Making shots of a Cliff Diving event is always more than just a challenge. You can enjoy in beautiful and unique locations, water, sun and the athletes who are also different than the others. Working in many different countries around the world on several Red Bull’s Cliff Diving photoshooting events, I can only say that every time I shoot this type of sport I live through the hole different experience than the previous time. Last few years I did several shootings with the world’s nine times champion Orlando Duque from Columbia, and maybe that is making the hole difference.
Relevant to say is a possibility of shooting from a various angles and positions such as diving ramp, ship, helicopter, above the water, and my new favourite position – underwater. Combinig the photos above and under the water, or so called split levels photography, became my specialty. Merging those two different worlds makes the photographies more than fascinating. When you describe to your viewers what happens underwater after the jump, you can enjoy their brethless expression.
Adding a new dimension to the sport of diving, cliff diving is defined as the acrobatic perfection of diving into water from a high cliff. Braving the rough rocks, divers take a plunge in the hard-hitting water beneath to experience a thrill to last for a lifetime.
Cliff diving is probably the least complicated extreme sport. There’s no equipment to buy, no special clothing to wear and no provider services to hire. It’s just your body, sailing through the air from dizzying heights and plunging into a body of water below. Think of jumping off an eight-story building. That’s the height of 26 meters from which the 2009 Cliff Diving World Championship competitors dove.
Cliff diving puts tremendous stresses on your body. If you jump from 6 meters above the water, you’ll hit the water at 40 kph. The impact is strong enough to compress your spine, break bones or give you a concussion. Halving the height of the jump to 3 meters, reduces your speed of impact to 27 kph, and even cars sustain damage when hit at that speed.
Water type and temperature affect the thrill and pain of cliff diving. Cold water increases the stress your body feels, and because salt water is denser than fresh water, it has a harder impact.
Cliff diving is one of the riskier kinds of diving, therefore extreme caution is a must. To the benefit of the divers, certain standards have been set to minimize the risk factor. Some of these include determining the height of the jump (23 – 28 meters for men, 18 – 23 meters for women), an ideal entering speed of 75 – 100 km/h, and a free fall time of 3 seconds. Cliff diving is usually done in areas surrounded by calm waters.
This exciting sport requires a sound technical education and extensive training before one takes the first plunge. Apart from courage, self-confidence, extraordinary physical control and possessing the ability to make quick decisions is a must for this extreme sport. Unrelenting courage, uncompromising focus and the ability to make crucial decisions in a second are what make a successful cliff diver.
The real roots of Cliff Diving are found at Kaunolu, on the Hawaiian Island of Lana´i.
Back in 1770, Kahekili (1710 – 1794) the last independent king of Maui and chief of four islands was famous for “lele kawa”, which in English means: Leaping off high cliffs and entering the water feet first without a splash. In order to prove their courage and loyalty, Kahekili forced his nakoa (warriors) to follow his example, jumping of the leap into the Royal Waters at Kaunolu.
One generation later, under King Kamehameha I, the Hawaiians practiced “lele kawa” in competition. Judgment was passed on the style of the dive and the amount of splash on entry.
Kahekili’s leap at Kaunolu has always been regarded as holy, although the tradition of lele kawa became forgotten for a long time.
At the end of the 1950s, Timex spokesman John Cameron Swazye used the extreme sport to “torture test” a watch. Television commercials showed an Acapulco cliff diver leaping from 26,5 meters and crashing fist-first into the surf with a Timex watch in his hand. After the television show “Wide World of Sports” featured the International Cliff Diving Championship competition in Acapulco, Mexico, in its March 9, 1968 broadcast, cliff diving surged in popularity. Then, in 1996, the World High Diving Federation was formed to organize competitions, work with Olympic committees and spread information about the sport.
More than 200 years later, the Royal Waters at Kaunolu were again the center of competitive cliff diving, when the WHDF Cliff Diving World Championship took place. Deeply affecting emotions awaked, when the modern competition sport met the ancient traditions.
During the 3-second fall from 26 meters, competition divers at the 2009 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series experienced forces of 2 to 3 Gs when they hit the water and decelerated. That’s nine times stronger than the forces Olympic high divers feel diving from 10-meter high platforms. By the time they reached the water, the cliff diving competitors were traveling at speeds of 85 to 100 kph.
WHO IS ORLANDO DUQUE?
Motor sports, football or B.A.S.E. jumping – every discipline has its hero. For cliff diving, Orlando Duque is that man. The Colombian started out in swimming pools but quickly became tired of the regimented scene. Diving off cliffs seemed more of a challenge. A natural if ever there was one, Orlando has nine world championship titles and two Red Bull Cliff Diving crowns to his name and counting.
He started diving when he was 10, practising six hours a day. He kept getting better, winning the Columbian championships ten, eleven, twelve times. After disappionting in the Columbia’s diving association which didn’t have the money to send him to the Olympic games in 1992, he went off to university and began training for his next career, his career as a cliff diver.
He has also been immortalised in the film 9 Dives which includes the highest jump of his career to date – a 34-metre descent off a bridge in Italy. Duque also made it into the Guinness Book of World Records when he achieved a perfect 10 at the 2000 world championships. When not leaping from the world’s most gnarly cliffs, Orlando lives with his wife in Hawaii, no doubt plotting his next epic feat.
After more than a decade of Olympic diving, the 35-year-old switched to what he calls ‘the more natural form of diving’ in 1995. He subsequently improved his already considerable skills, helped by the coaching of Ken Grove, a former Olympic diver and now one of the series’ judges.
In Duque’s first world championships in 1999 he took second place and so began his hugely successful cliff diving career – the highlight of which saw him become World Series Champion at last year’s final stop in Athens, Greece.
For a decorated athlete who now resides in Hawaii, Duque is nothing if not relaxed. With success comes self-assurance. But his focus is undeniable. The king of cliff diving has his eyes on title number 10…