American Rachelle Simpson, winner of the first ever Red Bull Women's World Series cliff-diving championship held last year, says, "cliff diving has so many exciting things to offer".
"From the amazing locations all over the world, to the rush that overtakes you as you speed towards the water. If you are brave enough to take the plunge, you join an exclusive group of only a few hundred in the world."
The first recorded cliff dive in history took place in 1770, when a Hawaiian king named Kahekili leapt from a 19-metre cliff in Maui and earned the nickname "birdman". After attempting this feat, the king made his warriors jump off cliffs as a test of courage. Until lately, cliff diving remained a largely touristic spectacle, made popular around the 1930s by a group of professional high divers known as La Quebrada Cliff Divers who perform daily jumps of as high as 35 metres from the cliff of La Quebrada in Acapulco, Mexico.
But this changed around 2009, when Red Bull organised the Cliff Diving World Series - an annual procession of competitions in different locations around the globe, featuring some of the world's best professional and Olympian high divers. This event has pushed cliff diving to new heights, and participating athletes have increased the difficulty level of high diving to an extent that was not even thought of a few years ago. It is an event at the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) World Championships, and will potentially become a diving event in the Olympics.
Not only is cliff diving one of the most thrilling burgeoning professional sporting events today, it also gives aspiring and professional divers a great reason to travel to gorgeous destinations with spectacular natural scenery.
American stuntman and Red Bull diver Kent De Mond says the thrill starts at the base of cliff. "When you are standing on ground level and looking up at what you are going to be diving off, the adrenaline starts to kick in. Depending on how you get up to the diving-off point - it may be by a hiking trail, a ladder, rappelling or some good old-fashioned rock climbing - that presents an adventure in itself," says De Mond, whose top spot is Italy's Amalfi Coast. "Here, there are beautiful small towns, with cliffs everywhere. Cliff diving is almost part of daily life. If you have any sort of rock climbing experience, you can climb kilometres of coastline. Sometimes, you can even climb up someone's stairwell to jump off their balcony into the Mediterranean Sea."
At present, there aren't many guides or instructors for cliff diving. "Many of the professional cliff divers do not even have a designated coach because the sport is so new on the professional level. Your best bet for instruction is to go to a pool with an experienced high diving coach and learn the basics of platform diving in a controlled setting before taking to the cliffs," De Mond adds. "Possibly in the coming years there will be more and more cliff diving instructors, but as of now, the only cliff diving instructors are regular diving coaches that know about cliff diving, as well as former and current cliff divers."
If you'd like to try a tamer version of the sport, head to Krabi or Koh Tao in Thailand, the islands of Mallorca, Indonesia, Jamaica or Ibiza where you can find instructors who will show you how to jump safely, feet-first from lower and safer heights. "The problem for novice divers is body control in the air. Injuries can happen from low heights when hitting the water at the wrong angle and body alignment. However, a good rule of thumb is five metres high and five metres deep. Once you master jumps from five metres, going up to 10 metres shouldn't be a problem," says David Colturi, former United States national diving champion and Red Bull World Series diver.
Colturi believes that Krabi is a perfect spot for adventurous beginners to start their cliff diving thrills. "There are endless possibilities to jump from small, big and massive cliffs on the hundreds of scattered islands throughout the sea. Warm waters and a lively culture make Krabi a one-of-a-kind experience. There are literally hundreds of islands with limitless options to climb and jump from that are just a boat ride from shore," he says.
"Other beautiful locations are the Azores islands of Portugal, cliffs along the Colorado and Arkansas rivers in Colorado, and the fjords of Norway."
Australian TV presenter, motivational speaker and former champion Joey Zuber says, "It helps to be sporty and have some basic diving or gymnastic training. So if you consider yourself reasonably coordinated, then the maximum height you can dive from would be around 14 metres, and we strongly recommend water depths of at least five metres. You should always have a few friends in the water below in case of a bad landing."
According to Zuber, Lading Island and Phi Phi Island in Krabi are great for novices, and you can spot signs for cliff jumping tours on the main street of Phi Phi. Zuber also recommends the Amalfi Coast, Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic Islands, Zakynthos Island in Greece and Malta for lower jumps.
A former gymnast and platform diver, Simpson's favourite cliff diving destinations are Kragerø in Norway and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. "The beautiful Kragerø Resort [www.krageroresort.no] in Norway is located on top of a hill, facing the sea and surrounded by giant evergreen trees. In the Yucatan, you dive into a giant Cenote, which is a collapsed cavern in the middle of the jungle. You start your dive in the sunshine at the top of the cave and dive into the shadows, down to the water below," she says.
Wherever you choose to jump off a cliff you'll probably have one of the most memorable and experiences in your life. Not only is it an adrenaline rush, but, as Zuber says, it's simply "a wonderful sport to look at.
Each year, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series takes divers to some of the world's most exotic and remote locations. Confirmed destinations for this year include:
Cartagena, Colombia, April 25
The season opens in Cartagena, a fairy-tale port city on the Caribbean coast with a rich colonial history and pretty tropical islands.
La Rochelle, France, May 17
One of France's most important sea ports from the 14th to 17th century, La Rochelle is also known as "the White City" because of how its luminous limestone façade glows in the sunshine.
Fort Worth, Texas, May 30
Relive American frontier life at Fort Worth, where you can catch a rodeo show, or kick back with a couple of beers at Sundance Square.
São Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal, July 18
The largest and most bustling island in the Azores, Sao Miguel is home to stunning beaches, verdant nature parks and hip ocean front cafes.
Mostar, Bosnia, August 15
The famous medieval Stari Most bridge will be the site of this competition. Enjoy a meal at many old millhouse restaurants or visit the 350-year old Turkish House museum while you're here.
Polignano a Mare, Italy, September 13
Located along the Adriatic Sea, in the province of Bari in southern Italy, Polignano a Mare is believed to be the site of the ancient Greek city of Neapolis. It is also known for its sumptuous food fairs.
Bilbao, Spain, September 26
Home to the iconic Museo Guggenheim and the Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao is a great place to soak up some art and culture as you watch the divers in action.
Check out these tour operators:
- Goodtime Adventures, Koh Tao, Thailand gtadventures.com/cliff-jumping/jump-into-jaws.html
- Experience Mallorca, Mallorca, Spain www.experience-mallorca.com/cliff-jumping.cfm
- Ibiza Cliff Diving, Ibiza, Spain cliffdivingibiza.com/index.html
- The Caves Hotel & Spa, Negril, Jamaica www.islandoutpost.com/hotels-and-villas/the-caves