x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships near climax in Oman

The birth of cliff diving is credited to King Kahekili of Hawaii, who jumped from a 19-metre cliff on Lanai island in 1770 and demanded his warriors follow him as a test of mettle.

It's a long way up to the platform 27 metres above the narrow canyon, but a short trip down for competitors. Antonie Robertson / The National
It's a long way up to the platform 27 metres above the narrow canyon, but a short trip down for competitors. Antonie Robertson / The National

For more fantastic pictures from Oman visit our photography blog National View

It is certainly the earliest extreme sport and one of the most dangerous. Imagine standing on the edge of an eight-storey building and then stepping off.

At that height, even the water that breaks the fall of a cliff diver can break bones, or worse. Joey Zuber, a former champion diver, shattered a leg in one jump and then nearly died from complications.

As he explains it: “If you look at Olympic diving, the top platform is 10 metres. They dive head first but here this is 27 metres, almost three times the height of an Olympic high board so landing head first here is not an option.

“By the time the athlete hits the water they are travelling at, say, 85 kilometres per hour, and hitting water at that speed is like hitting concrete, it’s not soft at all.”

Fortunately, there were no injuries for the final round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships this weekend, held in amid the stunning rock formations of Oman’s Wadi Shab.

Divers plunged into the narrow canyon, seeking to gain the most points with a series of twists and turns, but making sure they hit the water feet first to avoid injuries to their neck and shoulders.

This year’s event travelled across the world, with contests in Australia, Norway and Ukraine.

Other venues have included the remains of an extinct volcano in the Azores and a blowhole called the “Serpent’s Lair” in Ireland.

And while the fresh waters of Wadi Shab were a pleasantly cool 25°C, at the Blue Lagoon in Wales earlier in September, they were a decidedly nippy 18°C.

The birth of cliff diving is credited to King Kahekili of Hawaii, who jumped from a 19-metre cliff on Lanai island in 1770 and demanded his warriors follow him as a test of mettle.

Cliff diving became popular as a television sport in the United States in the 1950s, with International Cliff Diving Championship competitions in Acapulco, Mexico. The current world record is held by Olivier Favre, a Swiss stuntman who plunged 54 metres into a French lake last November and nearly broke his back.

The sport fell out of fashion in recent decades but has now been revived with the Red Bull tour.

The Oman leg saw Britain’s Gary Hunt crowned champion for this year, with a triple quad dive of backwards twisting somersaults that has become his trademark, and earned the highest points for degree of difficulty.

Hunt is regarded as the most daring of the his generation of cliff divers, but says even he cannot train at 27 metres “because you would pick up too many injuries”.

He adds: “So a lot of our training is actually mental training. We have to go over the dives hundreds and hundreds of times in our head so that it’s like we’ve done it.”

And while the divers on the tour are fiercely competitive, Hunt says: “Firstly we just want everyone to get through the competition in one piece.”

For more fantastic pictures from Oman visit our photography blog National View