"Some people don't understand why we go up 27m and jump off, go back up there and do it again," says Gary Hunt (UK), four-time Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion, expanding he goes on, "it's fun, it's extreme, and it's work – but doesn't feel like work." Jumping off great heights with no protection other than concentration, skill, and physical control; in less than three seconds reaching speeds in excess of 85kph, and punctuated by awe-inspiring tricks – that's cliff diving and what makes up the main attraction.
If you ask cliff divers to describe their sport in three words, you'll always get 'fun', then some combination of 'adrenaline, extreme, surreal, magic, and love'. A platform as high as an eight-storey building is what they call 'playground', where they can challenge and push themselves, and where they take off on an adventurous ride down to the water. But what is it that drives them to make the climb up, and the subsequent long drop down, in the first place? Even though everybody's story is slightly different, American David Colturi's sums it up pretty well: "For me cliff diving was originally just a way to prolong diving. Traditional springboard and platform diving for me was my biggest passion and my greatest joy in life from the age of 5 to about 21. And once I finished traditional springboard and platform diving in university I started high diving just to make a small wage and to continue doing what I love. But then one thing led to another. Steve [LoBue] and Kyle [Mitrione] kind of pushed me into the more competitive side of things when we watched a few Red Bull Cliff Diving videos: Hey, maybe we can do this!? Next thing I knew, I found this new love and passion in pretty much the same sport, with a couple of obvious differences, and it's just opened all these doors for me, all these opportunities. It's crazy to think that this is my fourth year now on the series and every day just gets better than the last. We get to go to the most beautiful locations. Meet some awesome people, experience these new cultures and cuisines. It's crazy to think that cliff diving has brought about all these opportunities, just from jumping off stuff and flipping and twisting on my way down to the water. It's really, really cool."
It's the 'couple of obvious differences' the 26-year-old talks about that make the sport of cliff diving so fascinating for both the athletes as well as the spectators. "Once you step out of the pool, the possibilities are endless," describes the sport's legendary Orlando Duque, "Every time I get a chance to jump off a rock, it's probably the best part of my sport to be honest. It's the place that is there, you know nature created it and we're using it in the way that we can, we're making it work to do what we do, we're changing the angle of the take-off, we're trying to change positions in the air, trying to avoid rocks and that makes it that much more interesting. We are taking our technique, which we learned for so many years, and adapting it to that one specific situation. And then the spot next to it might be completely different, so we have to change again." A willingness to break barriers? Yes, says Gary Hunt, as a cliff diver you need to be a rule-breaker: "In the sport of competitive diving it's very regulated, and you're told what you have to do; but most of the cliff divers kind of find their own way and do what they want."
When the men and women of elite cliff diving met on the Portuguese Azores archipelago for another competition of the World Series, it was 'back to the basics', a return to the roots of the sport: pure diving off a rock face. There's a feeling: it's a magical dream location, with so many spots to dive off the epic old volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Being able to stand with your feet on the edge of the rock, looking out over the sea and feeling the wind, seeing birds flying in front of you, and then to jump off and fly through the air in this natural environment. This is that reason, the feeling those people who love cliff diving chase. "Why we do this, is that freedom, that liberating experience of jumping from that rock, flying through the air, nothing attached to you, no mechanisms and no joysticks, you are flying, your own body mastering gravity on the way down, flipping and twisting. It's such an existential experience that you get to have with yourself and connect with the environment around you", David Colturi talks wonders about his sport in its purest form.