No matter how many times you’ve stood on a cliff’s edge peering into the blue below, you likely still get that empty feeling in your gut before taking the leap. “I still get nervous, sure,” says Orlando Duque, a nine-time world cliff-diving champ, holder of two Guinness World Records, and our guide to jumping off the big rocks this summer without (hopefully) a trip to the hospital. Which is something Duque is all too familiar with: He once broke his tailbone after landing ass-first from 86 feet. So why does the Hawaiian keep jumping?: “Outside of the water you’re a little bit scared. In the air you’re just freaking out; and then as soon as you come out of the water you’re screaming in happiness,” he says. “It’s like, I don’t know what I just did, but that was awesome.” Here’s how to jump, dive, and flip from perilous heights like a pro.
The obvious is often the most overlooked: “I’ve seen guys jump off cliffs and then they hit the water and there’s no way to get back up,” says Duque, who also notes that it’s necessary to climb down to the water before jumping to inspect its depth: 15 feet with a sand bottom is the minimum; if there are obstacles – coral, old cars – add another five to 10 feet. The climb down will also give you a better idea of exactly how high the cliff is. “Judging height is difficult, so start from a lower spot – about halfway down. That’s how we do it.” Duque doesn’t recommend for amateurs to jump from anything higher than 35 feet. “At that height you can make small mistakes and be fine – just a few bruises,” he says. “But anything higher than that and a small mistake becomes a big mistake – arms popping out of sockets, broken bones.”
Once you figure out the height and exactly what you’re going to do, run through the jump in your head. “Just before jumping, you’re going to get excited. It happens to all of us,” Duque says. The key to staying calm, aside from visualizing the jump, is to get your body in a good position. “At the cliff’s edge, keep your head straight, finding the water with your eyes only,” explains Duque. “A lot of people tend to look down at the water with their face, not just their eyes, and end up slouching their shoulders and falling a little head first.” So with your head and body straight, jump with your hips first, which will force your whole body to stay perpendicular to the water. “If you lead with your shoulders or legs, you’ll end up flopping. Lead with your hips and your whole body will follow, keeping you in a good position throughout the jump.”
“There’s a point after about 15 feet where it feels like you’re never going to hit the water,” says Duque. This is when most people begin to freak out. But it is possible to make small adjustments in the air. “It’s very similar to the feeling when you’re walking on a railroad track,” he says, “that sense of imbalance that you correct by using your arms.” The key is keeping your shoulders relaxed and to use your stomach to maintain a nice, straight position as you’re falling. That said: “You can make small corrections, but if you’ve completely lost control, there’s not much you can do.”
When you jump on the ground, you absorb the impact with your knees. When you’re landing in water, it’s exactly the opposite. “As you see the water coming closer, stretch your legs as hard and straight as possible to push the water out of the way,” says Duque. “You want to open a hole in the water that your whole body is going to go through.” As you do this, your arms should either be down by your sides or straight up above your head. “You don’t want your arms in any position where the water is going to catch them.” Once you’re in the water, spread out to slow yourself down. Then pop out of the water to let everyone know you’re okay.