What Is Cliff Diving?

cliff diving
••• (c)Romina Amato / Red Bull Cliff Diving

The simplest definition of cliff diving is this: It is an activity that involves highly-trained athletes diving into the water from a very high and steep cliff. This is a risky sport that should only be done by people who have been given the proper training that allows them to soar from extreme heights and safely land in the water below. 

Cliff divers are extreme sports athletes who have honed the acrobatic skills that allow them to take part in this risky sport without receiving an injury.

Today, there are cliff diving competitions held all around the globe, including in places like Mexico, Brazil, and Greece. Energy drink maker Red Bull runs one of the most dramatic competitions, with skilled divers leaping off rocky cliffs or platforms set as high as 85-feet, allowing them to plunge into lakes and oceans. 


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 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 years, the sport would spread to other parts of the world as well, with divers spending countless hours honing their skills to match the conditions of their home country.

During the 20th century, the popularity of the sport grew considerably, with competitions now taking place in a wide variety of places across the globe. Today, it is still viewed as a dangerous, and somewhat niche, an 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 the heights that they leap from.

For instance, in 2015 a new world record was set when Brazilian-Swiss extreme athlete 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 divers first train and much lower heights, perfecting their skills before moving higher. Over time, they gain not only the skills necessary to safely land in the water but the confidence to push them to climb higher up the cliffs that they are leaping from.​

If you’re thinking about becoming a cliff diver, consider the advice of experienced athletes in the sport who compete in extreme competitions around the world. They emphasize the importance of being technically trained, being in excellent physical condition, and diving many times from lower heights before ever attempting a plunge off of a high cliff.

Even then, many other factors have to be taken into consideration, including the weather, waves, and terrain – both on the cliffside and in the water. Wind conditions, in particular, can play a major role in landing safely, although the placement of rocks and other obstacles are crucial to be aware of as well.