Frederic Weill diving off a cliff at the Algarve, Portugal
Tombstoning or cliff jumping has been in the news recently, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Every summer, many youngsters die or severely injure themselves because they dive off rocks and cliffs – often inebriated – into waters of unknown depths. Tombstoning, however, has a long tradition that goes back to ancient tribes – inhabitants of Easter Island or Hawaii, for example – that used cliff jumping as an initiation rite. Instead of condemning the activity, we say do it but do it with someone who knows and has carefully checked out the lake, pond or ocean they’re jumping into. Or simply watch the pros do it because as you’ll see below, there are plenty of cool cliff jumping sites and competitions around the globe.
Competition Ponte Brolla 2009
In case you were wondering – the term 'tombstoning' refers to the fact that many careless cliff divers have found an early grave. It is more commonly used in the UK and Europe than in North America, though, where cliff jumping or cliff diving is more commonly used to describe the same activity.
Dan Brown of tombstoning.com says of the extreme sport’s bad reputation: “General perception now frames tombstoning as a foolish, dangerous and ill-thought action rather than a well planned and calculated ‘extreme sport’... The news is awash with stories of people drunkenly jumping from piers and harbour walls. Visitors to the sea side finding the nearest cliff edge and hurling themselves from it.”
Cliff Diver, MAZATLAN
However, there are sites like tombstoning.com and associations like the World High Diving Federation (WHDF), already founded in 1969, that promote safe cliff diving opportunities and competitions around the world.
Cliff diving puts tremendous stress on the body. Even a low jump of 6 m (20 ft) will have the body hit the water at 40 km/h (25 mph) – an impact strong enough to cause people to suffer a concussion, compress the spine or break bones. Because cliff divers often experience the aforementioned injuries, plus bruises, dislocated joints, injured discs, paralysis and even death, the WHDF recommends that no one (not even professional cliff divers) jump from anything higher than 20 m (66 ft) unless professional scuba divers are available for rescue and stationed in the water.
Cliff Diving Sequence
With the necessary safety measures, competitive cliff divers dive from heights of 18-26 m (59 to 85 ft). The show divers in Acapulco who jump off the famous La Quebradas cliffs, which are 45 m (148 ft) high, only survive the impact and the surf because they've trained for years, know the area like the back of their hand and adjust their dives according to fluctuating wave and water conditions. Here's our list of 10 hair raising jumps and locations.
10. Kimberley, Australia
With its many cliffs, waterfalls and mountains, Australia’s Kimberley region, in the west of the country, offers many cliff diving opportunities, some of them up to 28 m (84 ft) high. Known for its inland rather than ocean cliff diving, Australia will soon become popular with amateur cliff jumpers; however, only organized cliff jumps should be undertaken.
9. Negril, Jamaica
Locals of this Caribbean island put on spectacular show of jumps of between 12-21 m (40-70 ft) in the Blue Mountains, an ideal spot for cliff divers, and the limestone cliffs on Negril’s west side. However, as beautiful as these cliffs are, they are also treacherous and for serious divers only.
Unfortunately, with Jamaica being the chilled out place it is, safety warnings are often disregarded and visitors encouraged to attempt the same jumps by café and restaurant owners without providing adequate safety and rescue measures. The highest platform here is 11m (35 ft) at Rick’s Café. But many a happy vacation has ended with a serious injury that has impacted on the diver for life. Don’t do it unless you are a very experienced cliff diver!
8. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Cliff Diving in Dubrovnik
This city on the Adriatic Sea has hosted the World Series Cliff Diving Competition twice already – once in 2000 and again in 2009.
Germany’s Anna Bader diving in Dubrovnik in 2009
In 2009, the divers were really challenged when they had to complete eight consecutive dives from 26 m (85 ft).
7. Lake Verbano, Italy
Frederic Weill 1998 High Diving Record
Lake Verbano was the site of the most spectacular cliff dive in 1998. At a height of 26 m (86 ft), WHDF foundation member Frederic Weill dove from a helicopter with an armstand double somersault pike with split head first entry into Lake Verbano. This provided him with an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Don’t do this at home though. And if you ever do go cliff diving, the first rule is: try to hit the water feet first and as straight as you possibly can to minimize the impact. Never ever dive head first; leave that to the few professionals who dare.
