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Cliff Diving

What happens when a cliff diver hits the water at 85kph?

The world's best cliff divers are back for 2024 at seven Red Bull Cliff Diving events around the world, but their bodies aren't built to hit the water from 27m up. So how do they survive the dive?
By Josh Sampiero and Alex Maxifahrer
4 min readUpdated on
The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series returns for 2024 with some old favourites in the mix and new stops. The action starts in Athens, Greece, on May 26.
But what about the science of the dive? Maybe you thought being a Red Bull Cliff Diver was as simple as jumping off a cliff? Think again. It's an exercise in mental mindset, bodily control, and, oh yeah – maths. Leaping from a 27m-high platform is quite literally a calculated risk.
Hear diver Orlando Duque and Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition director Hassan Mouti thoughts on the sport in the podcast below:
We've seen the mid-air flips and twists countless times. Today – with some incredible underwater shots from ocean photographer Alex Voyer – it's time to take a look at the landing and soak up the following facts faster than a cliff diver's sleek swimwear in a fizzing maelstrom.

The drop takes three seconds and the diver reaches 85kph

Orlando Duque enters the water during Red Bull Cliff Diving.

Orlando Duque hits the water, hard

© Tomislav Moze/Red Bull Content Pool

The divers accelerate off the platform at 9.8mps – that's almost as fast as a Bugatti Veyron supercar accelerates from 0–60mph or to 100kph. Did we mention they're flipping and twisting, while spotting their landing? Because they are. James Lichtenstein manages five forward rotations.
"We are only in the air for three seconds," says US diver David Colturi. "It's a long three seconds, and you really do feel like you're flying through the air; you're doing flips and twists, you're mastering gravity all the way down to the water."

They hit the water with two to three times the force of gravity

A cliff diver enters the water at high speed following a dive from 27m.

The diver's hands turn the water into a jetstream

© Alex Voyer

The impact isn't easy. The divers go from 85kph to a lot less fast than that in less than a second. Despite impact being anything but pain-free, from the divers’ perspective, it’s completely worth it.
"I think there is a moment where you get that nice feeling that's like floating," says sports director Orlando Duque, "and then after that it goes down really fast. Then you open, you finish your dive and then you see the water, you can feel the wind a little bit in your face and you can hear it even. It's such a nice feeling."

They have to co-ordinate engaging their extensor muscles in legs, groin, core and abs

Steven LoBue flexes his muscles as he enters the water in Red Bull Cliff Diving.

Apparently no one looks happy when landing

© Romina Amato/Red Bull Cliff Diving

This is one time it's OK to flex. By tensing muscles before impact, the divers protect themselves from injury (although injuries can still occur).
Anything that's not straight up and down is really going to hurt

They're basically like a bomb on impact

The underwater 'bombhole' left by a high diver as they hit the water.

That's the bombhole left behind by a cliff diver

© Alex Voyer

The divers hit the water so fast that they actually create a 'bombhole' where they entered, as beautifully illustrated in the photo above.

It's friction that slows them down

A cliff diver enters the water at high speed during a training dive.

There's plenty of whitewater

© Alex Voyer

As the divers enter the water, friction slows them down incredibly fast. The water jetstreams around the leading edge of the diver's feet or hands. The shot above is a moment after impact.

Spreading their arms slows their descent underwater

A high-diver slows down quickly underwater using their arms.

Spread the arms to slow down

© Alex Voyer

As soon as the diver enters the water, friction hits the brakes for them, but they also spread their arms towards the end of the dive to decrease the depth they'd otherwise sink to.

They have no choice but to land feet-first

David Colturi during the Red Bull Cliff Diving Teaser Dive in Takachiho, Miyazaki, Japan on July 19, 2023

Whichever way up the dive begins, it's always got to finish feet-first

© Jason Halayko/Red Bull Content Pool

The height and speed of cliff diving and the pure forces inflicted on the divers’ bodies on entering the water means that they have no choice but to sign off the dive by entering the water feet-first, unlike in Olympic diving where they typically enter the water head-first.

They have to adjust to the changing conditions

Orlando Duque of Colombia dives from the 27 metre platform at Barselkilen during the second stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Grimstad, Norway on July 7th 2012.

The weather can be far from ideal at times

© Ray Demski/Red Bull Content Pool

It's not a swimming pool on a Tuesday morning with one other person doing lengths at the opposite end. This is a dive off real cliffs into the Atlantic or next to a raging waterfall. What happens if they mess up on the landing? "Anything that's not straight up and down is really going to hurt," says Duque. And what if they do a 'belly flop'? Thankfully, that doesn'thappen
Watch the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series on Red Bull TV – and be sure to download the free app and watch unmissable cliff diving action on all your devices! Get the app here.

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