The History of Cliff Diving (pt. 1 of 10)

Posted by Joseph Miller on

It’s 2am. You wake in a panic, realizing you’ve just escaped a near-death experience. A freefall dream. It’s seconds of horror and fear, followed by feelings of rejoice and comfort. For some, this feeling of adrenaline, rushing through veins, is attractive. But, beckoning a dream like this at any given moment is rare, and to find an outlet for this exact pattern of expression requires a heightened gamble of risk. And so, competitive cliff diving was born.
Andy Jones of the USA dives from the 27 meter platform on Islet Vila Franca do Campo during the fifth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Azores, Portugal, on July 26, 2014. (Romina Amato / Red Bull Content Pool)
Andy Jones of the USA dives from the 27 meter platform on Islet Vila Franca do Campo during the fifth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Azores, Portugal, on July 26, 2014. (Romina Amato / Red Bull Content Pool)


The sport of cliff diving first became famous for being not a sport at all. Around 1770, the last independent ruler of Maui, King Kahekili (also known as the Birdman of the island), challenged warriors to follow him off a 20 meter cliff to prove their audacity and loyalty to the monarchy. As the legend progressed, like a children’s game of Telephone, it was said that Kahekili leaped from many cliffs, as high as 120m, proving his strength as not only a warrior, but an athlete.


As the tale traveled through generations, so did the adaption of the dive. It started popping up in American media, namely, a 1950's Timex Commercial featuring a diver in the act, wearing a Timex watch to showcase its waterproof features. By 1968, cliff diving had it’s very own International Championship, hosted in Acapulco, Mexico, which made cliff diving history in 1934, when 13-year old Enrique Rios dared to leap from La Quebrada, a 24m dive, making these breaking cliffs legendary.

By 2009, the world’s largest cliff diving competition, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series was created. Stopping in several locations around the world each year, this series allows athletes to perform their death-defying dives for global recognition and opens an educational connection to new audiences in hopes of creating more opportunities for individuals who love to dive through life.
David Colturi of the USA dives from the 28 meter platform on the Stari Most bridge during the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 15, 2015. (Romina Amato / Red Bull Content Pool)
Today, cliff diving may appear different than what it had at its origins. The rules of competitive cliff diving have been discussed and decided to make safe, fair, quantitative, and qualitative judgements on all types of dives. But the essence of cliff diving has never changed. It’s just the diver and his apparatus: the air.
Kyle Mitrione of the USA dives from the 16 meter rock during an open training day prior to the fifth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Islet Franco do Campo, Azores, Portugal on July 15th 2015. (Paulo Calisto / Red Bull Content Pool)
Our mothers have told us all, at some point in our lives, “make your dreams a reality”. And in the case of a freefall dream, most of us wouldn’t dare. But the men of the USA Cliff Diving Team have taken these words of wisdom and turned them into great success. Coming together after years of training and practice at collegiate high diving level, David Colturi, Andy Jones, Steven Lobue, and Kyle Mitrione aim high to “Help Cliff Diving reach it’s greatest potential” and score big while doing so. Competing in locations all around the world, against many different environments and athletes, the team pulls cliff diving into the future by broadening a following and expanding a lifestyle.
Pictured (From left to right): Andy Jones, David Colturi, Kyle Mitrioni, Steven Lobue. (Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool)
Over the next several weeks, The Frynge will be producing a series of articles introducing the USA Cliff Diving Team and the sport they courageously adore. Follow along as each article goes into depth about the lifestyle of each athlete, the many facets and challenges of this sport, and the thrilling Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
Joseph Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, VA. He received his BS in Creative Advertising from Virginia Commonwealth University. In between writing editorials and content pieces, Joseph is currently training for his first half marathon, though his love for snacks may stunt his performance. www.josephhuntermiller.com 
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  • My favorite sport ! We travel the world to see these guys do their magic!!

    Ronda without an h on

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