How does free-falling 88 feet from the top of a cliff into the waters below sound?
Why 88 feet? That’s the highest jump on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, an annual sporting event that takes place in seven locations around the world. But what really is cliff diving? Let’s jump right into it!
What is Cliff Diving?
To put it simply, cliff diving is—cliff diving. Athletes from around the world take part in this sport, where carefully selected cliffs are the point where an athlete jumps from, combining and combining awe-inducing acrobatics, they fall into the water below.
The midair acrobatics add another dimension to the complex dives and jumps, and spectators love to see it. It’s breathtaking- and it’s packed full of excitement, adrenaline, and jumping.
Red Bull has been the forerunner of the sport on a global scale since 2009. Twelve men and twelve women compete at every stop, each earning crucial championship points along the way.
Cliff jumping originated several hundred years ago in Hawaii. King Kahekili was the last king and the first to have leapt from the 63-foot cliffs of Kaunolo in the 1700s. Later, the last king would require his warriors to prove their bravery and loyalty by jumping from the same cliff.
Since then, the same principles in those days have still been upheld in the modern day sport. “Lele kawa” loosely translates to ‘leaping feet-first from a high cliff into the water without making a splash’. Today, the artful and stylistic form takes that seriously—the judges decide the winner on the dive, skill, and style.
Over the centuries, the extreme sport of cliff diving has spread across the globe. Competitions are held internationally and in exotic locations, with spectators cheering on athletes diving from 80 feet or more.
The Devil is in the Details
When it comes to the perfect dive, many divers have their own style and opinion on the perfect form and style. Athletes spend hours experimenting, trying and testing new ideas to not only improve their dives, but to add that extra “spark” to impress the judges during the cliff diving competition they partake in.
Called an art form for the maneuvers and styles of diving, so much more goes into every dive. From calculating the speed and hight of the cliff, plus their own strength and awareness of the surrounding space, athletes are constantly on high alert, assessing everything that can have a positive—or negative— impact on their dive.
Here are a few fast facts about the science of cliff diving, courtesy of Red Bull:
- Take-off jump – Up to 0.8m
- Rotation speed – 2.4 per second
- Vertical velocity – 22.5m per second
- Time in the air – 2.6 seconds
- Water entry – Up to 52 mph
Top 10 Cliff Diving Locations in the USA
Cliff diving is very popular in international destinations such as Brazil, Mexico and in the Mediterranean, and of course, Hawaii. The sport is not too popular here in the USA yet, but there are plenty of great places within the US mainland to try, as well as countless destination internationally. Here are ten of our top picks for cliff diving:
Kahekili’s Leap (Hawaii)
How could we not include this one as #1? Named for the King of Maui himself, this is the exact spot where the sport of cliff diving began back in the 1700s. Nowadays, cliff divers from around the world come to this historic sport and take the same plunge as the sport’s namesake did. It’s one of the more difficult locations to jump from due to the long drop into relatively shallow waters below, and it’s recommended that only experienced cliff divers make the jump.
Havasu Falls (Arizona)
Thousands of hikers love to hike this area, but not all hike to the top. Even fewer hike to the top and dive into the waters below. Havasu Falls is known for breathtaking beauty and famous, turquoise-colored waters in the pool found at its base. The cliff is 100 feet tall, making it one of the highest places to cliff dive from, and again, is only recommended for highly experienced divers. It is one of the most beautiful places to cliff dive in this US and in the world.
Red Rocks Park (Vermont)
This location is great for less experienced divers as well as the pros: The cliffs overlooking Lake Champlain at Red Rocks Park in Vermont offer different areas to dive from, making it a perfect sport for thrill seekers of different level. The highest point is 70 feet, and the water is known it be ice-cold!
Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
Known as the deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake located in Oregon is a perfect spot for cliff divers of all experience levels. The water is crystal clear, reminiscent of a sheet of glass -despite the National Park Service discouraging the activity, many cliff divers make their way to the cliffs to feel the freedom cliff diving gives.
Ka Lae (Hawaii)
A safe sport to jump from with points reaching 40 feet, Ka Lae is also the southernmost point in the entire United States, which is a cool fact! This area is so popular along cliff divers that you’ll find wooden platforms to jump off and a rope ladder to help you climb back up.
Malibu Creek (California)
Head to Malibu Creek outside of Los Angeles if you are looking for adventure, thrill and a great place to cool down in the summer heat. Ranging from 20 to 70 feet, the cliffs are a great place to get your start with cliff diving. The narrow entry into the water below can feel a bit daunting, but after a few jumps you’ll be diving into the water without worry
Guffey Gorge (Colorado)
Called one of Colorado’s best kept secrets, Guffey Gorge is about a mile long hike. It’s well known as one of the best places in the US for cliff diving, and is not as busy as other locations on this list, it is well worth the hike. The ledges range in height from 20 to 70 feet, and are the perfect diving experience.
Possum Kingdom Lake (Texas)
With a wide range of cliffs, Possum Kingdom Lake is one of the best spots for cliff diving. Ranging from 10 feet to 80 feet, it is great for everyone interested in cliff diving. Devil’s Island, located at the Possum Kingdom Lake, has hosted professional cliff diving competitions in the past.
Lake Powell (Utah/Arizona)
Located between Utah and Arizona, Lake Powell is a cliff diver’s dream. Miles of cliffs at varied hights with stunning water below, it’s a perfect spot for divers and jumpers of all levels.
Tar Creek Falls (California)
California’s back on the list again with another diversified cliff diving location. Great for those just dipping their toes into the sport, or for the fearless competitions, as some areas are 10 to 15 feet in height, and others are 70-plus feet. It takes a bit of time to reach, as it requires a three-mile hike.
Has this got you interested in launching yourself off of a cliff and into the waters below? If so, now’s the perfect time to find a diving instructor, brush up on those swimming skills, and get your self ready to start cliff diving.