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Flashback: Remote, remoter, Rapa Nui

Kent De Mond
Date: 12/03/2021

There are stops and locations and then there is Rapa Nui. The season opener back in 2011. While better known as 'Easter Island' in the English-speaking world, it's the most mystical, surreal and isolated place the World Series has ever touched. 10 years ago today, on March 12, 2011, 13 athletes launched from what is still supposed to be the most sketchy platform 27m above the rugged Pacific Ocean to dive deep into the unique world at the southernmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania.

The unmatched experience started with a welcome lei at the airport and a 'good morning' when it was pitch black at 8.30am in the morning. Sticking to the time of the continent is probably a way to stay connected with the at least 3,500km distant continent. It continued with trips around the 163km² island on motorbikes, quads, by feet, alone or in groups. Awestruck by the uniqueness, everybody went on their own adventures to absorb the astonishing atmosphere and put thoughts about the first 27m dives after the long winter break aside for a moment.

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The 13 divers line up for a photo in front of the moai statues on Easter Island. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool.

Nearly 1000 extant monumental stone statues, moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people, felt like they outnumbered the 5700 inhabitants due to their omnipresence around the volcanic high island. The locals crossed the paths of the divers in multiple forms – as air traffic controller in the morning, grocery seller in the afternoon or a gifted guitar player at night. Multitasking is a style of life in a remote place like that.

Reality hit when the news about a potential tsunami wave approaching Easter Island arrived at everybody's room door at 4am in the morning of March 11. After a day of uncertainty on the rim of the dormant volcano Rano Kau some 300m above sea level – a measure of the local authorities to keep the visitors safe – things eased up, the island stayed unharmed, and it was time to finally get nervous for again as the competition awaited next day...

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The divers conduct a pre-event blessing with Rapa Nui tribal leaders and honour the victims of the Japanese tsunami. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

Three divers from the line-up in Chile are still competing today and here are their very personal memories:

Gary Hunt

"10 years is a loooong time ago, but what I remember is that renting quads was awesome. Hiding out on top of a volcano waiting for the tsunami to hit was pretty memorable. Diving from a shaky platform was terrifying.

For me that platform was the scariest I'd ever dived from. A long steep stairway up to a shaky platform with no handrail, diving into the rough sea...."

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Gary Hunt in action, observed by one of the moai. Photo: Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool. 

While Hunt came with the confidence of the 2010 overall title, America's Steven LoBue came to Rapa Nui as a World Series greenhorn. Incomparably more detailed are his recollections.

Steven LoBue

"Rapa Nui was just one of the most surreal moments I've ever had. I think I had a hard time wrapping my head around how big everything was, the pomp and circumstance that came with a Red Bull Cliff Diving competition. There were just so many factors, but it was definitely one of the most surreal moments I've had in my life.

I had competed in the qualifier in Australia and coming from that I had fractured my tailbone, so I didn't really have a lot of time leading up to the competition to practice, maybe two weeks in the pool. I am super nervous obviously thinking about what had to be done but also naïve enough to where I wasn't overly nervous.

Because it was so remote, we all met up somewhere along the way and that was my first real sense of the camaraderie that came with Red Bull Cliff Diving; the family and brotherhood aspects where I got to meet Orlando Duque, Gary Hunt and Artem Silchenko and all the guys in the airport and have a good moment of levity where everybody was just having fun and time to relax. That was super appealing.

Then getting to the location I was awestruck. I had never travelled too much before, I'd lived in China for a year and I traveled the States somewhat, but what a place to go. A mystical place! It was so beautiful; I walked around for hours just by myself talking pictures, enjoying everything.

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Steven LoBue was blown away by the 'beautiful' and 'mystical' location. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

Obviously, we had the tsunami warning, which was nuts. We all had to get together and go up the mountain. At that point I should've been more nervous, but I didn't know what I was in for. I didn't know how to feel. We lost the whole day of training.

By the time it was time to start diving again, the nerves kicked in big time! The platform was super sketchy. It was a 27m tall square made out of wood that was super shaky. At one point I remember looking at Dean, our photographer, who was up there as well and I was like 'what am I doing here, why am I even here, this is crazy!'

Before the competition I asked Orlando if the nerves ever got any better. I could sense the tension between the divers, I could feel my own fear and nerves, and he was the guy at the time to ask and flat out he said: 'Not really. You might start to get comfortable with some dives, but there's always something you can't control whether it's the weather or the swells or you learn new dives – there's always a reason to be nervous and scared.'  And that holds true to this day. I don't think there's anybody that gets up there and doesn't feel an ounce of fear or nerves. That obviously stuck with me.

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LoBue overcomes his nerves and leaps away from the 'sketchy' 27m platform. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

When everything was said and done, I finished 8th place and that's when I was officially hooked on the sport and Red Bull Cliff Diving. I had all my adrenaline crash and all my fear kind of melt away. I slept for like two days after that competition. It just took it out of me mentally and physically. That's when everything started."

Michal Navratil

"I remember the amazing landscape. One word of this Island is freedom. Free from the world, 50-floors buildings you won't find in this place, just nature, horses walking around. It was really nice.

It was beginning of the 2011 season. As always, I come with progress to the season and with a new dive I had planned to try there. Straight from 27m meters. It was a back 3 somersaults with 1 ½ twist. Starting point to afterwards add one more twist.

Straight after my competition dives during training, I wanted to try that dive. Everybody had already left for lunch, me and Gary stayed. When I tried it, I didn't have enough rotation and I landed short on my chest, I couldn't catch my breath. This explains the picture, where I am relaxing supported by the safety divers. It hurt a bit, but because of my physical preparation before the season I could handle it. And be ready to still compete the next day. I finished the competition on 5th place."

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Michal Navratil overcame the pain of a training dive gone wrong to finish in 5th place. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.

On a side note, this is how the story continued:

After a dominant Orlando Duque couldn't continue his most successful season start with back-to-back wins in Chile and Mexico due to an ankle injury, Gary Hunt defended his overall win in 2011.

Steven LoBue would become the first person to ever complete 5 somersaults in less than three seconds from the 27m platform and one of the World Series' most successful athletes.

Michal Navratil hasn't performed the back 3 somersault 1 ½ twist in competition again to this day.

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(L-R) Artem Silchenko, winner Orlando Duque, and Gary Hunt celebrate on the podium in Rapa Nui. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.