Nine storeys above a swirling Atlantic Ocean, on a remote island shrouded in ancient myth, the men of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series prepare to plunge. Was it destiny that brought them here? And can someone please do something about the weather?
Jorge Ferzuli doesn’t really need to do this. Not in a financial sense, anyhow. He has a good job in a diving show on a cruise liner out of Miami that pays the bills, but it’s nothing like as challenging as this.
Twice already the 31-year-old from Mexico City has tiptoed tentatively to the end of the Red Bull Cliff Diving platform lashed to the side of the limestone cliff facing into the Atlantic Ocean and twice the wind has whipped up, shattering his bone-china confidence.
Below him, the salty swirl fills Poll na Peist or the ‘Serpent’s Lair’, the extraordinary rectangular pool carved out with geometric precision by God’s civil engineers on the remote Aran Island Inis Mór in Galway Bay, but from up here on the diving platform 28m above the water it might as well be a strip of Tarmac.
The 14 competitors in stop four on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which visits the world’s most epic open-water dive locations, have been presented with a mix of weather conditions to really focus the mind. Blazing sunshine alternates, on an all-too-frequent basis, with driving wind and rain across the two days of competition.
Ferzuli is afraid, and he’s not afraid to admit it, but he somehow has to find a way to plunge safely into that sea pool at 90kph. A pancake from that height is the equivalent of landing on concrete from a height of 13m, so the angle of entry to the water has to be spot on, toes-first, arms tight down by the sides, to avoid significant suffering.
Diving is a matter of personal pride and there’s no way to throttle back and do it slowly. Speed of entry is guaranteed from the moment the competitor steps off the platform. Below him, an exclusive audience of 700 – the remote location meant the organisers had to cap the number – waits expectantly between their own dives for cover from the frequent showers.
The ghosts of the Fir Bolg, the ancient inhabitants of Inis Mór, looking down from the ruins of the fort of Dún Aonghus on the hill above the diving area, will surely have approved of the fortitude shown by Ferzuli and co. The mythological, pre-Christian race faced their own demons in their battles with their foes, the Tuatha Dé Dannan, before decamping to the Aran Islands to lick their wounds, where the screeching winds will have slowed somewhat the creation of the stone forts that dot the island.
It’s an extraordinary location for a cliff diving event, but from the moment Colombian great Orlando Duque was introduced to it in 2009 at a demonstration event, it was inevitable it would eventually appear as part of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. The evergreen Colombian described his dive back then as a highlight of his career. He shrugged off a serious ankle injury, sustained in a skydiving accident in Hawaii last year, to retake his place in the series this year.
Read the full story in September's issue of The Red Bulletin.