Cliff Diving's Guardian Angels

Safety divers
The important role of scuba divers and water safety in the high impact sport of cliff diving

A piercing whistle breaks the dead silence only split seconds after Sergio Guzman hit the water flat on his chest at 85km/h. The scuba divers react immediately; they dive down to get the unconscious body up to the surface, secure the Mexican's head and take him on the stretcher. Moments later the Mexican lifts his arm and waves to the crowd. A huge relief for the athletes, who just witnessed a flawless rescue scenario after a bad landing. Their trust in the scuba divers is inspired.

"In cliff diving everything can go wrong. You can have a neck injury, a back injury, a knee injury, broken tailbones, separated pelvises – the panel of possible injuries is huge", Hassan Mouti, competition director of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, explains. "The main role of the scuba divers is the safety if something happens; however, they are always in contact with the diver. They are the last ones that the divers see when they give the 'okay' and the first ones when they get out of the water. So it is a really close relationship that they have with the scuba divers." Mouti, who ended his cliff diving career in 2013, knows exactly how important water safety is in this sport. He crash-landed in a training session in 2011 and was taken to hospital with a bruised lung.

The scuba divers are strategically placed, with the strong current in Mostar they're holding on to floaties, and as soon as the diver comes close to the water they let go and track the diver under the water, they make turns and rounds to make sure everybody is safe. "It's no easy task to be a scuba diver or medical safety team here in Mostar and hats off and many thanks to them for always keeping us safe," American David Colturi says, "they do a really, really good job and it puts us at ease to know that we have such talented and focused individuals looking out for our well-being."

Sergio Guzman is rushed away by speedboat following a flawless rescue from beneath the water in Mostar. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

Knowing the scuba divers in the water underneath is a big weight lifted off the athletes' shoulders on the 21m and the 27m platforms. "From the women's platform you hit the water with 77 to 80 km/h", knows Rhiannan Iffland, the reigning champion from Australia, "you can imagine the impact; it feels like concrete sometimes even if you do a perfect entry." The safety crew provides a feeling of security and protection before each dive where fear is pervasive and absolutely necessary, as Mexico's Adriana Jimenez describes: "If you don't feel that fear inside your body something is going to go wrong, because that fear means that you respect the height, makes you feel aware of everything."

The exact height is another crucial factor in cliff diving. "Because that is the amount of time they are going to be in the air, so that they can time their dives appropriately and to get that straight up and down entry," explains sports director Greg Louganis, "everybody's goal is to disappear on the entry like Jonathan Paredes." The 28-year-old Mexican is known for his immaculate form in the air and rip entries, tall and tight.

The impact of landing at speeds of up to 85km/h is immense, imagine hitting the water at different angles and limb points – the water is always what you want to watch out for. "The scuba divers feel like they are your guardian angels, your brothers and sisters, because they are right there when you hit the water," Colturi points out. "They make sure that you are okay, you give them a high five when you go back out, so they are your first and your last point of contact on every dive."

Cliff diving's 'guardian angels' gather for a photo in the fast-flowing Neretva River beneath Stari Most. Photo: Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool.

For the men and women covered up in wetsuits and masks the safety of each diver is the top priority and Sergio Guzman's rescue during the penultimate stop of the 2017 World Series is part of their job. The 26-year-old was released from hospital and is back home in Mexico.

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