Words – Rachel Verity
Images – Red Bull Content Pool
For those that know little to nothing about cliff diving, then think Olympic diving but with a rather extreme twist. While most diving takes place on a 3 or 10 metre board, cliff diving throws everything else out the park and claims a massive 27 meter high launching pad! This insane distance gives the divers a hell of a lot of space to play with before they hit the water at a hurtling speed, so you can see where that extreme element comes in. With the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series just finished we thought we’d catch up with now 2x world series winner Gary Hunt – judging by how tricky it was to track him down, this guy is hot property at the moment!
Going back to the beginning, how did you get into cliff diving in the first place?
First off I was a swimmer and I used to watch the divers in the other pool and I thought that they looked like they were having more fun so I changed over to diving when I was about nine and then just gradually got used to it and went higher and higher. After I got used to diving from the 10 metre board I got a bit lucky, I was at the European Championships and after that event I had a month off and while I was there my coach got a call from an ex diver saying that they needed a diver for one month to do a diving show in Italy. My coach came to me because he knew that I was a diver that liked to play around with different weird moves and stuff and so I jumped at the chance and did that show for a month where I could go up to 18 metres and I met an Australian cliff diver Steve Black who acted as my coach, like when the theme park closed I would train and he would give me tips and he saw that I was learning very fast so he said that he would put me down for competitions the following year, which was in 2007.
Did you think that you would stay in normal Olympic diving or did you always have a head for the more extreme dives?
That was the goal at the start. I was training with the other divers towards the Olympics but I used to watch the cliff diving on TV with my friend and I always used to think it would be really cool to do that, but I didn’t really know how to get into it. It didn’t seem that there was a clear path to make the transition, I just kept on going and kept on training towards the olympics, but then just got lucky and happened to do a show with a cliff diver.
As a cliff diver is there a strict training regime that you have to stick to?
We don’t really have a coach for cliff diving, we’re coached right the way up through our diving career but then when you go to cliff diving competitions you have to just be self motivated. There’s not one person that’s telling you that you need to train this dive this many times, you just have to decide for yourself what you need to do and what direction you need to go in, and so it’s just a matter of being on the ball and staying motivated.
Is there a UK scene that you dive with to keep you motivated?
At the moment I’m living mostly in France, I do a show from April until November in France and so when I train it’s mostly in Paris. When I train it’s only from the 10 metre board – the only time I ever do 27 metres is at a competition. The dives I do in competition I actually split them up into two and train them both individually from the 10 metre, when I go to the competition I put the two together.
How do you go about creating and practising new dives?
It’s kind of a natural progression, when you’re training for the 10 metre diving you do all the different groups – the forward, backward, inward, reverse and the twists and arm stands, and so you learn what are your strong points. It’s just a matter of finding what you do best and pushing those groups into the most difficult combinations of summersaults and twists as possible. When you get comfortable with a dive you think would it be easier to add a summersault or would it be easier to add a twist and things like that. It’s just about deciding what dive is best for you.
I’ve read recently that you were the first high diver to introduce the running take off. What inspired you to make that decision?
That was actually an idea of my best friend who was actually killed in a car accident years ago and it was with him, Gavin Brown, that I used to watch high diving videos. We used to talk about the possibility of us joining the sport and he always used to say I want to be the first person to introduce the running take off, and so after I got into the sport that was always on my mind so I just thought why not? Why not try it and dedicate it to my friend, so that was the main inspiration behind it.
Were you pretty nervous before you tried that?
Yeah, definitely the most nervous I’ve been because it just added an extra fear factor, not being able to see over the edge before you take off and just going for it, hoping that it goes well.
And did that first time go as you’d hoped?
Yeah the first time I did it it went well, there was no problem and so I decided that I was going to use that dive in the competition. But unfortunately during that competition there was much bigger waves and I didn’t account for that and so I didn’t quite rotate fast enough and hit the wave at an awkward angle and got concussion from it. Everything was ok, but I did have to go to hospital and get checked out for any injuries, but it turned out alright.
