Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series: The competition’s on a cliff edge

With seriously high stakes, it's an extreme arena

The impact, it’s said, is like smashing into a brick wall. As your body free-falls through the air into the water 27 metres below, you become a human projectile, travelling at 50mph. Just watching videos of the first event in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series (now in its fifth year) at La Rochelle in France is enough to give you vertigo.

Yet as Russian Artem Silchenko lifted  his trophy on Saturday (a model of the 600-year-old tower he had just rather  elegantly leapt from), he did so to the sound of 70,000 roaring fans.

Cliff diving, it seems, has quite a following. Maybe unsurprisingly, given that it is organised by a firm with the global reach of Red Bull. Either way, over the next five months, 14 divers from 13 countries will follow the Red Bull flag, travelling around the globe to leap, clad only in Speedos, from Copenhagen Opera House, a volcanic stone in the Azores, an  Italian castle, a Welsh cliff, a pier in Boston,  an outcrop in Thailand and a cliff in Brazil.

Each of these will be roughly three times the height of an Olympic diving board and competitors are expected to make a series of ballet-like twists and turns as they fall, and are marked for their efforts by five judges. For the two lowest scorers it is a warm shower and a flight home. The rest move on to the next leg of the competition.

Although the Russian is currently topping the leaderboard, the favourites are actually two Brits: former champion Gary Hunt and Olympic diver Blake Aldridge. Both are noted for their panache in the air – something incredibly important, not just because style means points, but also because if you enter the water incorrectly after your three seconds of flight, you’re likely to break your back.

Of course, Red Bull didn’t invent the notion of a person throwing themselves off a cliff and hoping to survive, nor can the company claim to have made it a proper “sport”. It is, in fact, said to have begun as a Hawaiian initiation rite. The former independent chief of the island Kahekili tested his warriors by having them jump after him from his land’s lava cliffs in the 1700s. The site of “Kahekili’s Leap” is now regarded as the sport’s birthplace.

With its mix of medieval danger and high-octane thrill, it is manna from heaven for Red Bull. The company spends a quarter of its annual revenue on marketing ($2.2bn). Most of that goes on events and sport sponsorship – it owns the New York Red Bulls football club outright and a Formula One team, for instance. But it also has a sideline in sponsoring dangerous sports such as freeskiing, ice climbing and snowboard half-piping.

It has, surprisingly for a drink rather than sport brand, mastered the art of spectacle in advertising with aplomb. It provides the cash and infrastructure for people to do high-wire, death-defying stunts while heavily branded in the Red Bull livery. The will-they-survive nature of this reached its peak with Felix Baumgartner’s parachute jump from a “Red Bull” helium balloon 24 miles into the world’s stratosphere.

It is unlikely anyone will be hurt in the next seven rounds, though, as the divers are the crème de la crème of their particularly peculiar sport. Or then again, perhaps Red Bull really does give you wings.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style