Few activities rival the enjoyment of one that combines the thrill of flight with the shock of a deep-water plunge. Cliff jumping is more than just the leap, it’s the expansion of the soul as you make like a terrified bird to careen through the air, and then jolt the body in frigid alpine waters, sending your blood screaming away from your appendages to hunker down safely in the vital organs. The result, once you surface, is one of serenity. It’s is the kind of activity that shouts, “I am living!” and concludes with satisfying deep breath. Indeed.
In a group of say, 10, you can guarantee at least a few will pass on the opportunity. Fear of heights is a factor. Disagreement with cold is another. Disconnection with experience: yet another, and that’s the dangerous one. Will you think of yourself fondly when recalling the time you were in the rock-strewn desert of Montagu, South Africa, chanced upon a deep and delicious creek pool with a 25 foot cliff looming above the clear water, and did not take flight from its ramp? Surely not. The memory grows fonder when you can feel the wind in your hair and the lunacy of your summersault before receiving the gift of aquatic refreshment in a hot desert climate. Anyways, there’s the why. Here’s the how.
Growing up I always did front flips. They felt comfortable because I was facing my adversary (the water) and could witness its attack and my own approach. Every time I attempt that backwards launch however, freak-out mode would set in. It was too much of a blur. I couldn’t see the water and so I’d turn my head to look at it, stall my body’s motion and wind up back flopping with a painful slap. Back flopping sucks. Then, one day in a shallow Thailand beach, I launched from my brother’s shoulders, inadvertently performed the sleekest backflip that ever there was and landed on both feet. It was a complete surprise, and to my astonishment, remarkably easy. That accident of flight was all it took, and ever since then, I’ve been comfortable with backflips. It boils down to one rule: Where the head goes the body follows.
Stand with your weight on the balls of your feet at the edge of the cliff with your back facing the water. Hold your hands up casually in front of your shoulders. As you bend your knees, swing your hands behind your butt. Spring up with your legs and throw your hands in a circular motion towards your head and throw your head back as if you were trying to stare down your own heels. If you keep your head back, your body will follow until you straighten your head back out. Do this moments before you make the full rotation and hit the water. Ideally, it will slow your rotation so that your feet point straight down as you enter the water in a controlled drop. And that’s it. It’s easy as hell. Just don’t freak out and change your motion in mid-air, for that’s when water can resemble concrete and, depending on where your rotation stops, it’ll either slap against your face, your back or your belly. Unless you’re the kind of adventurer that delights in pain, you’ll really want to avoid the slaps.
Whether it’s a cold Polar Bear Club plunge or wanted respite from a blazing sun, keep in mind that it’s the things we do that we can look back to with affection, not the things we avoid, even if it seems like it would be uncomfortable at first.
By Bryan Schatz