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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Implementation Consultant

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Recruitment Genius: Service Desk Co-ordinator / Client Services Administrator

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Warehouse Assistant

£14807 - £15470 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manufacturer and supplier ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Security Consultant (CREST/CHECK/OSCP)

£45000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Security Consu...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks