Rhiannan Iffland on the mental and physical challenges involved in plunging from a five-storey-high cliff. By Richard Cooke.


Life on the edge: Rhiannan Iffland, 26, cliff diver

Cliff diving is a similar format to 10-metre Olympic diving. We do a series of four dives at each competition, and we’re judged on the technique, the take-off, the form, and the entry into the water. The higher the degree of difficulty, the higher score you get. The women are diving from a 20-metre platform, and in the men’s competition they’re diving from a 27-metre platform.

It’s equivalent to diving from a five-storey building. Not small at all. Sometimes my palms sweat just thinking about the high dives.

I’m still quite new to high diving. I’ve only been doing it for about two years now. The fear is always there. I think what changes is the way you deal with that fear, and the way you’re able to compose yourself once you’re stepping out onto the platform. That’s what gets easier.

We’re hitting the water at close to 80 kilometres an hour. And slowing down quite dramatically, so four dives is a lot for the body to take in one day. Then you have to include the warm-ups when you get to the competitions, and the training repetitions as well.

Mum and Dad put me into trampolining and diving. I’ve never looked back. I always wanted diving to be my career, but never thought that it would end up being from 20-metre cliffs and in all these exotic and amazing locations.

Cliff diving, being an extreme sport, is a bit more challenging mentally than Olympic diving. It’s very physically demanding as well. But cliff divers have a lot of respect for 10-metre divers because they’re fitting in more somersaults in a shorter space, whereas we have to focus a lot more on body control and having really spot-on aerial awareness so that something doesn’t go wrong.

I learnt to high dive in a theme park in Lyon in France. I worked on cruise ships with Royal Caribbean. A little bit in Dubai as well, in a show there. You’d be surprised how many people actually come from that kind of background – from shows – and a lot of high divers come from gymnastics. Some come from diving. Some come from trampolining.

I did the trick where you high dive into a shallow pool. Once. I didn’t do it too successfully. That was one of the most frightening dives, because I’d done the training to go deep and to do perfect entries. I then jumped into the shallow pool and I went straight to the bottom.

Injuries are unfortunately involved in the sport and sometimes they are unavoidable, so you’ve just got to learn to deal with it and be strong. If you don’t have your head screwed on right and you’re not feeling 100 per cent mentally, that’s when things go wrong. You can do a perfect entry and still your leg will be pulled in one direction or your arm will be pulled in the other direction.

You just never know. If your mind wanders a little bit then you’re off focus with the way that your body is tensed through the water. Yeah, a lot of people suffer with knees and ankles. Actually everything – shoulders, backs, necks, you name it.

The most memorable place I’ve dived? That’s probably the hardest question anybody asks me. I’m going to say Texas, because it was my debut competition in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. I actually went into my first competition and walked away with a first place, so that’s going to be a pretty hard memory to top.

It’s a big show and it’s quite spectacular to be at one of those Red Bull cliff diving events. It actually feels like a festival atmosphere. It’s really nice for us as divers to step up on the platform and see everybody there kind of blown away by what we’re doing, and just generally having a good time. It’s easy to walk into those competitions and take that vibe from everybody and the atmosphere around you.

In Italy we finish the dives and we actually have to walk through the main square of Polignano a Mare. We’re actually escorted by security guards back to the platform, so that’s a really nice feeling. On the way up you’re just flooded with people wanting to take selfies with you, or wanting you to sign an autograph, or just wanting to say hello. They’re very warm and very supportive.


This week’s highlights…

Tennis: Fed Cup – Australia v The Netherlands

Saturday and Sunday, midday (AEST), Wollongong Entertainment Centre

NRL: Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights

Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST), Scully Park, West Tamworth, NSW

• AFL: Port Adelaide v Geelong

Saturday, 7.10pm (ACST), Adelaide Oval

• Motorsport: Phillip Island 500 Supercars Championship, Race 10

Sunday, 1.50pm (AEST), Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, Victoria

• Soccer: A-League elimination final – Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United

Sunday, 6pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Soccer: Champions League semi-final, first leg – Liverpool v Roma

Wednesday, 4.45am (AEST), Anfield, Liverpool, England

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 21, 2018 as "Life on the edge".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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