Eleanor Smart of the USA is transported to the dive location on a zip line during the fifth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Beirut, Lebanon on July 13, 2019.
© Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool
Cliff Diving

Getting to know: Eleanor Smart

A revealing interview with ambitious American cliff diver Eleanor Smart, who'll be back on the 21m platform in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2021.
Written by Chris Magill
6 min readPublished on
If you've ever looked at a cliff diver and assumed they're just crazy, careless adrenaline junkies, then think again. Leaping from heights of up to 27m is not for the fearless, it's for the brave. We caught up with Eleanor Smart, the cliff diver with an ambitious goal to clean up the planet, who reveals all in this quick-fire interview.

What scares a cliff diver? It's not heights for sure...

Spiders and bugs. They terrify me!
Fill in the following phrase: A cliff diver is automatically also a...
Very brave person. I feel like a lot of people think cliff divers are a bunch of crazy, fearless people, but that's so far from the truth. Cliff divers get scared, just like everyone else, but what distinguishes them from the rest is their bravery. They know how to look their fear in the face and push through it.
Eleanor Townsend Smart of the USA sits on the 21m platform during the third stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Polignano a Mare, Italy on May 31, 2019.

It's all about looking your fears in the face and pushing through

© Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

Have you lost the ability to jump in the water like a 'normal' person?
No, not at all. I went to Bali last year and I got all nervous to jump off a 12m cliff. It was hilarious.
Could you do mental maths during a dive?
No way.
What impresses more, somebody who's able to perform one twist more, or someone who performs two somersaults fewer than you, but in perfectly executed?
It totally depends on the situation. Overall, I think one more twist is more impressive, because it's harder and shows that individual is pushing the boundaries of the sport. At the same time, when it comes down to a competition it's more impressive to see a dive perfectly executed.
How high does a cliff have to be for you to say no?
It depends how much I've been training and how my body feels, but I probably wouldn't go any higher than 30m.
How high was the highest cliff you ever jumped from?
The first time I ever went cliff jumping, I jumped from about 27m. I didn't know at the time how high it was, I just knew people had done it, so I went for it. That's still my highest jump today.
At what age would you allow your children to jump from 27 metres?
I don't think there's a specific age, it would be more of when I thought they were mentally and physically ready, but with that said probably not before their late teens or early 20s.
Eleanor Smart of the USA dives during the first training session of the first stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Serpent's Lair, Inis Mor, Ireland on June 22, 2017.

Smart's World Series debut came on the rough Irish coast in 2017

© Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool

If you weren't a cliff diver, what would you have become instead?
A sports psychologist. I'm actually currently completing my masters in sport psych with the intent to get my PhD. I'm really passionate about working in extreme sports and with female athletes dealing with things like eating disorders and mental illness.
Who looks better doing a dive, the girls or the boys?
That's tough. The girls have the pretty lines and form, but the guys have the power and strength. I'd probably have to give it to the girls.
What would you say is true luxury?
At the end of the day, being able to pursue your passion and do what you love. That's a true luxury.
Is there a sport you really suck at?
Basketball. I get so competitive, but I'm so bad. It's a good thing I stuck with diving.
Who would you want to be for a day and why?
Oprah Winfrey. She's such an amazing woman and philanthropist. I love all the work she is doing around the globe and hope that one day I can make such an impact. It would be awesome to be in her shoes for a day.
Your personal dream location, regardless of budget?
I would love to explore Africa. I feel like it's one of the only places that haven't really been explored and I hear there are some great waterfalls.
Why cliff diving and not ballet?
When I was little I did ballet and I would always get in trouble for flipping around in the back. Personally, I think cliff diving is a perfect mixture of everything – beauty, grace and lines, but also guts, power and strength.
Describe yourself in three words...
Passionate, adventurous and caring.
What's your biggest weakness?
My biggest weakness is definitely that I can be very impatient. I expect a lot from myself and want to do everything now. I have to remind myself that I have a lot of years left to accomplish things.
What headline would you want to read about yourself?
I would want to read a headline that said I made a positive impact, whether that be on the environment or people. It's really important to me to not just win, but to use the platform I've been given to make the Earth a better place.
Eleanor Townsend Smart is seen at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Palawan, Philippines on April 13, 2019.

Passionate about the planet – Smart has founded the Clean Cliffs Project

© Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

Something you always wanted to do, but never dared to so far?
This is going to sound crazy – I would love to go scuba diving, but I'm so scared of being under water. It freaks me out. My biggest fear is drowning. However, I'd love to do it in really, really, really, clear water with a ton of people around me!
What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?
I would say, follow your passion completely. Never give up, no matter what happens, or what others say. I've been diving since I was five and dreamed of the day I would represent my country and stand on that podium. I tried so hard when I was younger, even moved away from home at 15 to train, but never qualified for an international meet in 'normal' diving.
After years and years of persevering and not seeing results, I stopped diving and was so confused why it never happened for me. A few years later, I found high diving and in November 2018 I won my first international medal. I think a high diving medal is way cooler than anything else.
Finish this sentence: if I could tell you just one thing...
I would tell you to trust God, fate, or the universe (whatever you believe in), because its plan for you is so much greater than anything you could ever imagine if you just give up control and let yourself live the life you were meant to live.
What's the most important asset in cliff diving?
A clear mindset. You can be in the greatest shape and completely prepared for your dives, but if you don't have a clear mindset it can be devastating. I learned this the hard way. After two seasons in the World Series, I'd never had a solid performance, because my mind wasn't in the right place. Then, I went into the 2018 World Cup with a clear mind and I was able to show my true abilities.
Eleanor Smart, Rhiannan Iffland and Lysanne Richard on the podium at the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on August 24, 2019.

A first World Series podium for the American came in Mostar in 2019

© Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

Looking at the pool of cliff divers, build the perfect athlete.
I would take: Rhiannan's mindset, Owen's enthusiasm, Orlando's experience, Steve's guts and Michal or Alessandro's muscles and strength.

Part of this story

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

Divers execute incredible acrobatics from heights of more than 20m in the ultimate display of focus and skill.

106 Tour Stops

Ellie Smart

American Eleanor Smart is the ambitious Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series athlete with a mission to clean up the world, one beach at a time.

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