What happens when a cliff diver hits the water at 85kph? Here are 7 things
The world's best cliff divers are back for 2022 at 8 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?
The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series returns for 2022, with old favourites in the mix and brand-new stops this year in Paris, Oslo and Sydney. The action starts in Boston, USA on June 4.
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.
We've seen the mid-air flips and twists countless times. Today – with some incredible shots from underwater – 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.
1. The drop takes three seconds and the diver reaches 85kph
The divers accelerate off the platform at 9.8m/s – 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. Steven LoBue manages five forward rotations.
2. They hit the water with two to three times the force of gravity
The impact isn't easy. The divers go from 85kph to zero in less than a second.
3. They have to co-ordinate engaging their extensor muscles in legs, groin, core and abs
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
4. They're basically like a bomb on impact
The divers hit the water so fast that they actually create a 'bombhole' where they entered, as beautifully illustrated in Alex Voyer's photo above.
5. It's friction that slows them down
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 precise moment after impact.
6. Spreading their arms slows their descent underwater
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.
7. They have to adjust to the changing conditions
It's not a swimming pool on a Tuesday morning with one old guy doing lengths at the opposite end. This is a dive off real cliffs into the boiling Atlantic (see the GIF above from the Azores event) 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 Orlando Duque. And what if they do a 'belly flop'? Thankfully, that doesn't happen… but take a look at what happens to this watermelon in the picture below.
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