Carlos Gimeno prepares to dive at the fourth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Downpatrick Head, Ireland, on September 10, 2021.
© Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool
Cliff Diving

What is cliff diving?

Everything you need to know about the world's oldest extreme sport ahead of the 2022 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series kick-off.
Written by Chris Magill
5 min readPublished on
With seven stops announced already, and a surprise finale location waiting to be unveiled, preparations are well underway as Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series gears up for its eagerly-awaited return this summer. Fans can expect 2022 to deliver another season packed full of high-flying drama, dizzying aerial acrobatics and tense title fights, all set against a series of visually striking and iconic backdrops around the world.
For those who are new to cliff diving, or those simply looking to explore a little deeper into the sport, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the season kick-off.

What is cliff diving?

Free-falling from up to 27m combined with awe-inducing acrobatics – that’s the essence of cliff diving. Since 2009 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has provided a platform for aesthetic action and dives of incredible complexity. It’s pure. It’s breathtaking and it’s packed full of exciting drama.
12 men and 12 women compete at every stop, each earning crucial championship points along the way based on their final event positions. At the end of every season, a champion is crowned in both categories, and both are awarded the coveted King Kahekili trophies.
Molly Carlson of Canada dives from the 21 metre platform during the fourth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Downpatrick Head, Ireland on September 11, 2021.

Pure and breath-taking - that's cliff diving

© Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool


Where did cliff diving begin?

Although the World Series has only been in existence for 12 seasons since 2009, the sport itself actually originated hundreds of years ago in Hawaii. King Kahekili, after whom the champion’s trophy is now named, was a Hawaiian chief who first leapt from the holy cliffs of Kaunolo in the 1700s.
The old Hawaiian principles of 'mana' and 'pono', power and balance, were crucial when lele kawa, which loosely translates as 'leaping feet-first from a high cliff into the water without making a splash', was born on the islands in the midst of the Pacific in the 18th century. They are principles that have been upheld and are today prerequisites for the sport of cliff diving.

The science of cliff diving

Like many sports, cliff diving is often called an art, and understandably so. But, behind the art lies a whole lot of science and numbers. Height, speed and g-force, as well as aerial awareness, timing and physical strength all play a huge role in creating the most perfect, aesthetic and, of course, safe dives.
Here are a few fast facts about the science of cliff diving:
  • Take-off jump - Up to 0.8m
  • Rotation speed - 2.4 per second
  • Vertical velocity - 22.5m per second
  • Time in the air - 2.6 seconds
  • Water entry - Up to 85kph
  • Impact deceleration - 10G
When it comes to constructing their dives, the athletes spend many hours experimenting to find the right formulae for their skillset. A choice from five dive groups governs their take-off stance, while an array of dive positions and components – such as pike, tuck, somersault and twist – can be drawn upon on the way down to impress the judges.

1 min

The science of cliff diving

Cliff diving is an incredible feat of physical and mental ability. Get a look at the science behind the sport.


How are events scored?

Each dive is scored from 0 to 10, in half-point increments, by a panel of five international judges. The highest and lowest scores are discarded, while the remaining three scores are added together and multiplied by the degree of difficulty (DD) of each dive.
Scores from all four rounds of diving are cumulated for the final competition result, with championship points awarded based on each athlete’s overall position in the final event standings.
The judges score during the final competition day at the third stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 28, 2021.

Five judges, five scorecards

© Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool


Where to cliff dive

A pure extreme sport, Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is hosted in exceptional locations where athletes launch from pure rocks, historical bridges, iconic buildings or beside waterfalls. Since the inaugural competition was staged in La Rochelle, France back in 2009, the cliff diving elite have displayed their skills across the globe, ranging from paradisical spots in Hawaii, Thailand and the Philippines to urban centres like Dubai, Bilbao and Cartagena.
2022 will see the World Series break new ground in Paris and Oslo, along with a surprise new stop for the grand finale, while fans can also look forward to old favourites in Mostar, Polignano a Mare, Sisikon and Boston.

Who are the cliff divers?

Over the past 12 seasons, 85 athletes from around the world have stepped up onto the World Series platforms. The men have been competing since 2009, while the women’s competition debuted in 2014 and for the most part both categories have been dominated by two individuals.
Gary Hunt, the British-born diver who now represents France, has been the men’s trailblazer, amassing astonishing numbers in his unrivalled World Series career: nine overall titles, 43 victories and 71 podiums in 84 competitions. The only other men to get their hands on the King Kahekili trophy in that time are Colombian legend Orlando Duque, Russia’s Artem Silchenko and the Mexican Jonathan Paredes.
Equally as dominant in the women’s category over the past five seasons has been Australia’s Rhiannan Iffland. In 2016, she announced her arrival with a sensational wildcard victory at her very first Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition in Texas, and since then has racked up five World Series titles, 23 wins in 29 stops and two full seasons unbeaten.
At every stop, the eight permanent divers in each category are joined by four wildcard divers, who can all earn championship points in the same way as the full-time athletes.
Gary Hunt and Rhiannan Iffland celebrate after winning the final competition day of the fifth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Polignano a Mare, Puglia, Italy on September 22, 2021.

Rhiannan Iffland and Gary Hunt celebrate in Italy

© Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool


When does the new season start?

Following an exciting and record-breaking comeback in 2021, Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series returns this year for its 13th season, with eight competitions planned at locations around the world. It all kicks off on June 4 in Boston, USA. Here's everything you need to know about the new season.

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