Cliff Diving: take the plunge in the Azores

Jul 20, 2013

2013-06-28 16:45

Leaping from a platform 27 metres above sea level may be a daunting experience for many, but not for 29-year-old Briton Gary Hunt, who won the Red Bull Cliff Diving world series event earlier this month.

Diving into the Atlantic Ocean from a platform attached to a cliff face at Vila Franca do Campo in the Azores, Hunt, nicknamed ‘the brilliant Brit’, was one of 14 competitors taking part in the world series. He took first place with a score of 481.05 points, some 30 points above his closest competitor.

Vila Franca do Campo, on São Miguel Island, is no stranger to the cliff diving world series, having also featured as a tour stop in 2010 and 2012. This year, an audience of 1,300 packed into boats to watch the divers take the plunge.

Approximately 1,500km to the west of Lisbon and 1,900km south of Newfoundland, the Azores is the perfect location for such an event. The nine-island archipelago, owned by Portugal, relies heavily on tourism, with whale and
dolphin watching being one of the big draws.

Although there was great local interest in the event this year, anyone who wanted to see the action had to be in a boat. It appeared the only people on land viewing the dives were officials, judges and those about to jump.

Aquatic sports are a big draw to the archipelago. The pleasant weather and volcanic scenery provide the perfect backdrop to surfing, scuba diving, canyoning and paragliding.

Cultural attractions are also plentiful across all islands, which are deeply rooted in Roman Catholicism. Although there are no direct flights from Ireland to the Azorean international airport at Ponta Delgada, a two-hour flight from Lisbon is all it takes.

Although the competitors seem relaxed and are friendly with their diving rivals, the series is taken very seriously. Hunt is no stranger to cliff diving, having finished runner-up in the first Red Bull Cliff Diving world series in 2009. He then became the first athlete to win four successive competitions, in 2011.

After his Azores win, Hunt says none of it has sunk in yet, despite his winning the overall world series from 2010 to 2012.

“I have been trying really hard. It has just been so tough this season. I didn’t really know how the competition had gone, because I couldn’t see. I just tried to stay in my zone and do a good dive and it was enough. So I am ecstatic,” he says.

“I think my last dive was good. I saw some nines up there and it felt like I went through the water nicely.”

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