Over the next few days, the world’s best cliff divers face perhaps their stiffest test of the season so far, as they prepare to compete from the rocks and platforms on the rugged Atlantic coast at Downpatrick Head in Ireland. What challenges does nature have in store for the men and women, and how will they cope with them?
It’s the fourth of six stops this season in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series and, despite a few rain showers at the previous event in Mostar, conditions have generally been perfect for diving so far. However, despite the stunningly beautiful scenery that envelops their latest diving location, very rarely does a trip to the Atlantic coast of Ireland bring serene seas and a gentle breeze.
"Coming to Ireland, you always have the expectation in your mind that it's gonna be a tough challenge," says American David Colturi. "A lot of elements – Ireland is known for having kind of all four seasons in one day. Coming onsite, I was a little taken aback by the sea. It's moving a lot. It looks cold – it is cold. The wind can kind of come and go. So, yeah, I think the challenge is really just staying warm and staying confident."
Many of these athletes have been here and done it before. While this is the first time they have competed in this spot, the Irish coast is nothing new to the World Series, with the daunting Serpent’s Lair in Inis Mór having welcomed the athletes on three occasions over the years.
"Experience plays a big role here I think," adds Colturi. "Every time you go into a tough challenge and come out on top, it makes you a little bit better, a little bit stronger. Telling yourself you've been here, you know you can do it, gives you that little boost of confidence and courage going into something like this."
For the likes of Molly Carlson, this season's revelation in the women's competition, this is a brand new experience entirely. How does a newbie cope with the wet and wild Atlantic?
"I train in a perfectly flat, warm pool back in Canada, so this is completely new to me," says Carlson. "I think having such a great debut in an ocean, in France, off a cliff, just made me confident in myself that no matter where we go, we can adjust, trust ourselves and our bodies. I'm really excited for this because it's just so unique that I want to be a part of it.
"Training went really well today. First dive I felt a little bit cautious, the second one I went in 100 percent and nailed it. I'm really excited to see how tomorrow goes."
If Carlson needs any encouragement to help settle the nerves on Saturday, Ellie Smart knows the feeling of an early-career visit to this type of spot.
"I remember coming to Ireland for my first stop and feeling like a kid in a candy shop. It was the most exciting thing I'd ever done," says American Smart, who made her debut in Inis Mór in 2017. It was the craziest conditions, so cold and wavy, but none of that mattered. Diving in Ireland has such a special place in my heart, because it's really where the dream began."
When it comes down to it, cliff divers are a very special breed of athlete. Whether it's leaping off bridges, pure rocks or opera houses, into flat lakes, flowing rivers or ocean swells, they consistently adapt their body and mind to the challenge that awaits them. The task in Downpatrick Head this weekend might be one of the toughest they'll face, but it's one they're excitedly looking forward to.