I believe I can fly

Durdle Door, Hříměždice, Treyarnon Bay… Owen Weymouth’s Instagram feed, other than inducing serious wanderlust, also serves as a geography class of sorts, introducing followers to unheard-of locales. Every other post has exotic locations, made even more appealing, accompanied by photographs of him leaping off treacherous cliffs. Weymouth is a cliff diver based in Plymouth, United Kingdom. “I currently hold World High Diving Federation titles of European Champion 2016 and Greek International Open 2017. I am also the youngest male diver in the Red Bull Cliff Diving world series, and I am part of the Great Britain senior men’s team for high diving,” says the 18-year-old.

His profession takes him places — 40 cities as of now, and counting. From Wadi Shab of Oman in the middle of the desert and The Azores Islands in the middle of the Atlantic, to Chile and bustling cities such as Copenhagen, La Rochelle and Boston, his passport is full. Other than the opportunity to discover new places, what appeals to Weymouth about the sport is “the personal challenge of the discipline. In traditional diving, there is a limit to what divers can do. The maximum drop is 10 metres and therefore some manoeuvres become impossible, whereas in cliff diving we have 27 metres and the complexity of skills and possibilities become greater with increased airtime,” says Weymouth. What keeps him going is the feeling of overcoming a great challenge. “After completing a successful dive, your body is already pumping with adrenaline and when you know you are safe in the water the feeling is truly euphoric,” he adds.

Weymouth was initially into springboard and platform diving. In 2010, on a family holiday in Mallorca, Spain, he tried his first cliff dive. “The worst part is the way you feel just before the dive. In such a dangerous discipline, it is natural to doubt your ability, and you will be scared of a bad landing that can cause extreme injury. I do breathing exercises and mental visualisation of dives in order to relax. Before I leap I try to forget about my surroundings and turn my brain on autopilot.” Weymouth’s most dangerous dive happened in Croatia, where along with fellow cliff diver Ellie Smart, he set up The Clean Cliffs Project. They make short films about plastic pollution that’s affecting the seas and the oceans. Through these videos, they inspire people to take action. “We were on a boat discovering the Croatian Islands for our first project, and we came to a beautiful horseshoe-shaped cliff made of limestone. There was one take-off point which looked amazing, and we measured it to be 32 metres, which is an extra five metres on top of the professional competition height of 27 metres. The impact is so much stronger and therefore dangerous. I hit the water at roughly 63-65mph. Even with my perfectly vertical entry into the water, the impact felt like a huge car crash,” he narrates.

The sport, though fraught with danger, provides an adrenaline high. It’s perhaps the feeling of letting go and feeling like a bird, that adds to the appeal. Despite being an extreme sport, cliff diving is attracting a lot of interest. Places such as Buza Bar in Dubrovnik, Kamari Beach (Santorini), Ao Tanot Bay (Koh Tao) among others, get tourists who come with the intention of diving off intimidating cliffs into the cool blue waters. “Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative press because some divers do not take the safety precautions necessary and injuries and fatalities do happen,” says Weymouth, and adds, “For anybody who wants to dive, follow these vital steps. Check the depth of the water; it should be at least four metres deep. Make sure your friends are in the water ready to help you out in case of an injury. And when it comes to height, the most important point is to gradually work your way up. It is extremely dangerous to jump from higher than 40 feet if you have no previous experience. Bad landings can cause serious injuries from greater heights, so be sensible and don’t make a decision that you will regret.”

The diver is pleased that even professionally, the sport is becoming bigger. Since the Red Bull Cliff Diving Series started in 2009, the standard of diving has increased dramatically, he says. “The divers are now performing tricks which would have been considered impossible 10-15 years ago. Since 2013, it has also become a professional sport for women. I earned around £5,000 in 2017, my first year of professional cliff diving. However, the full series divers earn around £15,000-£30,000 in prize money, with the very top guys making up to £50-60K. It is not much compared to the elite athletes of other sports, but as publicity and popularity increases, I can only imagine prize money increasing in the future,” says Weymouth.

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