Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series Invades Boston Harbor

Brit Gary Hunt (center) won the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series even in Boston this weekend.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

To paraphrase your mother, if your friends all jumped off an art museum into Boston Harbor, would you jump in with them?

Red Bull champion diver Gary Hunt and his competitor buddies did just that this weekend as the Cliff Diving World Series came to Boston.

The Red Bull tour is the world’s leading (very) high diving professional tour. It runs throughout Europe from France to Norway, Portugal to Ireland – before jumping across the ocean to Boston.

Having just covered the London Olympics, I had a chance to watch the high platform dives during competition. As challenging and potentially dangerous as those are (just ask the back of four-time Gold Medalist Greg Louganis’ skull), those Summer Games dives pale in comparison to Cliff Diving.

I climbed the platform and gave a dive a try to see what it was like.

No, of course I didn’t. Are you out of your mind? Just look at the photo series below.

While Olympic dives top out at 10 meters, the Red Bull jumpers manage a controlled plunge from 93 feet. After all the tucking, spinning and summersaulting, they reach speeds of 60 mph as they hit the water and plunge 15 feet below the surface. Divers must land feet first to avoid crushing their skulls. Even then, many of the sport ankle and knee braces from previous injuries.

Try getting a car up to 60 mph, and slamming on the brakes. You’re not likely to stop in 15 feet. And you don’t have to worry about the impact of sea water as you do.

While many stops on the tour feature dives from naturally occurring “platforms” (i.e., the sort of actual cliffs that gave the sport its name), Red Bull constructs a professional dive platform high above the sea. This weekend, the platform was installed atop Boston’s seaside Institute of Contemporary Art. Not only did it take guts for the Red Bull divers to plummet that 93 feet, it was no small feat of courage to jump into Boston Harbor. It was polluted by colonists during the Boston Tea Party, and it’s been getting progressively dirtier ever since.

The tournament runs like many Olympic events. After practice and compulsory rounds, the divers are scored by a set of judges on the degree of difficult of their individual dives. On this round, Louganis himself was on hand to score the young daredevils.

By the semifinals, the four divers remaining unpack their most complex and dangerous dives – often springing from the platform via handstand, headfirst before tucking and spinning to their final position.

For the second year in a row, defending tour champion Gary Hunt of Great Britain took home the first place prize. Though he was a Brit competing in the cradle of the American Revolution, the crowd embraced him without reservation.

“The crowd is just great,” Hunt said. “They make me feel absolutely welcome. I love diving here.”

“On this tour, we can dive in some pretty remote places, so big crowds can’t get to us. Boston brought us the best crowd of the entire tour.”