The Dark Side of Cliff Diving

Jonathan Paredes
Athletes face up to the challenges of first ever night event in Dubai

Over the past eight seasons the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has landed the best cliff divers on the planet in some very testing locations and challenging situations. Windy cliffs, choppy ocean waters and freezing cold rivers are just a few of the challenges that are met regularly, but for the first time ever this weekend these highly skilled athletes will face up to possibly their biggest challenge to date: diving in the dark in Dubai. How will they deal with this completely novel setting and who will rise to the challenge and light up the night at the 2016 season finale?

Orlando Duque is the most experienced cliff diver in the world; a legend of the sport who has travelled far and wide, thrilling fans with everything from helicopter dives to waterfall leaps. But even the cool as ice Colombian admits to being a little apprehensive about diving under the night lights.

"The first night dives were a little bit tricky in the beginning," said Duque. "Survival mode kicks in and I start just analysing things and you think it's not enough light and I'm not going to see anything."

Of course, if there's anyone who knows how to settle the nerves ahead of a new challenge it's the 42-year-old veteran, and he continues:

"What I adapted coming here is the mental preparation. As soon as I knew it's night time, I told myself to be prepared to not see much and be more conscious about finding the spray, because that's really visible. Really unconsciously work on finding the water entry point and not think about 'oh it's dark, I'm not going to see anything in the air."


Orlando Duque takes his first leap into the night at Dubai Marina. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

Duque may have the experience and all round mental strength to cope with the unfamiliar conditions, but what about the younger divers? Australian wildcard, Rhiannan Iffland, has excelled in her rookie season and taken the women's event by storm, and now the dark Dubai air is all that separates her from a sensational title win.

"Obviously it was a bit frightening to start with," said Iffland, "but I did the first dive and I felt really great. The second dive felt even better. I did dive in the dark before in a show, but that was only ten metres, so it was a bit different from 20, but I felt okay. I prepared myself mentally for it, getting my head around the fact that it was dark and we're diving at night. I think once I took off, my body just took over and knew what to do."


As diners eat, divers launch from the platform at Pier 7. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

6-time World Series champion Gary Hunt is a man who knows how to get things done in all manner of situations, having won 28 of the 58 events since 2009, and as always the Brit has a wise and methodical approach to the new test that sits before him.

"You have to really rely on your muscle memory and just go through your motions," says the 32-year-old Englishman. "On some dives you need to look and see the water, here you can't do that. There are lights coming from all directions. It's like distraction training. You just have to focus and rely on your other senses and not focus too much on the visual side of things, just feel the dives."

As the 'brilliant Brit' says, the lights are indeed coming from all directions. 300 lamps have been positioned across bridges and the nearby shopping mall, as well as in the spectators' area and on water, with a total output of 300,000 watts. Everything is backed up by a second power supply should anything go wrong technically on the night.

So the lights will not blink and neither, it seems, will the athletes. The general feeling among them is one of nervous excitement, but no real fear at the prospect of competing at night. Naturally, when your day job is leaping from heights of up to 28m, fear is something that these brave men and women have learnt to control over the years. And they don't come much braver than the Russian powerhouse, Artem Silchenko, who barely even winces when smashing the water on the odd bad entry. When asked about how he feels about diving in the dark, his was a typically bold response: "I'll do both my blind entry dives here".

The stage is set for one last night of drama in what has been a thrilling 2016 season, and under the night lights in Dubai, 22 courageous athletes are ready to take a leap of faith and cross over to the dark side of cliff diving.

Watch it Live

This event will be LIVE on October 28 from 5.50 PM GMT on www.redbullcliffdiving.com and Red Bull TV. Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. Find out more at about.redbull.tv

If you miss the event or simply want to watch all the action again, the replay will be available on demand a few minutes after the event.

Note that the live webcast and replay is geo-blocked in the US due to an exclusive broadcast deal with FOX Sports. The event will air on FS1 at 2pm (ET) on December 04.