Back in November 2015, following one of the most unforgettable seasons in Red Bull Cliff Diving history, a select group of the world's best divers were awarded with the trip of a lifetime to Indonesia. Seven lucky athletes - Rachelle Simpson, Adriana Jimenez, Blake Aldridge, Kris Kolanus, Alessandro De Rose, David Colturi and Andy Jones - all packed their bags and headed off for a week of sightseeing, exploration, fun, laughter and of course, some high diving. Over five days you can follow their fascinating exploits in paradise, grippingly told through the words of US star David Colturi. Every day a new chapter of their awesome adventure will be brought to life through his amazing stories and pictures, as well as some fascinating footage.
If you missed parts 1 - 4 of David's diary, you can catch up below. There are also two video clips which bring to life the astounding experiences of our divers in Indonesia.
Clip 1 - Diving into Paradise
Clip 2 - Amazing experiences and unforgettable memories
Days 1 and 2
Part 1 of this series focuses on the first two days of the trip, as Colturi and co. land in Indonesia and begin acclimatising to their incredible surroundings.
Landing at the airport of Sorong was already a very special experience and far from what you are used to from traveling the western world. The landing strip was basically downtown, and transportation as well as airport infrastructure set us back in time to the 1960's. That just added to the already fantastic mood we were in, and everybody was excited to dive into the unknown. We used the day to get in touch with the local culture and people, strolled through the most colourful markets you can imagine, played soccer and volleyball with some school kids, were astonished by the hygienic standards the local fish dealers applied or didn't apply, and immersed ourselves into the relaxed, very welcoming, and warm-hearted Indonesian lifestyle.
After a fantastic traditional fish dinner at one of the famous "roadside restaurants" which consisted of an open fire place, some randomly positioned chairs and tables, and a roof above our heads, we fell into our beds anticipating the next morning and our departure on the Seahorse, our vessel and home for the upcoming week. I'm not sure if I have ever experienced a similar thunderstorm before in my life than during this last night on solid ground. Pouring rain, lightning, and thunder kept us awake for a long time before the jetlag finally gave way and the eyes shut for a few anxious hours.
Not a lot of streets around Sorong are paved, so you can imagine how those dirt roads and narrow paths through the markets looked the morning after the sky opened its sluices. As we needed to get some more supplies from the fishermen before boarding the ship, we were wading knee deep in mud next to motorcycles battling the high likelihood of getting stuck. The sun was out again so temperatures were already in the high 30's C with close to 100% humidity. That combined with the smell of fresh or not so fresh fish, strolling wet cats and pigs, all kinds of herbs sold by the local women, tons of trash being rudimentarily removed by some workers, plus a lot of unidentifiable aromas in the air was a concoction we've never experienced or smelled before to say the least.
Our crew doctor, Dr. Tom, gave lectures about bird flu and how and where it develops, including some facts about Malaria etc. so we weren't really disappointed to leave the mainland behind and set sails towards the clear waters of Raja Ampat with one of the highest underwater diversities on our planet! The 33m long and 8,5m wide Seahorse provided everything you can think of, making our dreams come true from the very first moment on. Not just your basic home, it came with top notch staff for navigation and sailing, meals and adventures, and we also brought some experts for safety and rigging to help us explore the dreamland of diving – and hopefully cliff diving in the safest possible way!
Days 3 and 4
Part 2 of this series follows the gang over days 3 and 4 as they search for the perfect diving spot and make their first splashes in paradise.
After cruising overnight for about 12 hours to the south, we woke up in the middle of paradise, surrounded by beautiful small islands as far as you could see, and the clearest diamond blue water you can possibly imagine. Just a bit east of Misool island we climbed out of our cabins in the basement of the boat, and began what turned out to be the journey of our lives. The meals on the boat were all time, and whenever we got back to the boat from our day trips to the cliffs, the chef was there to help us convert our catch of the day into something very delicious! As nobody ever before looked at this area with the purpose in mind to dive off the surrounding cliffs, we needed to explore the region first with 2 small dinghy boats that came along with the Seahorse. Just cruising through this picturesque and lonesome landscape was fantastic, and it became even more so as we found 2 amazing cliff diving spots just around the corner from our first parking position with the Seahorse. It sounds easy to go explore cliff diving sites in paradise, and indeed it's not too hard to find them, but conquering a way up to measure it first, checking depths and possible hazards, and finally installing ropes, rope ladders and securing the path to the take-off spots, at grounds where nobody has ever stood before, is quite a task.
After the morning scouting session and some lunch we decided to go snorkelling, swimming with millions of exotic fish and vibrant coral all around us. We hung out on a beautiful beach during the afternoon, playing some Frisbee while the rigging team got after it and installed the first location. This decision clearly wasn't bad at all, and we couldn't wait to get our hands and feet onto the razor blade sharp rocks and give it a try at location number one. We found a perfectly shaped semicircle rock formation where the idea was born to set up a rope swing next to a super nice natural take off spot for a high dive around 22 meters. It was a great set up for the first day in heaven, and everybody did a few high dives during a gorgeous sunset after making it to the top with some teamwork through an energy draining climb on a free hanging, wobbly ladder. The rope swing didn't really get touched this evening as the night came in too fast, but some of us got a try and the stoke level was going through the roof! Getting to sleep wasn't a problem anymore, and from that day on the boat life routine was an easy one to get used to.