Is cliff diving considered to be quite a heavy risk sport? Do you see lots of injuries in it?
I think any experienced cliff diver has one or two stories of times where they’ve been injured. Normally you can get back up onto the board after a week or two. Very occasionally you do get some more serious injuries but it doesn’t happen that often. The most important thing is to not let it affect you because I’ve seen divers who have a bad accident and then afterwards they really struggle to get back to where they were because in their mind they know how it can really hurt.
What’s been your worst injury you’ve encountered in your career?
Diving related would be the time that I competed the running take off. I’ve had bumps and bruises from other dives but that’s the only time I’ve had to go to hospital and taken me a couple of weeks to really get over it. At all the competitions we have a big safety team and there’s always scuba divers in the water ready to pick us out because you can get knocked out pretty easily.
What would you say is your favourite dive?
I would say that it’s probably my forward four summersaults with one and a half twists.
Would that be your weapon you’d use in competition?
No, that’s more the dive that I enjoy doing. It’s a difficult dive, but it’s not a dive that I’d find scary, it’s a dive that I know I can do well in lots of situations even if I’m not feeling 100%. I can still do it and even under pressure I can do it well, but it wouldn’t be my biggest weapon. That would be my other difficult dive, my back triple with four twists, because it’s got the highest degree of difficulty in the world so if I do it well it’s really hard for the others to compete.
Who’s your closest competitor out there in the field?
At the moment it’s Orlando Duque, 9 x world champion, he’s just so consistent, he very rarely does bad dives and you know that if you mess up one of your dives he’s going to be right on your heels. You almost can’t make a mistake when you’re diving against him. You know he’s more than likely not going to make a mistake.
Watching the Red Bull Cliff Diving Series it looks like you guys went to some pretty cool locations. Did you have a favourite spot?
I think from this year it would be the final in Oman, such good weather and just the scenery was incredible. Diving from a rock face and then having a rock face right in front of you as well it was just stunning.
What are your plans now for the future?
Well my imminent plans are training for a dive. I want to start doing a handstand dive and it’s been a while since I’ve done any difficult dives with a handstand take off, so I’m going to need to go back and make sure that my handstands are in good form. Sometimes you have to do a handstand in very windy weather or rain, so it needs to be absolutely 100%. Also to just try and stay in shape and keep up with the rising level of the sport.
Do you think the sport can go much further in terms of technical difficulty?
Yes, I think it’s got a long way to go. Just seeing the progression in the last four years, since we’ve had the Red Bull World Series, it’s really come along way because you’ve got more divers coming in with new ideas and you’re getting new dives, and harder and harder dives every year. With 27 metres you’ve got so much room to play with, so I think it’s got a long way to go.
Do you think that with Red Bull’s involvement and the fact that Dave TV are covering it, that cliff diving is moving more into the mainstream audience?
It’s all been happening in the last couple of years and it’s culminated with the 27 metre diving being introduced in the world championships next year, which formally was just a 3 metre and 10 metre event, all the olympic committee will come to watch the event and so this is the first step towards becoming an Olympic sport.
What for you has been your stand out moment in your career so far?
Difficult… I think this win has been one of the best moments because it really did feel like the hardest competition I’ve ever done. The previous years I’ve managed to secure the title almost before the last event so to have been in a situation where I’m really down to the wire was really tense.
Did you party hard afterwards to celebrate?
Well we were in Oman where alcohol is highly forbidden or hidden, so it was very discreet compared with the other places, but we definitely had a good celebration.
Have you got any tips or advice for people looking into cliff diving and how they’d get into it?
The best tip is to just go down to your diving pool, none of the cliff divers just went up onto a cliff and tried it, you have to have good experience in diving, so just go to your diving pool and play around with many dives, some that your coach might not ask you to do. You’ll soon get a good sense of spacial awareness and work your way up slowly.
If you want to watch Gary in action along with the best moments from the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving Series then have a flick through these assortment of videos we’ve put together for you and don’t forget you can catch the Cliff Diving Series on Dave on Sundays at 5pm.