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

A beginner's guide to cliff diving

What is cliff diving? Here's everything you need to know about the world's oldest extreme sport
Written by Chris Magill / Hanna Jonsson
9 min readPublished on
Leaping from a cliff or platform as high as 27 meters, cliff divers free fall for about three seconds before hitting the water at around 85 kilometers per hour. That impact equals about two to three times the force of gravity. During their 27-meter high dive the athletes also perform dizzying aerial acrobatics in order to score as many points as possible. A sport that is as mesmerising as it is jaw-dropping.
As the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series gears up for another big season, with a total of seven stops across four continents, one of which is Stockholm on the 19th of August, we thought it was high time to take a deeper dive into what the sport is actually is all about.

What is cliff diving?

Free-falling from up to 27 meters combined with awe-inducing acrobatics – that’s the essence of cliff diving. Since 2009, the 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.
The divers construct their dives using an array of different skill sets and dive groups. For take-off, they chose from five different starting positions and use an array of dive positions and components – such as pike, tuck, somersault and twist – whilst on the way down. Their dives are judged and scored by a jury.
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.

How do athletes survive the dive?

If you drop a water melon from 27 meters high into the water, it implodes on impact. So how does the human body survive it? Well, it takes a lot more than a daring mindset. In fact, the world series is restricted to 24 athletes for a reason as this sport requires insane precision and skills. 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.
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

© Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

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
Every time the divers jump of the platform it is a calculated risk. They have to land feet first whilst engaging their extensor muscles in legs, groin, core and abs - by tensing their muscles before impact they protect themselves from injury (although injuries can still happen). As the divers enter the water, friction automatically slows them down but they also spread their arms towards the end of the dive to “pull the brakes” so to say.

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 is a dive executed?

When it comes to constructing their dives, the athletes spend many hours experimenting to find the right formulae for their skillset. It’s extremely hard to learn and execute as a diver, and extremely complex to understand for someone new to the sport. But, don’t worry. To make it as easy as possible we’ve broken it down into a short and long version.
Short version: the divers chose from five different starting positions, this includes forward, backward and armstand. They then use different dive positions and components on their way down in order to impress the judges and score high points. The positions and components they use include things like pike, tuck, somersault and twists.
Long version: The dive starts with the diver getting into their starting position and taking off. This can be done in five different ways and can also incorporate and axial twisting movement.
  • Reverse: The diver takes off facing the water and rotates backwards towards the platform
  • Inward: The diver takes off with their backs to the water and rates forward towards the platform
  • Forward: The diver takes off facing the water and rotates forward
  • Armstand: The diver takes off from the platform in a handstand position
  • Backward: The diver takes off with their back to the water and rotates backwards

7 min

The perfect take-off

Finding the perfect take-off is the most important step in creating a good dive.

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As the divers plummet towards the water they need to pack in tricks and rotations as well as ace their execution in order to score high points. These are called dive positions and components:
  • Pike: With knees straight but a tight bend at the hips
  • Tuck: body folded up into a tight ball
  • Straight: with no bend at the knees or hips
  • Free: body position is optional but the legs should be together and toes pointed
  • Somersault: the diver potatoes head over end, forwards or backwards. The record number of somersaults is currently five.
  • Twist: the diver rotates are around a vertical axis that runs from the head to the toes
  • Flying: the diver completes at least one somersault in the straight position followed by a tuck or a pike.
  • Blind: the last time the diver sees the water is at least half a somersault before entry and so they line up “blind”
  • Barani: One somersault forward rotation with half a twist. It’s often used as an entry maneuver as it gives the diver the best view of the water.

7 min

Somersaults and twists

Somersaults and twists are foundational to cliff diving and the combination of both are how the pros do it.

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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.
The score is dependent on the takeoff, the position in the air and entry in the water. The degree of difficulty (DD) is calculated based on the difficulty of the execution of each maneuver: type of takeoff, number of somersaults, number of twists, position during the somersault, and type of entry.
Each competition has four rounds. For Round 1, all divers execute a Required Dive. The second dive, Round 2, is an Intermediate Dive. The divers will then perform two Optional Dive rounds - Round 3 and Round 4. There’s no capped Degree of Difficulty for these dives and every element of the dive counts. For Rounds 3 and 4’s optional dives, the athletes dive in reverse starting order based on the previous round’s cumulative score.
After all four dives, the winners are then declared - these are the divers from the men’s and women’s competitions with the highest point total after four dives. Based on their final result, each diver is then awarded points that are tallied and go towards their overall Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series rankings.
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


Can anybody compete?

It’s safe to say that cliff diving is not for the faint-hearted, or people with fear of heights. In fact, whilst most people can jump of a cliff into water, participating in Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is a whole other matter. Only very few in the world are skilled enough to jump from such heights. It’s a sport that takes years and years of practice and due to the level of difficulty as well as risk involved with the sport only 24 specially-invited athletes are allowed to compete.
Out of those 24 spots, 16 are permanent divers on the world series and the remaining eight are made up of wildcard divers.
Gary Hunt, a British-born diver who now represents France, has been the dominant force in the men’s category since he won his first World Series title back in 2009. Today he holds no less than 10 World Series titles to his name. In the women’s field, it’s been Australia’s Rhiannan Iffland who’s taken a firm grip on the sport ever since her wildcard victory at her very first Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition in Texas back in 2016. In 2022 she took her sixth world series title.
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


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 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 centers like Dubai, Bilbao and Cartagena.
The series has come to Scandinavia before, with stops in both Oslo and Copenhagen, but it has never before been in hosted in Stockholm. The 19th of August 2023 will be the first time the athletes compete right in the city centre of the Swedish capital.

When does the new season start?

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series returns this year for its 14th season, with seven competitions planned at locations around the world. It all kicks off on June 3rd in Boston, USA. Here's everything you need to know about the new season.

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.

74 Tour Stops

Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series

At the fifth stop, Sweden's capital Stockholm makes its debut during the weekend of the Stockholm Culture Festival. Expect to see majestic aerial performances against a backdrop of the royal palace.


Gary Hunt

The astonishing successes of ten-time Red Bull Cliff Diving World Champion Gary Hunt make him the most decorated athlete in his field.


Rhiannan Iffland

One of the world’s best cliff divers and a serial winner on the World Series, Australia’s Rhiannan Iffland is a dominant force from the 21m platform.


Jonathan Paredes

Known as 'the stylemaster', Mexico's Jonathan Paredes is the 2017 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series champion and the man with the biggest smile on tour.


Deep Dive

Jump into the world of cliff diving with the sport’s athletes as they impart their knowledge and experience.

1 Season · 7 episodes