Boat mornings started early and bed times were as well, due to the fact that the days were fully packed with 14-15 hours of full throttle. The rope swing waited patiently overnight for us to conquer it that morning, but it was a tougher battle than anticipated, with some hard beatings quite a few of us took while learning; but you know what they say, "NO PAIN, NO GAIN!" First, the speed wasn't right, and it was tricky to figure out how much tension to have on the different ropes hanging and supporting everything. Second, the height was a challenge too and the 17-meter take-off spot created so much force at the bottom of the swing, the handle was ripped right out of the diver's hands. The whole experience could have been its own movie as there were so many great, frightening, and funny things happening. The ladies were incredibly graceful and looked like pros, Andy and one of the riggers, Manny, had quite the scare nearly falling off the cliff but embraced in a life saving and very personal squeeze instead, and the boys flung off in all directions landing with quite the crash into the water below. Giving up wasn't an option though, and eventually the swing was conquered with a huge gainer triple and some beautiful twisting dives.
We didn't quit until everybody got at least one solid rip from the rope swing, and the high dive spot was very busy between swing attempts to get the feeling for the projects to come. All in all it was a super exhausting 60m climb with a 40m rappel at the end for each attempt at the swing, and being done up to 10 times per diver you can imagine the forearm pump and exhaustion that was beginning to set in. With clouds rolling in, we called the day just before sunset. Blake, as always, went fishing at the back of the boat when we returned to the Seahorse, some discussed improvements for future rope swing concepts, others played cards, and soon everybody was in bed again to get ready for the next day. Extreme high fives to Rocco and Ady being the most valuable players that day killing it from the first attempt on at the rope swing making the boys look like beginners!
Days 5 and 6
Part 3 of this series sees the athletes flying through the air from unbelievable heights, as well as taking on the locals in a game of soccer.
What a spot! At first we weren't even sure if this picturesque and ideal looking cliff would be doable as the 15m overhang on top looked very high to us, with a precarious perch that might serve as a take-off area. After the official measurement came in at 30,5 meters it got silent for a second, but then everybody started to prepare and immediately it was clear that we were past the point of no return! It was a fairly easy climb compared to the one yesterday, a beautiful setting, and the drone took to the sky buzzing through the air getting aerial shots you think of when someone mentions the areas of the coral triangle, or better said - Wonderland!! Palm trees on top of the cliff, 38 degrees C air temp and about 25 C for the water, no cloud as far as the eye can see, and everybody just ready and thrilled to drop the hammer.
What a session, mind blowing dives from a height nobody in our crew ever did before and again, endless amounts of underwater residents waiting for us to dive in! In a setting like this you forget the impact punch you get striking through the water surface at 90kph. What a feeling to dive off heights even further up than our regular competition height around 27m, and the best fact with your buddies around celebrating every dive as you would have scored all 10's from the judges. A simply amazing day with one of those cliffs you'll never forget, and the perfect time to tick the box for this region and move on to who knows where.
Still totally blown away by the diving session yesterday morning, we used yesterday's afternoon to change position further west, and anchor close to a village we heard of. Built on a reef in the middle of the sea, surrounded by kilometres of just water, standing on stilts around 4 meters above the bottom of the sea, with the flooring just half a meter higher than sea level. Never ever would you think that this is an environment where you could survive all year long, but that's what the pearl farmers do without any major disadvantages – at least none we recognized. Generators are providing electricity from time to time, huge tanks filled by the rain take care of the fresh water supplies, and everything else made out of wood on stilts. Surrounding the village are endless fields of black buoys with oyster cages hanging below, it honestly looked like a tropical Matrix. Around 300 people live in this village and the most insane part is the soccer field we saw passing by – no joke... This village is also one where we had to ask the elders for permission to get access to a mysterious cave the crew had heard of. The locals use the entrance to this cave as a shrine since ages ago, and not even our boat crew had been there but we insisted to give it a try. We used yesterday's last sunrays to go there with the dinghies to check it out, and we couldn't believe what we found. In addition, the elders gave the green light to dive in the cave the next day, or so we thought.
In the morning, as you can imagine, everything looked different. Nobody could remember the deal we made last night, it was pouring rain and we had to help them a little bit ;-) to remember our agreement! The advantage of this unforeseen bribe was the fact that we agreed at the same time with them on a soccer game at 5pm on their pitch... more to come. The timing was perfect, rain all morning and we were sheltered in a nameless cave, surrounded by stalactites of all sizes and colors. The way up to the take-off spots for the cliff dives, was again a little adventurous and provided more and less serious injuries stitched together by uncle Doc Tom! Take-off spots between 21 and 25 meters, with a flying fox zip line ride to get to one of them, and a water depth just barely safe enough to go all in before low tide rolled in and drained the basin almost to the bottom. Synchro dives, mass dives, and all sorts of things never done before on the way up and in flight mode! If you wanted to plan something like this it just simply isn't possible, and thinking back we are not sure if we could have been any more lucky than we were with being in the right place at the right time. Rushing back after the diving session was on the agenda, because at 5pm the whistle blew for a game of soccer. The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series Crew vs. the Pearl Farm All Stars. A more perfect setting could not be set - these sunsets in Indonesia, colours you didn't think could exist, a soccer field on stilts, fishing nets around the field to protect the ball falling into the crystal clear and light blue glittering water all around, and the whole village on its feet to see what kind of exotic guests they have in town. Result-wise we got our asses kicked but who cares... smiles all over the place, lots of new friends, and good times brought us back to the Seahorse.
