The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is upon us – kicking off in Ireland on June 24, 2017 – so we caught up with Aussie cliff diver Rhiannan Iffland, 25, who, against the odds, won the series last year…
So, WTF is cliff-diving?
It’s diving from a platform on a cliff, waterfall or building, 20 to 22m up in the air, into water. We do somersaults and twists before we hit the water. The Series travels the world to various locations, we go to some pretty spectacular locations for it.
You won the Series last year – that came as a surprise, didn't it?
Yes, I came in as a wild card. Then I ended up, at the last competition, fighting for the title and won it. It was pretty crazy, I had the time of my life walking in there not knowing what to expect, and I kept surprising myself as the season went on, from the first dive to the last, the third one.
How did you become a cliff-diver?
I first tried it in 2015. I was a diver, so I was diving from heights of 3m to 10m, and I was also a trampolinist. I was working on cruise ships, performing as an acrobatic diver on board the Royal Caribbean, and there I had friends who were diving from a high platform. I was inspired and said, hey, I’m going to work towards that, I want to be up there, show me how. People fall into cliff-diving (pun intended) in different ways – there are a few divers, a few gymnasts, circus artists, trampolinists. Some people just see the sport and how incredible it is, then think, I want to work for it.
What was it like going from regular to high diving?
It’s a completely different ball game. In terms of your control and the different skills you use, but also mentally, because you’re up there and it feels so much higher and scarier, and you have a lot more thoughts to control. But you don’t just make the jump from 10m to 20m – I went from 10m to 14m, then 16m, then 18m, then 20m, then 22m. You do a single somersault before you do a double somersault. You take it slowly, it’s only smart to do that.
Tell us about your first dive off a cliff…
I was a guest at one of the Red Bull cliff diving competitions and they let me try out the platform. I remember everybody watching me, I looked down and I left, for 20 minutes, then I came back and said, right, it’s time to do it. I just remember hitting the water, remembering that it went OK, everyone was cheering and so encouraging, I just wanted to go back up there and do it again and again. It was an incredible feeling, to overcome that fear and accomplish my first high dive from a cliff. I’d done an 18m dive into a pool during training before that. But when you’re at heights like that, two extra metres does make a difference.
How do you train?
In Australia we don’t have any training facilities, only cliffs that we find. So I do a lot of repetitions from 10m, and a little bit of trampoline. But basically, when I’m in the pool, I break down the high dive into two parts: I train the first half of the dive from either 7m or 10m, then train the second half of the dive from 10m. So that when I get up to 20m, it’s kinda just muscle memory and my body takes over. I often travel to different locations to get those dives in. Last year I just went to Switzerland with some friends and family, and Italy as well. This year I plan Malta for a training trip, it’s really nice where the sport’s taken me.
How do you prepare mentally to jump off a cliff?
Putting the training in, the work and effort prior to competition, plays a big part in my mental preparation. The fact that I love what I do helps mentally. But there’s never a time when I walk up to the platform, look down 22m and think, wow, I feel completely comfortable up here. I have one thing I do every time I walk up onto the platform – I stand up on the platform and take a look around, take a deep breath, take in the atmosphere of where I am, I say to myself, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky, look at what I’m doing, this is just amazing’, and I forget about everything else. I take this little moment to myself. And then it’s just mind on the job and I only think about the task at hand, the dive I have to do.
Is this sport increasing in popularity?
Yeah, there are more and more people viewing it, there’s more and more interested in the sport, that’s really nice to see. Fingers crossed that it’ll become an Olympic sport. It would be really nice to see more facilities to encourage people to get into it. The diving and gymnastics communities in Australia are quite big and significant. But we just have the two of us [Australian cliff-diving females] at the moment – me and Helena Merten. It’s quite an intimidating and scary sport, but hopefully it grows.
Do you have a job on the side?
I’m a bit of a clown, I’m doing some show-diving as well, entertaining. This year I’m going to be doing some shows in a theme park in Leon, doing a bit of Russian swing and some high diving. It’s really fun and a nice way to train. And taking that show mentality up to the competition, it helps with confidence.
What do you do in your downtime?
I live in Lake Macquarie in the off-season, it’s where I grew up and I’ll always call it home. I’m really keen on anything to do with the ocean, I spend a lot of time surfing, I love scuba diving, and also family time. I have four nephews and a niece, so when I’m not training you’ll find me with my family or at the beach or around the ocean.