The 2022 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series kicks off June 4. And while you may not be surprised that Red Bull runs cliff diving competitions, you might be surprised at the location of the first event.
Instead of the coastal scenics of Kahekili’s Leap in Hawaii or the sandstone cliffs of Lake Powell in Utah, Red Bull has chosen one of America’s oldest and most historic cities.
Saturday, the world’s best divers will take the platform in downtown Boston, right on the waterfront, where they will execute incredible acrobatics from heights of more than 20 meters, in the ultimate display of focus, skill and raw athleticism.
One of the top competitors is 26-year-old Ellie Smart, a longtime Olympic-style diver originally from Missouri and Kansas. Smart is the only permanent diving competitor in Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series, and she is one of 12 women who will vie for a win in the first event of this eight-part World Series.
But how different is cliff diving from jumping off a platform in an Olympic pool? The main thing, Smart says, is in the preparation and landing.
“We train ourselves and our bodies in two parts. One, we are double the height of the Olympic platform, and two, we land (in the water) with our feet instead of hands and arms first.”
But Smart said that her experience in traditional diving also plays a part.
“When I train, the first half of my dive is the normal Olympic 10-meter dive. And then the second half involves doing a somersault with a half twist within the next 10 meters. And that’s how you enter the water with your feet.”
Established in 2009, Red Bull’s annual international cliff diving competitions make stops in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Saturday’s stop in Boston is the first in nearly a decade for the Cliff Diving World Series. After Boston, Smart and the other divers will continue on to Paris, Copenhagen, Oslo and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina this summer, before finishing up the final three dates in September and October, in Sisikon, Switzerland, Polignano a Mare, Italy and then Sydney, Australia.
Back in 2017, Smart her first very impressive World Series debut on the rough Irish coast of Inis Mór back in 2017. That performance earned her a regular place in Red Bull’s line-up. Shortly after her Red Bull debut, Smart put in a bronze medal finish at the FINA World Cup, in the United Arab Emirates in 2018.
“I’m super excited,” Smart said, noting that she had never been to Boston before joining cliff diving brought her there this spring. “I’ve heard the boys talk about this event and Boston’s beauty so many times.”
Along with the 12 athletes in the women’s competition, Red Bull also runs 12 athletes in a clash for the men’s World Series crown.
This month I got to speak with Smart directly as she was greeting up for the World Series and this weekend’s big competition. Smartly elaborated on what it’s like to high dive from over 65 feet, and how the Red Bull series is different from Olympic diving.
Andy Frye: So your bio says you’re afraid of bugs and spiders, but you’re not afraid of heights. Explain that.
Ellie Smart: Yeah, I hate bugs and I don’t really like to get dirty, but I do like to jump off cliffs! I do admit, however, as a diver, I do have fear. I get nervous and don’t stand up there fearless. But the feeling you get when you hit the water is worth it—and worth every bit of fear you feel before you hit the water.
AF: Is there any activity that prepares someone for this? Do you do rock climbing or skydiving? Do any of those things relate?
Smart: Growing up, I was a traditional Olympic style diver. I did mostly 10-meter platform, and I always enjoyed the thrill of tower diving. But I was never an adrenaline junkie, doing bungie jumping or anything like that.
In the last year I have—for the first time—gone skydiving, and that was absolutely terrifying. And bungie jumping, I hated it. But when it comes to cliff diving, I do like that kind of adrenaline.
AF: Red Bull runs a lot of extreme sports competitions. But for you is this akin to diving you’ve always done, or is it something new?
Smart: It feels a lot like my normal diving. But often when you’re on a cliff and you see rocks, it feels like a different scenario, and not like diving into an (Olympic) pool. When we have competitions that are off a platform, like we will in Boston, that does really feel similar to what I grew up doing. It’s just ten times more fun.
VIDEO: Ellie and her fiancé Owen Weymouth dive the Turkish coast.
AF: What kind of prep do you do for Red Bull Cliff Diving? Is it largely the same as Olympic, or way different?
Smart: Honesty, it’s pretty similar. I’m lucky in that I get to train with the college team at the University of Minnesota. I train with Wenbo Chen. He’s an Olympic diving coach and he and his assistant Kelci Bryant will be with me in Boston.
But we train the same as normal divers. We train out of the pool by doing dry land exercises, which is like gymnastics but on the ground. We do the same in-the-pool training, plus weights and cardio. But as for the dive, I focus on two parts. The first 10 meters down is an Olympic-style dive, and after that the twist and somersault.
AF: As part of the Cliff Diving World Series it looks like you get to travel to some exciting places.
Smart: Yeah, I’m from the Midwest; born in Missouri and from Kansas. And I’m a Midwest girl at heart. Growing up I’d never been too many places. But since starting the pursuit of cliff diving, I’ve been to over 40 countries.
One of the places I got to go for diving was Lebanon. I never would have thought diving would take me there, and it absolutely blew me away.
So, I went from some, I think, from small bubble to seeing so many places. It has changed me too much. You can’t travel and not be moved by it.