The first record of Cliff Jumping dates back to 1770 on the Hawaiian Island of Lana’i. The brave warrior, King Kahekili would stand in judgment as his men leapt from a 70’ cliff on the south side of the island. The amount of splash or “Lele Kawa” was their form of a scoring system. Not only would the Lele Kawa impress the King, but it also won the eyes of the women in the community. As the King’s warriors jumping skills developed, competition formed among the men. The evolution from tribal jumping to today’s Freestyle Cliff Jumping has been an interesting and intense journey. This is the history of Freestyle Cliff Jumping.
Socially, jumping into water was made popular by gymnasts during the mid-1800s. They realized water made for a much softer landing than the traditional mats they had been using. As acrobatic maneuvers were added to their jumps or “dives” the athletes realized the potential for a brand new sport. Like a lot of other competitive activities during this Late Modern Period, the sports of High Diving and Springboard began to take shape.
High Diving’s official inception was heavily driven by the gymnasts of the late 1800s. It was at this time, rules and regulations began to develop. They built platforms and springboards at exact heights and implemented a scoring system. A panel of judges would score each dive based on the precision of which it was performed. High Diving made its official debut in the Olympics of 1904 due to the growth in athletic skills and popularity in the late 19th century.
In 1908, the International Swimming Federation, better known as FINA, was created, and they established the Degree Of Difficulty Table. The Degree Of Difficulty Table was and still is the standard table for judging the difficulty of dives. It’s based on a five-part formula incorporating height, number of somersaults and twists, positioning, approach, and entry. Belgrade hosted the first FINA World Championships in 1973. FINA’s authority in the diving world remains a constant today.
Over the next decades, High Diving in outdoor locations became more popular and led to the founding of The World High Diving Federation (WHDF) in Switzerland in 1996. The WHDF revamped the Degree Of Difficulty Chart and created outdoor events- The Cliff Diving World Championships. The competitions sparked huge growth in the sport. The championships held in Switzerland were the biggest Cliff Diving competitions in the world and brought out the absolute best athletes.
Today, when you hear the words Cliff Diving, you think of Red Bull Cliff Diving. Red Bull originally became involved with the Cliff Diving World Championships in 2007 as a sponsor to the Swiss event. They soon seized an opportunity to make their own competitions we all know today as The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Red Bull Cliff Diving made its debut in 2009 and quickly overtook social media with incredible footage of the most extreme cliff divers in one-of-a-kind, exotic locations. Their events draw in upwards of 70,000 people and have become vacation destinations.
At this time, Olympic Diving and Professional Cliff Diving were being highlighted by television and news media. Concurrently, an underground community of Freestyle Cliff Jumpers was evolving deep in the woods. Adrenaline seekers were sending themselves from cliffs, bridges, and pretty much any structures they could find over deep water. In the late ’90s, Cliff Jumping videos began to appear online; generally, the footage was as raw as the VHS devices they were recorded on.
The development of the GoPro Camera in 2002 made it possible to record the experience of cliff jumping and relive it over and over. With affordable cameras and the ability to post videos for free on social media, there was a large growth of adventure athletes who started getting involved in the underground sport.
The Emergence Of Freestyle Cliff Jumping
By 2013, the sport of Freestyle Cliff Jumping had emerged. The reality soon set in that there was a community of people who share this same passion all over the world. State by state, province by province cliff jumping crews appeared from their local swimming holes wielding prized shots of their biggest and best jumps. The ability to connect on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram gave the community a chance to find each other and come out of the shadows, breaking into the social spotlight.
Freestyle Cliff Jumping crews took form all over the world in the 2010s. Just like most sports, the athletes drove the progress. As one person broke a new feat and shared it, the next person would bring it one step further. Circa 2015, several athletes stepped up sending triple and quad flips from heights over 100 feet. It has to be said that these individual talents drove the sport to become a viral sensation. There is no denying some of the tricks thrown during the 15’-16’ season put Freestyle Cliff Jumping on the social media map as an extreme sport on the rise. More athletes discovered the sport as an unrestrained form of self-expression. Freestyle Cliff Jumping allowed personal freedom from the binds of most competitive sports.
What makes the Freestyle Cliff Jumping community so unique is that the athletes come from all different walks of life accompanied by an array of skills from multiple sports. People may have zero sports training and find they are naturally good at cliff jumping while others have to train a great deal to achieve better air awareness. Air Awareness is the ability to be calm and to see clearly as your body flies through the air. The better the jumper’s air awareness, the better chance they have of performing the exact movements needed to land cleanly.
Each jumper has their own skills and natural Cliffstyle stemming from their personal background. As vast amounts of athletes come together with the sport of Freestyle Cliff Jumping, our waterways are becoming a melting pot of talent and passion. This community as a whole is like no other in that they all share their jumping techniques freely and help each other grow. Everyone is worried about the next person’s safety which leads to a wealth of shared information.
Chelsey Kuhn or @chels_kuhn on Instagram is one of the most well known female Freestyle Cliff Jumpers. She competed in tumbling, cheerleading, and gymnastics from the age of 4 into her 20’s. Chelsey explains, “My background in tumbling has made me the freestyle jumper I am today. I often refer to my set positions and my twist and somersault training while I am on the cliffs. Without those crucial practices when I was a child and young adult, I’m not sure I’d be able to perform as I do.” Chelsey’s years of acrobatic experience come through in a stunning, visual way to any spectator lucky enough to see her send it.
