face at Vila Franca do Campo in the Azores, Hunt, nicknamed ‘the brilliant Brit’, was one of 14 competitors taking part in the world series. He took first place with a score of 481.05 points, some 30 points above his closest competitor.

Vila Franca do Campo, on São Miguel Island, is no stranger to the cliff diving world series, having also featured as a tour stop in 2010 and 2012. This year, an audience of 1,300 packed into boats to watch the divers take the plunge.

Approximately 1,500km to the west of Lisbon and 1,900km south of Newfoundland, the Azores is the perfect location for such an event. The nine-island archipelago, owned by Portugal, relies heavily on tourism, with whale and
dolphin watching being one of the big draws.

Although there was great local interest in the event this year, anyone who wanted to see the action had to be in a boat. It appeared the only people on land viewing the dives were officials, judges and those about to jump.

Aquatic sports are a big draw to the archipelago. The pleasant weather and volcanic scenery provide the perfect backdrop to surfing, scuba diving, canyoning and paragliding.

Cultural attractions are also plentiful across all islands, which are deeply rooted in Roman Catholicism. Although there are no direct flights from Ireland to the Azorean international airport at Ponta Delgada, a two-hour flight from Lisbon is all it takes.

Although the competitors seem relaxed and are friendly with their diving rivals, the series is taken very seriously. Hunt is no stranger to cliff diving, having finished runner-up in the first Red Bull Cliff Diving world series in 2009. He then became the first athlete to win four successive competitions, in 2011.

After his Azores win, Hunt says none of it has sunk in yet, despite his winning the overall world series from 2010 to 2012.

“I have been trying really hard. It has just been so tough this season. I didn’t really know how the competition had gone, because I couldn’t see. I just tried to stay in my zone and do a good dive and it was enough. So I am ecstatic,” he says.

“I think my last dive was good. I saw some nines up there and it felt like I went through the water nicely.”

In second place is seven-time world champion and Guinness world record holder Orlando Duque. Duque, the oldest competitor in the series at the age of 38, has been all over the world with work and even took part in last year’s world series stop on Inis Mór. He has fond memories of his brief stop off in Ireland.

“I loved the cliff diving in Ireland. It is such a beautiful place and the people there were amongst the warmest I’ve met. I would love to come back some day,” he says.

One of the biggest surprises of the competition is 23-year-old Jonathan Paredes from Mexico. He stands on the winners’ podium for the first time this year, having made it into the top six in his first world series competition in France and missed the Danish podium by only 1.9 points not long before this win.

His third place position puts Russian competitor and two-time winner Artem Silchenko off the podium. Despite his solid performance, Paredes was worried his diving was not good enough.

“In my last dive I felt a little bit short at the entry, but these things happen. We had too many waves and I was really, really nervous on the platform. I was just behind Orlando, and that meant a lot of pressure for me,” he says.

Paredes made it to the world championships in February while taking part in the qualification competition in Australia.

There has been only one injury during this stop: American diver Kent De Mond was hospitalised after his jump went wrong. He left the hospital a few hours later. His final score was 136.80.

Although a single dive takes mere seconds to complete, it must include a series of well-orchestrated leaps and meet a variety of strict competition rules.

Five judges score each dive on a scale on 0 to 10, in half-point increments. The highest and lowest scores are discarded, with the remaining three added together to produce the overall score for each diver.

As part of the Red Bull world series, competitors travel the world to take part in cliff diving.

Interest in the extreme sport is continuously growing, with women now moving in on the action. The most recent stage of the world series – last week at Lake Garda in Malcesine, Italy – featured a women’s competition for the first time, as the sport’s top female competitors take the leap.

There are a total of eight stops in the current world series – the remaining four stops are in Boston, Abereiddy Bay in Wales, Rio de Janeiro and Krabi in Thailand – and it is still all to play for, with Hunt still in the lead.

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