Days 7 and 8
Part 4 of this series follows the group as they discover a magical underwater world and indulge in some more cliff diving into a stunning lagoon.
The morning provided again a totally new environment; even further south than the last days as we decided to use the night to set sails for another possible location where Txus, the owner of the boat, Cici our local contact and good soul, and the others had heard of rock formations that might be interesting for our desires. The adventures and awesomeness during the last days created some sore bodies within divers and staff alike, so we decided to take it easier that day spending the morning scuba diving and discovering the magical underwater world below us. We never imagined that this would exist; countless numbers of fish of all sizes and types in the water with perfect visibility. Swimming through fish swarms 30m long, moving as one big system. Just incredible.
Some of our crew went out and scouted some new cliff diving spots, and Blake took good care of the Spanish mackerel, the 15kg fish he caught the night before under frenetic mayhem at the back of the boat! The dinner that night was just from a different planet and Blakey was the well deserved man of the day for the catch of his lifetime! During the afternoon we used the time to play around the boat – being itself a wonderful playground for all kinds of diving fun and more. Diving off the mast like we did hundreds of times since the moment we put our feet on the vessel, and just enjoyed the amazing atmosphere with paddle boarding, some more snorkelling, or an urgently needed afternoon nap!
With the trip coming to an end it was time for some surprises. After getting up around 5:30 am, Txus told us that we were having some issues with the engine and that it doesn't want to start up. He said they had to take the engine apart, and at the moment we would be far away from going anywhere. No worries for us though, because within striking distance of our anchor we could take the dinghies just 5 minutes around the corner to another perfect cliff diving location in a stunning lagoon. There were spots for both boys and girls alike, and the climbing was a little easier this time with no need for ropes; it was just us, the cliff, and the lagoon. Knowing that this was maybe the last location we'd hit, if at all just one more to come (depending on the status of the boat once we got back) everybody decided to go all in and seize the opportunity. Some big dives were thrown, and conditions were the likes dreams are made of. We finished a morning glory session around 1pm, and with low tide leaving just enough water to get the aluminium boats out of the lagoon, we drove next to giant turtles, and further out dolphins swimming next to us towards the Seahorse.
The crew, over and over smeared in oil was still dealing with the engine, and after hours of huge efforts to get the thing going again, a pale Txus decided to not switch the engine off anymore until we reach the harbour of Sorong. Nobody even thought about disagreeing. At 4 pm we said "goodbye" to one of the most beautiful corners of our world and started to sail north. Another delicious dinner was ahead of us, and tons of fun on the way back as we decided to throw a couple of ropes overboard attached to the back of the Seahorse and ride our inflatables for a while getting dragged by real horsepower! Back on deck the crew gathered for some group pics and some snacks in the evening sun going through the memories generated over the last days. A more perfect sunset could not have accompanied a more perfect end to this amazing journey.
Days 9 and 10
Part 5 of this series sees the divers enjoy one final night in paradise before heading home.
Traditionally the last evening ends later than the others and the drinks flow more readily. This also happened in Indo and with music, games and dances it took a while until it got silent on board, and all you could feel and hear was the noise of the fortunately running engine. Packing bags, a last huge breakfast, and a lot of goodbye tears later, we were back on solid soil leaving the Seahorse and its fantastic crew behind in the waters of Raja Ampat, where first of all the dry dock was waiting to get everything regarding the engine back in place. For our posse it was time to find lost passports, sort millions of pictures and memories, and prepare for the journey back into reality. After another great local dinner and some more very, very loud laughs while talking about the last week we fell into our beds.
Farewell to Indonesia. 48 hours - an overnight stop in Singapore and a 180 degrees change in culture – later we landed safely back home. This summary made the following numbers public:
− 1 stiched up head
− 1 stitched up finger
− 2 ladies (Rocco and Ady) killin it
− 5 boys (Andy, Blake, Dave, Kris and Alex) keepin up with the girls
− 375 dives off the boat and the boat mast
− 15 meters high boat mast
− endless laughs and good times
− 4 amazing cliff diving locations with lots more just waiting to be conquered
− 1 lost soccer game
− 1 huge fish caught by Blake Aldrige
− several small fish caught by Blake Aldrige
− 30,5 m as the highest take off point for the cliff dives
− 176 cliff dives performed by 7 athletes at 4 locations
− 12 failed rope swing attempts
− 1 totally failed rope swing attempt
− a bunch of very stoked people from all over the world, diving, stitching, climbing and cruising through Indo
− 1 not so happy engine
− lots of wiiings spread in unbelievable sceneries