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Cliff Diving

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?
Written by Josh Sampiero and Alex Maxifahrer
3 min readUpdated on
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.
Rhiannan Iffland of Australia dives on the cliffs of Islet Franca do Campo during Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at São Miguel, Azores, Portugal on July 7, 2017.
Rhiannan Iffland braces herself for impact
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.
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1. 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
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.
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2. 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
The impact isn't easy. The divers go from 85kph to zero in less than a second.
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3. 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
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
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4. 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
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.
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5. 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
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.
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6. Spreading their arms slows their descent underwater

A high-diver slows down quickly underwater using their arms.
Spread the arms to slow down
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.
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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.
A watermelon shatters after being dropped from the 27.5 metre platform during the first stop of Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Colombia.
Science in action at Cliff Diving Colombia 2015
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.