Remember that old saying “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” If you lust for freedom, have the guts to leap into the unknown and speed towards the water, then the answer will surely be not what our mothers expect to hear.
Cliff diving goes a long way back. Centuries ago, it was considered an initiation rite on Easter Island and Hawaii. In 1770, Maui’s King Kahekili took a 70-foot (21 m) leap off the red cliffs of Kaunolu on the Hawaiian island of Lana’i, earning himself the nickname of “birdman.” He wished to set an example for his warriors to follow, who would have to take the same plunge to prove their bravery and obedience. Later, King Kamehameha, one of Hawaii’s last independent kings, perfected the the art of lele kawa – jumping feet first without making a big splash. Soon enough, locals began competing against each other.
Over the past years, cliff jumping has been gaining serious ground and is on the way to becoming a mainstream adventure sport. Since it started in 2009, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has become widely known as the most dramatic competition of its kind, pushing cliff diving to a whole new level. Each year, the world’s best divers show off their acrobatic diving skills, traveling to the most visually stunning cliff diving spots our planet has to offer. These daredevils will agree the location is just as important as the jump itself. Think rugged coastlines abounding in history and tradition, crystal-clear waters, oddly-shaped rock formations and plenty of adrenalin to go along.
Why jump? Simply because there’s something about those dizzying heights and the vertigo of the abyss that triggers a yearning in our hearts to overcome our limits and prove, once more, that we are capable of much more than we let ourselves believe.
The Kimberley, Australia
Australia has earned itself quite a reputation for things that can easily kill you. The Kimberley is yet another addition to the list. Imagine lakes surrounded by gorges, mountain peaks and waterfalls. In short, a picture-perfect scenery. Such a place exists not just in your dreams, but also in northwestern Australia.
The Kimberley is a renowned inland cliff diving spot set in one of the least densely populated places on the planet. Heights range from 10 to 88 feet, which makes it perfect for beginners and professionals alike. The most spectacular jumping spot stands 84 feet above the Ord River and will give you the heebie-jeebies just looking down.
Caribbean sunsets, tropical drinks, Bob Marley, and some badass fun in the sun. That’s Jamaica for you. The limestone cliffs in West End Negril praise their numerous diving spots, heights ranging between 40 to 70 feet. Look down into the crystal-blue waters, watch the shadows playing on the sea floor, allow yourself to be seduced, and take the plunge.
Another popular diving location in Negril is Rick’s Cafe, a cliffside bar that opened in 1974, offering a diving platform fitted 35 feet above the Caribbean. In the evening, locals put on quite a show for tourists, encouraging them to try it as well. Just remember that cliff jumping is no child’s play. Plus, the dive is not the only challenge here. Getting out of the water and climbing back up the cliff face is no walk in the park either.
South Point Cliffs, Hawaii
South Point on the Big Island of Hawaii is renowned for two reasons – being the southernmost point of the United States and for cliff jumping. It is a group of secluded cliffs averaging between 30 and 50 feet, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Strong currents, the jagged seabed, and fluctuating tides make the location pretty dangerous. It doesn’t seem to stop experienced divers, though.
While in Hawaii, it’s definitely worthwhile paying a visit to the birthplace of modern cliff diving – Warrior’s Leap on Lana’i Island. It was here that King Kahekili tested his warriors’ bravery by demanding they jump off the 70-foot cliff. There’s just something thrilling about visiting such a historical site and following the king’s orders, two and a half centuries later, proving you’re worthy of being called a warrior yourself.
Inis Mor, Ireland
The biggest of the three Aran islands off Ireland’s west coast, Inis Mor has so far been the proud host of two Red Bull Cliff Diving Series. Do not imagine you’ll be plunging straight into the ocean, that’s far too dangerous even for the most experienced of divers. No, Inis Mor offers something even better.
Suggestively called the Serpent’s Lair, a natural blowhole was chiseled by the boisterous Atlantic at the bottom of a cliff. It is a natural shoreline pool, almost perfectly rectangular in shape, with sheer walls, concealing an intricate network of caverns communicating with the ocean. Ancient Celts believed it was the home of a giant mythological creature. Divers have the opportunity to discover what lies beyond the surface for themselves as soon as they hit the water after plunging 85 feet from the rugged cliffs above.
La Quebrada Cliffs, Mexico
Mexico is not just about sombreros, tequila, and vibrant beaches. Ever since the 1940s, Acapulco has become a synonym for cliff jumping. La Quebrada is widely recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous cliff diving spots, but that doesn’t seem to stop adrenalin junkies from putting their skills to the test.
The 148-foot drop is not the only problem here. The shallow landing and wind currents can easily send divers to an early grave. The waves swell to a safe depth of 11 feet for a mere five seconds. The drop takes three seconds. Needless to say, perfect timing makes the difference between a successful jump and hitting the jagged sea floor beneath. La Quebrada is as much a bravery feat as it a mathematical one. It takes years of training. It’s the only way to survive the surf and the impact with the water.
Tourists are welcome to watch the performance experienced acrobats put on each day from the cliffside restaurant perched atop La Quebrada, and feel their palms sweating as the next diver gets ready to take the plunge.
The Azores are a group of nine volcanic islands in the heart of the North Atlantic Ocean. Sao Miguel is one of them, also known as “the Green Island,” to the south of which lies the small town of Vila Franca di Campo, famous thanks to its imposing monoliths rising straight out of the water, piercing the skies, offering natural ledges to jump from straight into the ocean beneath.
The spot hosted several Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, and for good reason. The highest jump is 90 feet tall, but the height is the least of the divers’ worries. They have to find balance and coordination while plunging from the rugged terrain, and the precision to fly at a safe distance between the monoliths that seem to be closing into one another even more as each diver speeds towards the water.
Ligurian Coast, Italy
They say goddess Venus was born from the foam of the sea splashing into the rugged Ligurian Coast. Between Cinque Terre and Portovenere, the northwestern Italian coastline is an open-air museum and a history lesson in itself, stacked with traditional fishing villages, medieval castles and churches, and Roman ruins, while offering plenty of dramatic spots to jump from into the blue waters beneath.
If you’ve ever dreamed of leaping from a medieval cliffside church straight into the sea, like some sort of a brave knight, then Portovenere is the place to go.
The medieval church of San Pietro stretches out at sea, perched atop a massive cliff, connected to land by a natural bridge. Right next to the church lies Byron’s grotto, from where the poet started the famous four-mile long swim across La Spezia gulf to meet with his friend, Shelley, in San Terenzo. Both the castle and the poet’s grotto make unique cliff diving venues for all you lionhearted sea lovers out there.