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Cliff Diving

This is how Ellie Smart warms up for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

Ellie Smart's 12 Months, 12 Stunts plan is taking her to incredible diving spots around the world, like the iconic Minot's Ledge Lighthouse on America's East Coast.
Written by Dave Howard
5 min readPublished on
Ellie Smart hears the question over and over. After seven years of competing in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, does she still feel nervous when she positions herself at the edge of a massive void? It's a natural source of curiosity, because this is a woman who has notched 31 starts in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, finishing fourth in the world last year and third in 2022, while adding an array of creative, but harrowing new dives to her resume.
She freely admits it: the butterflies never go away. Take, for example, her dive on June 4 – a plunge of 70 feet (21.5m) from the top of Minots Ledge Lighthouse, about a mile off the South Shore of Massachusetts, USA.
"I was standing up there before the first dive and I looked at one of the camera guys and I was like, ‘I'm so scared, I don’t think I can do this'," she recalls. "They’re like, 'You’re the pro here'."
To be fair, Smart was breaking new ground with the dive, which served two purposes. One was to amp up New England for the Boston stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series on June 8. The other was to add a new dive to a yearlong series she calls 12 Months, 12 Stunts, which includes a plunge off something unique and steep on a monthly basis throughout 2024. She'd never dove off a lighthouse before and, in fact, she says, "I actually don't really know anybody that has checked that off the bucket list."
For the dive, the rugged and nearly 170-year-old structure was outfitted with a short platform to ensure that Smart would land in deep-enough water. It was a brilliant, sunny early-summer's day and the idea of a dive off the local landmark not only deepened her connection with the area, it also generated some special feels. "Lighthouses are a symbol of exploration and going out. being brave, bold and taking risks," she says. “I think that’s exactly what we cliff dviers do and to be about to dive from a lighthouse was extra special."
The idea was hatched last year, when Smart and one of her managers were brainstorming ideas. He mentioned having seen Minots and when she saw it, she instantly knew: "It was just absolutely spectacular, so we decided that that would be my first big project that we would plan as a lead up to the Red Bull Cliff Diving event in Boston."
The pieces quickly fell into place when her team secured permission from the Coast Guard and the structure's owner, who accompanied Smart out on a boat for the dive. Now, all that remained was for her to go through with it.
I could have never imagined in my life a girl from Kansas would end up diving off cliffs
In some ways, Smart was an unlikely choice to be the first diver to leap from Minots. She grew up in metro Kansas City and, as she readily points out,"“I could have never imagined in my life a girl from Kansas would end up jumping off cliffs."
She excelled at diving as a kid and won a diving scholarship to UC-Berkeley in California. Her dream was to compete for her country, but things didn't work out and she retired halfway through her college career. She instead zeroed in on a career in fashion, heading to Barcelona for an internship after she graduated. "I was very much like a girly girl at that time of my life," she recalls. “My best friend at the time was like, ‘Let’s go cliff jumping.' And I was like, ‘Ew, that’s disgusting, no way'.”
When her friend decided to go anyway, Smart tagged along and her first jump was life changing. She remembers it as an "aha moment of 'oh my gosh, maybe my whole career was actually leading me to find this'."
Ellie Smart dives off Minot’s Lighthouse during Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2024 Stop 2 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA on June 4, 2024.

What an incredible place to dive!

© Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

I actually chose to do that dive today because it’s special to me and it was a special moment diving off that lighthouse
As an amateur and then a semi-pro, she focused on the physical training and strength necessary to excel. But once she became elite, the game changed. "I would say 90 percent of success comes down to mental abilities," Smart says. "At that point, we've all trained for so many years and it's muscle memory."
Early in her career she would try to amp herself up with hip-hop before dives, but over time she discovered that she was flooding herself with adrenaline in a sport where it's never in short supply. Now, she leans into meditation and either listens to classical music on competition days or avoids tunes altogether. "I really try to bring myself to a really calm state, because I just naturally have so much adrenaline when I'm getting ready to do a cliff dive," she says.
That will be true as she continues her 12 Stunts program. Smart won't give away too much of what’s ahead other than she’s eyeing a hot-air balloon, Ferris wheel and crane among other novel diving platforms. She also recently earned a skydiving license and has friends who are BASE jumpers: they're pondering "some more really big projects that kind of combine all of those things together."
Ellie Smart pictured at Minot’s Lighthouse during Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2024 Stop 2 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA on June 4, 2024.

This was the first of a number of big dives Smart has planned for 2024

© Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

She'll need her mental and physical strength then, just as she did when she edged out onto the lighthouse platform and hovered over the chilly waters of the Atlantic. Swatting away the butterflies, Smart executed her signature dive – a one-and-a-half twisting double-half, which is the first dive she broke out in a Red Bull Cliff Diving event and remains her favorite. Then, for good measure, she did three more. "I actually chose to do that dive today because it’s special to me and it was a special moment diving off that lighthouse," she says.
As for the cameraman who called her out? "I'm like, 'I know I can do it, I'm just being a baby'," she says with a laugh. "But I get scared. Every single time I do and I think it's that feeling of being afraid and facing that fear – and what you feel afterwards, that feeling of accomplishment. Like you just conquered something you didn’t think you could do.
"That's what keeps me coming back for more."

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