Rise of the Young Guns

Eleanour Townsend Smart
Cliff diving's 'generation Z' are ready to push the sport to new levels

They were hardly born when Orlando Duque, cliff diving legend from Colombia and the leader in the men's heading into the second half of the season, participated in his first competition. Today they are between 18 and 22 years old and part of the World Series circuit. The young guns' explanation for the sport's juvenileness is the great foundation the competition series has laid as well as their determination and passion for acrobatically diving from dizzying heights.

"I applied for the World Series at age 12. Seems crazy but I was that determined," says Owen Weymouth, "from the moment Red Bull Cliff Diving popped up in my suggested videos I was addicted. I used videos from my three big heroes Gary, Orlando and Artem to teach myself how to do barani, blind entry or double half." For his first appearance on the World Series stage during the 2016 season finale, the Plymouth-born diver needed his parents' consent, as he was still a minor at 17 years. "Appearing in Dubai was insane. I felt like everything I ever worked for just paid off in an instant."

Owen Weymouth made his World Series debut under the lights at the 2016 season finale in Dubai. Photo: Balazs Gardi/Red Bull Content Pool.

"Owen was really motivated from day 1 when I met him. He's very strong for his age; also he's really focused and wants this to be part of his life," 42-year-old Duque points out. Together with Ginger Huber, he is the most senior athlete in the field. Both outstanding athletes are still on top of their game, which is reflected in the current standings where the American is the third placed woman and Duque sits atop the men's division after three of six stops in 2017.

How much the young talents can learn from these old hands in the cliff diving business, outlines Helena Merten: "I really like their energy at the competitions, they are very cool, calm and collected. After being in the sport for such a long time they really reflect that it is not all about the instant wins and success but about the lifestyle that cliff diving brings. Not to deny that they are true champions and are very successful but they bring more than that to the events."

Helena Merten grabbed another podium finish in the Azores in July, and Ginger Huber expects a first victory for the Australian very soon. Photo: Paulo Calisto/Red Bull Content Pool.

At 22, the Australian is youngest permanent diver on tour and is enjoying her second full season. Does she get treated differently due to her young age? "Sometimes they push me off the cliff to test the water depth... just kidding! We are all on the cliffs with mostly the same motives and goals. When we only watch the dive we can't distinguish the age of the athlete. I don't feel as though I am treated very differently because of my age."

With a third place in her debut as a World Series diver, another podium to finish off season I and runner-up in Portugal, Huber predicts the Australian's first win for the next event in Texas, and adds: "No pressure, Helena!" For Duque, the former circus performer is also up for a win: "Technically and physically I know she can do it; I know she's prepared, I know she wants it. Helena is definitely hungry for a win!"

As the training techniques progress in diving as well as other acrobatic sports, the talents get better faster and it's showing. The young guns entering the World Series at 21m and 27m are not missing any technical or physical components that in the past took longer to develop. How about the crucial mental part of cliff diving? "They wouldn't be diving at this level already if they were missing or lacking any of those," assures the winner of the 2009 World Series from Colombia, "of course they're going to improve and get more confident as time goes by, but they already have what it takes."

Orlando Duque, seen here giving some advice to Helena Merten, is excited at how far the young guns can push the sport in years to come. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

Eleanor Townsend Smart's personal cliff diving story tells a lot about these athletes' mind-set: "About a year ago my best friend asked me if I wanted to go cliff jumping with her and my initial response was 'there's no way I'm going to drive four hours to go jump off some cliff.' That night I had this weird feeling that I should go, so I texted her back and told her to pick me up in the morning. Once we got there I jumped a few times and then decided to try some dives and was hooked! Standing up there, something just clicked and I realized I found what I was meant to do! In the car on the way home I messaged David Colturi, who I knew from diving growing up, and asked him all about Red Bull Cliff Diving and how to get into it!"

Since June, the 21-year-old student of sports psychology is the latest addition to the pool of wildcards and part of the next generation of cliff diving, which is determined to push the bar to even higher levels. "Back in the days we had one or two competitions a year; it was tough to maintain the level or even push," explains Duque, who's been in the sport since 1986, "I'm just glad that they have that better and bigger platform today. There is enough room to improve, to raise difficulty and as long as they stay safe, I know they can do it."

Eleanor Townsend-Smart watches the experienced Ginger Huber dive in Polignano a Mare, Italy. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

While the so-called generation Z has successfully entered the elite world of cliff diving as mentally settled and confident athletes, Huber has some advice for the up and comers: "Take your time. There is no reason to push yourself to do harder dives until you are 100% confident you can do them." Duque's main advice is: "Enjoy it as much as possible. It's such a fun sport, even when competition is really tough and is becoming a little more serious than in the past. I think that's what kept me around for so long. I love that feeling of diving, finding new spots and just doing new dives and share it with my friends. So really enjoy it and if you do it right, it's going to last for a long time."