Flying Like a Seagull?

Lysanne Richard
World Series athletes discuss the comparisons between cliff diving and flying

Wings spread and swooping gracefully through the air; the sight of a cliff diver in full flight often draws comparisons to a bird flying gracefully in the sky. During a weekend where seagulls were regularly spotted almost side by side with the divers at the second stop of the season in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, Ireland, the question was put to the athletes themselves - does cliff diving feel like flying?

"I get that feeling of flying when I'm doing the simpler dives," says Brit Jessica Macaulay, "where I don't have to do a lot of flips, because my body is stretched out for a longer time during the dive and it just feels like I can see everything that is going on. I can see the water is coming towards me and that is like a lot of freedom."

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Jessica Macaulay spreads her wings as she swoops into Dublin Bay during the second stop of the season in Ireland. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

It's easy to see why Macaulay talks fondly of those moments of pure flight, considering they are becoming more of a rarity these days. The development of the sport over the last 10 years has seen the complexity of dives rise and rise, with both the men and women pushing the limits of what is physically possible. The pursuit of success has led to athletes packing in more and more twists and spins to those three seconds of freefall from up to 27m, and more action in the air means less 'bird', according to Steven LoBue:

"It's not flying it's falling, falling with style", says the American 'spinmaster', whose trademark dive includes squeezing in five somersaults before straightening out for a seamless entry into the water. Certainly not something you'd associate with a seagull! 

LoBue's compatriot, David Colturi, appreciates the comparisons though:

"We are only in the air for three seconds," says Colturi. "It's a long three seconds, and you really do feel like you're flying through the air; you're doing flips and twists, you're mastering gravity all the way down to the water. The sport is very graceful, you are doing lots of rotations, you make a lot of cool different lines with your arms, your body, and legs and your toes. It's very beautiful and it's an artistic sport, like flying like a bird."

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Bird's eye view - David Colturi prepares for lift-off from the 27m platform watched by 85,000 Irish fans. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

Orlando Duque, the legend of cliff diving, has been competing for 20 years and is maybe more qualified to answer this question than anyone else:

"I think there is a moment where you get that nice feeling of like floating," says the Colombian, "and then after that it goes down really fast. Then you open, you finish your dive and then you see the water, you can feel the wind a little bit in your face and you can hear it even. It's such a nice feeling. I mean I could say maybe that's how birds feel flying, but I know that's how I feel when I'm doing a good dive."

From the most experienced cliff diving male, to the most experienced female; Ginger Huber has been competing in the women's competition since 2014, and for her the experience is more of a white knuckle one:

"It's kind of like being in a roller-coaster," says the American. "If you're in a roller-coaster, especially when you go down, it's really loud usually, but mostly it's the wind that is so loud in your ears. I hear that same thing in my dives, I don't really notice it so much on my skin except for in really cold places, for me it's more how loud the wind is in my ears."

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Buckle up, Ginger, it's a three-second thrill ride into the harbour below. Photo: Sebastian Marko/Red Bull Content Pool.

So, how can the experience of cliff diving be summed up? Well, ultimately it's an action-packed freefall; a three-second white knuckle ride where every now and again a diver will fleetingly get to experience that magical bird-like freedom.

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