How Cliff Divers Deal With Nerves And Defy Pain

How cliff divers deal with nerves and defy pain

The world’s premier cliff divers wowed the crowds in the City of Sails over the weekend, as did the timepieces adorning their wrists.

TWENTY-SEVEN METRES. That’s the height of an eight-storey building. It’s also the height of the diving platform in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which dominates the sky over Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, where I’m currently watching competitors plunge into the water after executing some of the most incredible, death-defying acrobatics you could ever hope to see.

It’s one thing to leap from this preposterous height. It’s quite another to enter the water safely—a feat made all the more difficult when rotating up to five times in mid-air. Pain is inevitable, a result of the dizzying amount of airtime, which sees divers reach high-velocity speeds when they hit the water. But according to Aidan Heslop, a British diver who finished second in the 2022 World Series, most of the pain comes after. “Usually you have so much adrenaline that you don’t even feel anything on the impact,” says Heslop. “I took that last dive to chin a little, but I didn’t feel anything, it might hurt more tomorrow morning.”

At just 21 years old, Heslop is already one of the world’s foremost cliff divers. After finishing the 2022 season in second place overall, Heslop found himself in a similar position this time around and came into Auckland with a shot at the King Kahekili trophy. Ultimately, a fourth-place finish wasn’t enough to propel him higher up the leaderboard, but with a second consecutive top-two World Series finish under his belt, Heslop is looking on the bright side. “I didn’t get what I was looking for today, but when you take a step back and look at the grand scheme of things, second in the world is pretty incredible,” he says.

Heslop has been cliff diving since he was 12 years old. He’s been a part of the sport for so long that the whole process feels natural, but he’s not oblivious to nerves, although he does have a fairly simple fix. “What I try to focus on is the small things. There’s no real nervous energy because I’m just so focused on nailing every part of the jump,” Heslop says.

More than 40,000 spectators witnessed the pivotal two-day cliff diving event—which decided the final standings of the 2023 World Series. Ultimately, it was Romanian Constantin Popovici who emerged victorious in the men’s division, with his impressive season culminating in a near-perfect dive that secured his maiden World Series title and King Kahekili trophy.

Elsewhere, Australian Rhiannan Iffland proved why she’s the most decorated female diver of all time. Iffland dominated the proceedings in Auckland, leading the pack from start to finish and expanding on her legacy with a record-extending seventh King Kahekili trophy. Iffland’s compatriot Xantheia Pennisi capped off a career-best year with a second-place finish, holding firm at third overall to finish the season.

 

The death-defying displays of skill, courage and various other athletic superlatives weren’t the only sights to behold in Auckland. Each podium-finishing athlete was awarded with a refined timepiece from Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Mido, the event’s official performance partner.

Heslop is one admirer of Mido’s craftsmanship. “I love Mido watches,” says Heslop, a devotee of Mido’s horological philosophy. “I really admire their precision and attention to detail. In high diving, we have to be super precise or it could mean a trip to the hospital. So really, me and Mido have a lot in common,” adds Heslop, whose wristwear of choice is a timepiece from Mido’s Ocean Star collection. “Plus, the watches are beautiful, so who can complain?”

Notably, this was the first time the World Series has been staged in New Zealand, a country with an undeniably rich sporting pedigree. As the home of the world’s most formidable rugby team in the All Blacks, a cricket team consistently challenging for trophies, and a storied Olympic history, our Antipodean neighbours have a sports obsession to rival our own. Yet, when it comes to international sporting events, New Zealand’s largest cities seldom get the chance to play host—which is a shame, because scenic coastal cities like Auckland have the ideal infrastructure and requisite natural beauty to provide the perfect backdrop for such occasions. All that means, however, is that when major events do come to town, Auckland rarely disappoints.

Over the weekend, Wynyard Quarter—a waterfront precinct where a sprawling cityscape meets the imperturbable Waitematā Harbour, was transformed for the event, with the construction of several lively Red Bull activation zones, and of course, the mighty 27-metre-tall diving tower. Local Māori artist Graham Tipene is responsible for the tower’s exterior design, which was inspired by the native Kawau bird. Fittingly, Kawau are natural hunters and can be seen across Waitematā Harbour diving for prey.

For Heslop, the World Series’ Auckland sojourn is nothing short of a resounding success. “It’s been amazing, this has definitely been one of my favourite stops on the tour and the whole city has done a great job of hosting us,” Heslop says. “Hopefully there’ll be some events here in the future and I can get another chance at leaving here with a win.”

With the conclusion of the Red Bull’s 2023 Cliff Diving World Series, the next season’s schedule is currently a blank slate. There are no existing plans for the World Series to return to Auckland, but given the event’s popularity over the weekend, and the city’s excellent job of hosting it, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see cliff diving’s high-flying antics—and Mido’s finely crafted watches—return to New Zealand soon.

 

INSTAGRAM | @aidan_heslop

 

Related:

Professional cliff diver Jonathan Paredes on overcoming fear after injury

Which size watch should you be wearing

Cayle Reid

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything health and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or waking up early to watch sports in incompatible time zones.

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