The edge of reason: Red Bull Cliff Diving comes to Inis Mór

The edge of reason: Red Bull Cliff Diving comes to Inis Mór

Words:

Roisin Finlay

Photos:

Roisin Finlay

Tags:

Cliff-diving, "Inis Mór", Ireland, "Poll na Peist", "Red Bull", "Red Bull cliff-diving", "the serpent’s lair"

Like some strange pilgrimage, crowds of people tramp through the vividly green fields and amidst the stone walls of Inis Mór. We are making our way to the site of the fourth round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012.


Seeing the diving platform looming on the cliffs against a backdrop of pregnant black clouds, ‘epic’ – a word that is so often overused – for once seems appropriate. 
 
Twenty-seven metres below, a near perfect 15x10m rectangular pool is carved deep into the rock, its walls sheer. Beyond, the Atlantic is relatively calm for once, protected from the wind by the cliffs. Even still though, swells are pushed through and sucked back – alternately hissing and clunking – via the under-rock channel that connects this wild arena to the vagaries of the open ocean. But on rough days, waves flood this pool. It’s hard to imagine that this perfect rectangle is not manmade – even by some ancient people, maybe those same folk who crafted Dun Aengus further up these magnificent cliffs. In fact though, it is a masterpiece created from the interaction of the Atlantic with the region’s limestone rock.
 
Called ‘Poll na Peist’ locally, which roughly means ‘the worm hole’, Red Bull has indulged in a bit of poetic license to translate it to ‘the serpent’s lair’ for this diving competition. In fairness though, you can see how someone’s imagination might have run riot as they tried to fathom the terrifying feats to be performed here by what must be superhuman athletes. There are only about three or four dozen people in the world that dive from such heights and 14 of them are gathered here for this competition.
 
As for the mere mortals, we jostle for position as we wait to watch the practice round. Even the appearance of the divers on the platform, with their tiny togs and buff bodies, elicits gasps as they peer down in preparation for their dives. 
 
As the first diver lines up, silence descends and breaths are held. We watch as he makes weird motions, bending and twisting on the high platform. Later we hear that he is going through the motions and physically imagining the movements his body will make during his descent. The only sounds are single voices in the crowd and the sloshing of the ocean. The only tangible movement is of the sub-aqua team in the pool splashing the water so that the divers can identify how close its surface is as they plummet.

Explosive 
 
With a collective sharp intake of breath, he’s off, twisting and tumbling tightly. And in a moment it’s over with the spine-tingling sound of a diver hitting the water at a speed of between 85 and 90km an hour. It’s a sound like no other I’ve heard – like a contained echoing explosion in the deep pool. 
 
To put it in perspective, the highest dive in the Olympics is 10m, and that is in a controlled environment with no wind and water warmed to a temperature of not less than 26°C. Here a stiff wind blows on the top of the cliff and the water is a chilly 15°C. And while we are relatively blessed with the weather in this most fickle of Irish summers, heavy showers do blow occasionally through and lash the divers – who for obvious reasons prefer a calm dry environment. 
With a collective sharp intake of breath, he’s off, twisting and tumbling tightly.

In between dives and gasps and moments of nausea, we are educated by the event compere. We learn that although the divers are highly unlikely to bellyflop as they are so well trained, if they do it will be the equivalent of hitting concrete from 13m. We also learn that they are exposed to 2.3Gs of physical force as they dive and the highest risk of injury is at the point of entry into the water – when parts of the body are exposed to absolute deceleration while others (above the surface) are still travelling at full speed. At this point the divers must be as rigid as possible to minimise damage and they must actively dive away when they hit the water to avoid compression or contortion due to the hardness of the water. 
 
One of the more surprising facts is that due to acceleration, the extra height affords the divers almost no extra time for their manoeuvres. Which may explain why it’s so hard to take in the complexity of their twists and turns before they hit the water. In fact, it all happens so fast – in approximately three seconds – that it’s hard to fully fathom their skills and the differences in standards between them.

Heebie jeebies
 
But what finally does allow the spectators – or this one anyway – to in some way stand in the shoes of a diver is when during the practice round Mexican Jorge Ferzuli stands on the edge and hesitates – then steps away from his dive. Ferzuli looks over again and retreats once more. I instantly flashing back to some teenage moment standing on the edge of a pier trying to jump. I really feel for Ferzuli when after several attempts declines his practice. 
 
Ferzuli does however eventually dive in the competition round and it is not a pretty picture. His is the only dive where a tightly controlled tumble unravels momentarily into the terrifying spectacle of a body plummeting with legs and arms flailing. But his loss of control is incredibly brief. He regains control for his water entry and emerges shaken but seemingly unharmed. 
 
Artem Silchenko, a 28-year-old Russian has no such problems however. He nails his back armstand with a blind entry and receives an ovation from his fellow divers, the astonishment of the crowd of Irish spectators and the universal approval of the judges. Silchenko places first while nine-time world champion Orlando Duque (Colombia) places second and Steven LoBue (USA) comes third. Although who wins is largely irrelevant to the audience who are simply mesmerised by this seemingly superhuman spectacle in an ethereal arena. 
 
This article first ran in the Sunday Business Post.
 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Most Read

The edge of reason: Red Bull Cliff Diving comes to Inis Mór

Like some strange pilgrimage, crowds of people tramp through the vividly green fields and amidst the stone walls of Inis Mór. We are making our way to the site of the fourth round of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012.

Read More...

SHOW SIDEBAR

HIDE SIDEBAR