Many jumpers have a gymnastics background while others pull from a variety of sports’ skills. Jon Faye from Burlington, Vermont started skiing at age 4 and developed into an all-around extreme athlete. When asked about his various sports’ training, he said, “I apply rock climbing, skiing, skydiving, and tunnel flight to my cliff jumping. I believe cross training between extreme sports promotes rapid progression.” Faye’s defined jumping style expresses his athletic technique and control. He incorporates his fluid skiing and skydiving moves to accomplish a mesmerizing Cliffstyle. With his well-rounded athletic background, he is able to combine incredible body movements to comfortably descend through the air. Be sure to follow him on Instagram @Faayeded.
TJ Angus hails from Massachusetts. He has a deep snowboarding background which truly shows in his Cliffstyle. When asked about his training, he said, “My snowboarding background has a gross impact on my freestyle cliff jumping. I grew up riding slopestyle, rail jams, and big air competitions. The air awareness I gained from being involved in these activities through my youth has pushed my freestyle cliff jumping as an adult to awesome levels. It’s liberating to be able to fly through the air with nothing attached to my feet. Honestly, jumping into water is way less scary than landing on a sheet of hard snow after a 60’ gap. Also, I find it easier to maintain the calm in my mind while cliff jumping.” TJ’s outlook shows the transcendence of his trained sports abilities from youth to adulthood. Follow his crazy antics on Instagram @EastCoast_Wolf.
He goes on to say, “Snowboarding has helped a lot with my creative outlook on freestyle cliff jumping. There’s an essence to my jumping that’s reminiscent of my snowboarding. I can feel my snowboarding style while I’m tucking, arching, or grabbing in the air. I am always in tune with the skills I have developed from snowboarding.” TJ’s hype while Freestyle Cliff Jumping is a contact high for anyone he is around. With a focus on safety and positive energy, he has a way of making everyone around him perform to the best of their ability.
Freestyle Jumpers are not the only ones sending themselves from cliffs, structures, waterfalls, and ropes. Professional Cliff Divers often spend their time on the cliffs with Freestyle Cliff Jumpers; they are considered “crossover jumpers”. Their style is obviously trained and different than the unrestrained flow of a Freestyle Jumper. Cliff Divers are an incredible inspiration to the community as a whole. They are always searching for adventure at new cliffs and love teaching their techniques to Freestyle Jumpers.
Freestyle Cliff Jumping Vs. Cliff Diving
Understand, the difference between Cliff Diving and Freestyle Cliff Jumping begins with flow and originality. While Cliff Diving is judged on five criteria, Freestyle Cliff Jumping is “judged” by the jumpers flow and style.
As of 2019, Freestyle Cliff Jumping isn’t judged by anyone other than peer jumpers and the athlete who’s jumping. It is not a recognized sport… YET. Frankly, a Freestyle Cliff Jumper has the freedom to be a badass, throwing tricks with their own variations or “steeze” on them. Freestyle Jumpers can look like they are defying gravity. They stall out during odd parts of their rotation or even give two defiant fingers to the camera as they fall backward away from the cliffs. The Freestyle Cliff Jumper is purposely trying to create a Cliffstyle, an original and unique look from their free-flowing movements.
The Cliff Divers look is exact in form and technique. It’s a much more rigid structure than a Freestyle Jumper. Cliff Divers are trained to keep perfect form and have great difficulty getting away from that mentally. Cliff Divers normally dive from platforms built into the sides of cliffs. There are no platforms in Freestyle Jumping, and there are often gaps to clear. A Freestyle “Jump” would not score well on the established FINA table, but… it may be just as difficult as a “Dive” that would score well. Both types of jumpers hone their air awareness and skills on and off the cliffs with much effort and pride, but the difference in style is indisputable.
Having air awareness and skill is only part of it. You need to have full awareness of your surroundings; the depths of the water, the bottom of the pool, the height of the cliffs, the security of the take-off point, the extra safety people in the water, the safety of the trail, and a whole list of pre-jump safety rules. Having awareness while Freestyle Cliff Jumping is of the utmost importance. This sport cannot be taken lightly. Knowing the surroundings and paying attention to every possible danger will save lives.
The idea of jumping into water has and will constantly progress; who knows what’s next. I do know that today’s Freestyle Cliff Jumpers embody the spirit of the tribal Hawaiian warriors leaping from the giant tropical cliffs into the ocean all those years ago. They jump to gain each other’s respect and maybe even win over a girl or two. They jump to experience freedom only achieved by having strong mental and physical awareness of themselves and the space around them. To a Freestyle Cliff Jumper, those moments of clarity in the air are some of the most freeing moments of their lives. Memories that will never fade. True happiness.
the community shares a passion for cleaning the environment. Some leaders have stepped-up and formed organizations to get people educated about environmental protection.
Big Swings App (an international swimming guide) started the hashtag #KeepItClean in 2014 and founded the Adopt-A-Spot Program in 2015. Adopt-A-Spot allows people all over the world to sign-up to adopt their local swimming hole. Volunteers have collected tens of thousands of pounds of trash since its inception. Here is a FREE DOWNLOAD of the Big Swings App.
Ellie Smart founded the #CleanCliffsProject in 2017, and they are making a huge push in environmental awareness with adventure athletes of all ages. The #CleanCliffsProject has a core group that’s made up of some of the best Professional Cliff Divers in the world. They spend much of their free time educating the public on how and why it’s important to #KeepItClean. Their actions reach worldwide and have a great impact on our Earth. Follow the links provided above to find out more.
With more groups popping up in the community, people are being educated on pollution in and around our rivers and streams more than ever. Be part of the cleaning revolution by checking out the organizations above.