Except for the breeze fluttering through your hair, the world is silent. Behind you is the brown plateau of dirt, in front, the blue horizon. You walk forward and cautiously step down onto the rocky ledge only to be greeted by the explosive sound of breaking tide. You peer 90 feet down into the blue ocean, surveying the crags lining the cliff wall and the rocks jutting out through the surface of the swirling ocean. Despite your instincts, you fight from fleeing and do a last-minute check on your only safety equipment, a contour-hugging Speedo. Eat your heart out, Wonder Woman.
You take a deep breath and focus at the task at hand. Nine stories up, the world goes silent again. You take one more breath and jump. Three seconds and numerous twists and spins that make a double-jointed Vegas stripper look amateur later, you hit the water, leaving only the tiniest of splashes. What most of us would only consider doing under duress cornered by irate coca farmers armed with AK-47s and machetes, Orlando Duque calls practice. His art? Cliff diving.
Coming off a brilliant victory at the first round of 2011 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in Rapa Nui – more commonly known as Easter Island, 2,180 miles west off the coast of Chile – nine-time world champion cliff diver and two Guinness world records holder Orlando Duque reveals his near brush with the horrible tsunami, hitting the water at 55 mph, his greatest fear and why cliff diving is three times the sport of Olympic high diving.
Orlando Duque in Rapa Nui
Orlando Duque Q&A
How do you prepare for a competition?
This was the first competition of this season, but I’ve been training since the end of the last which was 6-7 months ago. To do what we do, there is no down time. You have to continuously train – running, biking, strength building – or you will not be ready. Combined with the physical aspect, when it comes time for an event, I start to prepare myself mentally by visualizing the dive.
Did the Tsunami warning from the Japanese quake have any affect, mental or physical?
Not too much. Practice was scheduled for Friday but the tsunami warning hit and we were all evacuated from our hotel. We first were sent up to a volcano, the highest point on the island, and later back down to the airport. Once the threat cleared, they rescheduled the practice to Saturday, right before the actual competition. My normal preparation wasn’t there but I was able to clear my mind and reset myself.
Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, uses a natural venue using rocks versus an urban venue with a diving platform, which do you prefer?
It’s nice to be far away from everything like on Rapa Nui and to be in nature. There aren’t as many people as in an urban environment and the setting is calm, allowing us to concentrate on the dive. In an urban environment, it’s the opposite, but I enjoy the bustle and the people. Each venue is very different but I take the best from each and I really enjoy both.
We hit the water at about 55 mph and so the impact is hard. It’s like hitting concrete.
What are some of the risks to cliff diving?
We hit the water at about 55 mph and so the impact is hard. It’s like hitting concrete. When you’re in a good position, it hurts just a little. When you’re slightly off, over or under rotated, it hurts a lot. Divers have suffered from twisted knees, torn ligaments, separated pelvises and broken bones.
What’s the worse injury you ever suffered?
Nothing too serious, just a bunch of small injuries: a broken tailbone in 2002 and bruised ribs with hairline fractures.
We read that the impact of hitting the water registers a force up to 3 Gs, how do you last multiple jumps?
On competition day, unless you land really off, you’re so pumped up that you don’t feel it immediately. But as you start to calm down, you start to really feel it. My legs, lower back, neck, and ribs are still sore from last weekend’s competition.
Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2011 Preview
Ouch. What was your most difficult dive this last event?
My third dive, the back triple with three twists.
Is there a trick you’re working on next?
I’ve completed the last dive with an extra twist – a back triple with four twists – but not in competition. Landing that would be my next goal. I’m also working on a reverse double with five twists.
What goes through your mind during a jump?
After I jump off the platform, if everything goes well, I’m running through my planned dive until I hit the water. If something goes wrong, that’s when I need to start thinking and make quick corrections. All of this happens in about 2.5 seconds.
Your greatest fear?
As you raise the difficulty of a dive, the flips and twists get tricky in the air and you can lose your orientation, which is really bad. When you don’t know where the water is, it can result in a really bad crash. I hate that.
When you don’t know where the water is, it can result in a really bad crash. I hate that.
What’s the tallest height you’ve ever jumped from?
I jumped from about 115 feet in Italy, near Naples. I was filming 9 DIVES, a documentary about cliff diving and myself, and it was the highest of the nine dives.
How would you differentiate high diving from cliff diving?
Everything falls under high diving. Cliff diving is when you’re doing it in nature.
Any thoughts on Gold-medal Olympic diver, Greg Louganis added as one of the judges for the season?
I’m really excited. He was the person I looked up to when I first started diving. I’m really happy that he can join us, and as a diver, I never thought I would have the opportunity to jump in front of him.
Any plans on competing in the Olympics and going for a Gold yourself?
Not really. I’ve been training in a different manner for far too long. In the Olympics, they dive about 33 feet and land head first. The average cliff diving height is almost three times that at around 90 feet and we have to land feet first. I started off diving head first, but now I’ve been training and competing for years landing feet first and it would be hard to go back.
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