6. Polignano a Mare, Italy
2010 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series
Polignano a Mare in Italy not only has a beautiful name but also a natural cliff diving arena. It recently hosted the 2010 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series – an event that drew 40,000 spectators. Cliff jumpers dove from a height of 26 m (85 ft).
Here’s a video with some amazing shots from the event. Watch until the end to see the spectacular jump of 2009 winner Orlando Duque, which shows how deep down divers are pushed into the water from the height and force of the impact. No wonder jumps into too shallow water are always almost fatal.
Cliff diving in Brontallo
Although cliff diving is a seasonal activity, Switzerland has made a name for itself as a destination for the sport because of the World High Diving Federation championship, which has been hosted there several times. The cliffs in Brontallo are up to 26 m high (78 ft) and make the hearts of even professional athletes beat faster.
The most difficult dive to date was performed by Briton Blake Aldridge during the 2009 WHDF European Cliff Diving Championship in Ponte Brolla, Vallemaggia. He mastered a back armstand 2 1/2 somersault pike with 3 twists from 20 m (66 ft) at a degree of difficulty of 5.9. Here is some footage from the recent championship on 23rd and 24th July.
4. Big Island, Hawaii
Hawaii is the birthplace of cliff diving. Though the very first jump is hard to trace, records have been kept of King Kahekili’s daredevil jump in 1770(!). He dove from a 19 m (63 ft) high cliff in Kaunolu and entered the water without even causing a splash. This regular activity earned the last king of Maui the nickname "birdman." To prove their courage and loyalty, even his warriors had to jump from cliffs.
Today, Hawaii is a favorite destination among cliff divers worldwide and not only because of its tropical climate, geared for cliff diving year-round. No, its numerous volcanoes and volcanic cliff banks with spectacular Pacific Ocean scenery make it a must among cliff-diving destinations. Most spots are on the Big Island, for example the Southpoint Cliffs, which are between 5-15 m (30-50 ft) high.
It was here, in 2000, at the WHDF Cliff Diving World Championship in Kaunolu, Hawaii that Colombian Orlando Duque’s double back somersault with four twists from 24 m (80 ft) earned him a perfect 10 and the title of most perfect dive to-date. Here’s a video of the record-breaking dive.
3. Acapulco, Mexico
Though Hawaii may be the birthplace of cliff diving, it is Acapulco that made this extreme sport world famous. In the late 1950s, the ad world discovered Acapulco when Timex used cliff diving to advertise the durability of their watches. In a television commercial, Acapulco cliff diver Raul Gomez leapt 27 m (87 ft) into the ocean with a watch strapped to his wrist. Here’s the famous video.
The International Cliff Diving Championship held in Acapulco in 1968 further popularized the extreme sport. To date, Acapulco’s cliff divers are famous for their bravery and hair raising stunts. Though spectacular, this is for professionals only. Just take a look at the Timex video again and see the experienced cliff diver struggle against the surf if you need proof.
2. Ocean Park, Hong Kong
The highest dive by a woman was performed by American Lucy Wardle in 1985 from a height of 37 m (120ft) at the World Record Dives at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Randy Dickson, also shown in the video below, jumped from a height of 53 m (175 ft) and also fractured his leg in the process.
1. Villers-le-Lac, France
This French town saw stuntman Oliver Favre’s 54 m (177 ft) cliff jump in 1987 – a double back somersault and the highest cliff dive to-date. Favre was severely injured but recovered. Today, he’s the organizer of the Oliver Show, a diving stunt show, and still performs many impossible stunts for movies.
One thing is for sure – cliff diving or tombstoning should best left be to the professionals. If you have to go, follow the following rules: never dive alone but with someone who knows the area, test the water and weather conditions first, and as we've said, always dive feet first. Last but not least, we want to leave you with a video warning of the dangers of tombstoning.