Inis Mór Cranks Up the Fear Factor

Eleanor Townsend Smart
It's the spot that sends a shiver down the back of every cliff diver

The mere act of standing on the edge of a platform up to 27m high would be a terrifying enough prospect for most people, but throwing yourself from it into 3-seconds of acrobatic freefall to the waiting waters below is a feat reserved for only the most brave and accomplished divers in the world. Now, at the first stop of the 2017 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Ireland's Inis Mór this weekend, even the most fearless of divers will feel a twinge of terror as they take on the Serpent's Lair, certainly the most daunting location in the calendar.

Serpent's Lair is the World Series at its wildest: a natural sea-pool formed by thousands of years of the push and pull of the sea, where the water rises and falls with every crashing wave. Couple that with the fact that this is the very edge of Europe, a place that feels the full force of what the Atlantic has to offer, and it's not hard to see why the fear factor raises up a few notches in this spot.

David Colturi closes his eyes as he summons up the mental strength to take his first leap at Serpent's Lair this season. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

Thursday morning's first training session was a chance for the divers, many of whom have competed here in the past, to reacquaint themselves with the unnerving platforms and scenery, and for those new to this location to take in the full extent of what lies before them in the next few days.

England's Blake Aldridge has been here twice before during his six-year World Series career, in 2012 and 2014, but even his bags of experience are not enough to quell the nerves ahead of his third visit: "It's a lovely location, but very raw and the weather here is really unpredictable. Every single one of us hides it well, but if you're fearless you're stupid, and you can't get complacent up there."

Smile, we're all in this together - Cliff divers are very good at hiding their fear according to Brit Blake Aldridge. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

The former Olympian, who suffered a couple of heavy crashes last season, goes on to explain that fear is actually a major driving factor for him: "It's good to be scared because it switches me on, and that's key when you're going to be diving from 27 metres. Ultimately we're all getting up there with a lot of nerves but it's an art to learn how to channel it in the right way."

If seasoned pros like Aldridge are carrying such nerves onto the platform with them here, spare a thought for the ladies, who are all Serpent's Lair debutantes this year. Perhaps the most exposed of these is wildcard Eleanor Townsend Smart, who will be tackling this intimidating place in her very first World Series competition.

"I remember watching the boys compete at this spot and thinking that it's crazy and that's the one spot I'd never want to dive at," explains Townsend Smart. "It's pretty ironic now that I'm being forced to face that fear right off the bat. I'm trying to remember that no matter what the environment is it doesn't really matter, at the end of the day the dive is still the same. You jump off and you land in the water".

Rhiannan Iffland takes a nervous peek over the edge as she contemplates the tough challenge ahead. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

The 21-year-old American is currently studying for a Masters in sports psychology, something she points out really helps with the nerves and fear in a situation like this: "I'm a completely different athlete having studied sports psychology. If you'd have put old Ellie in this position - first competition, surrounded by the best high divers in the world, this location - I probably would have choked under pressure. But my studies have helped me become really mentally strong, and I noticed today even in warm-ups I was able to take a step back, calm myself down and go through a full list."

Beginning the season here in Inis Mór is certainly a case of diving in at the deep end, and each and every diver will need to draw on whatever experience or coping mechanisms they have to get through the tough test and propel themselves off to a succesful start.

Watch Live from Inis Mór

The season opener will be LIVE on June 24 from 12.00 local time (11.00 GMT) on www.redbullcliffdiving.com, Red Bull TV and Facebook. 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.

Read and watch more Red Bull Cliff Diving here