The History and Dangers of Cliff Diving

Young Man Diving into Sea at Pirate's Cave

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By its most basic definition, cliff diving is exactly what you would expect it to be based on the name. It is an extreme sport that involves highly-trained athletes diving into the water from a very high, rocky cliff. This give it a smilier allure as other extreme sports, including base jumping and rock climbing. Which is why this activity should only be attempted by people who have been given the proper training and have gained the necessary experience that allows them to take part in the sport without injuring themselves. All others are cautioned to remain spectators, as it can take years to acquire the necessary skills to compete safely.

Cliff divers are extreme athletes who have learned the acrobatic skills that allow them to take part in this challenging activity without severely injuring themselves. Today, there are cliff diving competitions held all around over the world, including in places like Mexico, Brazil, and Greece. Energy drink maker Red Bull runs some of the most dramatic events each year, with skilled divers leaping off rocky cliffs or platforms set as high as 85-feet in the air. These competitions routinely draw thousands of spectators who come to witness these incredible athletes performing amazing feats of acrobatics and endurance.


The history of cliff diving dates back nearly 250 years to the Hawaiian Islands. Legend has it that the king of Maui – Kahekili II – would force his warriors to leap feet first off a cliff to land in the water below. It was a way for those men to show their king that they were fearless, loyal, and bold. Later, under King Kamehameha, cliff diving evolved into a competition in which participants were judged for style, with an emphasis placed on making as small of a splash as possible when they entered the water. 

Over the centuries that followed, the sport would spread out to other parts of the world as well, with divers spending countless hours perfecting their skills to match the unique conditions of the place where the practiced the sport. Some had to learn to deal with cliffs that were higher and more sheer, while others faced choppier waters, rocky shorelines, high winds, and other variable.

Throughout the 20th century, the popularity of the sport grew considerably. Televised events brought cliff diving into viewers homes for the very first time, introducing the sport to an international audience. This gave rise to competitions all over the globe, with a fascinated and engaged audience routinely tuning in to catch the action.

Today, cliff diving is still viewed as a very dangerous, and somewhat niche, activity that can result in serious injury or even death if not done properly. Modern cliff divers continue to push the envelope in terms of training, preparation, and the heights that they leap from. For instance, in 2015 a new world record was set when a Brazilian-Swiss athlete by the name of Laso Schaller dove more than 58 meters (193 feet) off a platform in Maggia, Switzerland. Those kinds of heights are extreme examples of the sport, however, with most competitions actually taking place in the 26-28 meters (85-92 feet) range. In comparison, Olympic divers jump from a maximum height of just 10 meters (33 feet).

Dangerous Sport

Since divers can be traveling in excess of 60-70 mph when they hit the water, injuries become a real possibility. The most common injuries include bruises, abrasions, compression fractures, concussions, and even spinal damage. It is because of these risks that these athletes first train at much lower heights, perfecting their skills long before that even consider climbing higher. Over time, they gain not only the techniques necessary to safely land in the water, but the confidence to push themselves to ever increasing heights on the cliff faces that they leap from.

If you’re considering taking up cliff diving as a sport, consider seeking the advice of experienced athletes who are already competing in the sport. They're likely to emphasize the importance of being technically trained, being in excellent physical condition, and diving many times from lower heights before ever attempting a plunge from atop a high cliff. Even then, many other factors have to be taken into consideration both on the cliffside itself and in the water below, including the weather, waves, and terrain. Wind conditions, in particular, can play a major role in landing safely, although the placement of rocks and other obstacles are important for divers to be consider and be aware of as well.

Learning to Cliff Dive

Anyone who wants to learn to cliff dive is encouraged to find an experienced instructor who can show them the ropes. Better yet, visit the USA Cliff Diving page on Facebook in order to see advice and knowledge from others. Members of the page often share tips, and videos, and can be very helpful for anyone who is looking to get started. The page is surprisingly active and the videos shared there are enough to provide an adrenaline rush completely on their own. But, for those who still want to add this extreme skill to their adventure resume, the group can get you pointed in the right direction.

Other options include joining a cliff diving class, as there are schools located all over the world. For instance, Cliff Diving Ibiza offers basic one-day courses for those looking to get started, while the World High Diving Federation also makes a good resoruce.