Cliff diving: 'It's always a jump into the unknown'

Gary Hunt prepares to dive from the 27m platform in Abereiddy in 2013 Image copyright Rutger Pauw/Red Bull Content Pool

What used to be an old slate quarry in Pembrokeshire has once again been transformed into a coliseum for the world's most fearless divers.

The stage is a 27 metre (88ft) platform fitted to the rock face over Abereiddy's Blue Lagoon with 5,000 people expected to line the cliffs to see divers leap, twist and somersault, with concentration their only form of protection.

This is the third time the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series has come to Wales, and along with Ironman Wales, puts Pembrokeshire firmly on the world map.

Abereiddy is the sixth stop of the series, and eyes were on the reigning champion Gary Hunt, who was representing Great Britain along with Blake Aldridge and wildcard Mat Cowen.

But the Czeck Republic's Michal Suprati Navratil took first place, with Hunt second and the United States' Andy Jones third.

The competition took place on Saturday but Sunday's events had to be cancelled due to the weather.

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Media captionFootage courtesy of Red Bull shows Gary Hunt winning in La Rochelle, France
Image caption 2016: Saturday's event saw the Czeck Republic's Michal Suprati Navratil take first place

Hunt, 32, is originally from Southampton but has lived in Paris, for the past six years.

He is a former Commonwealth diver and won bronze in the 10 metre (33ft) synchronisation event at the 2006 games. He also enjoyed success at the Great Britain National Diving championships.

But he was not always a diver. As a child he was a competitive club swimmer, but became bored of just going up and down the lanes. At age nine, his attention turned to the excitement of the diving pool.

"I had a go and instantly fell in love," he told BBC Wales.

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Media captionFootage from Abereiddy in 2013 is courtesy of Red Bull

After finding it difficult to qualify for World Championships and Olympic diving events, Hunt took the opportunity to join a diving show in Italy. It was here he met Australian diver Steve Black, who saw Hunt's potential and put his name forward for high diving competitions.

"The door opened a whole new world for me," said Hunt.

Since his first high diving competition in 2007, Hunt has gone on to win five Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. He is the only athlete who has competed in all 50 world series stops - and has won half of them.

Image copyright Balazs Gardi/Red Bull content pool
Image caption Gary Hunt dives from the 28 metre platform on the Copenhagen Opera House

But what does it actually feel like to stand on the 27 metre platform and look down?

"We're all terrified when we stand on the platform. It comes with the job," said Hunt.

"But you build up confidence every time you do it."

Asked what makes the perfect dive, Hunt said: "To get a 10, you need a strong jump, you need to be the right distance away from the platform, everything in the dive needs to be neat and tidy, your feet need to be together and the finish needs to be perfect, with no splash."

"It's always a jump into the unknown," he added. "And we all know a small mistake can lead to a trip to the hospital."

This is something Hunt's fellow British diver Blake Aldridge knows all too well. At the last round in Italy he had a bad landing and ended up biting his tongue.

"I had to have both sides stitched up," said Aldridge, who spoke to BBC Wales shortly after diving from the walls of Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire.

"I had severe whiplash and am carrying a bad shoulder injury which meant I had to change my dives for the weekend. But it's not in my nature to give up and I was never going to miss my home event," he said.

Aldridge, 34, and from London, is a former British diving champion. He was a finalist in the 10m synchronised dive in the 2008 Olympic Games with partner Tom Daley.

After retiring from Olympic diving in 2010 he was invited by Red Bull to take part in high diving.

Image copyright Dean Treml/Red Bull Cliff Diving
Image caption Blake Aldridge launches an armstand dive
Image copyright Romina Amato/Red Bull Content Pool
Image caption Professional divers like Gary Hunt (pictured) reach speeds of up to 52mph (85kph) during three seconds of freefall and the water in Abereiddy is some of the coldest on the tour at just 15 degrees

"The first time I stood on the 27 metre platform, I stepped back. It was three times higher than what I was used to," said Aldridge.

"Fortunately, Gary Hunt was standing at the other end of the platform and asked me what was wrong. He gave me some wise words and said jumping was the hardest part.

"A few dives later, he told me 'I had got it'.

"It's proof that once you overcome your fear, you can do anything."

Aldridge admitted that it is still scary now, with he and Hunt performing some of the hardest dives in the world.

"When we started, people were just performing basic dives, but new dives need to be done," he said.

Asked if his family and friends worry about him, Aldridge said: "At the first event they were apprehensive and scared for me, but the more often they've been, the more they've been able to relax and enjoy it."

Image copyright Dean Treml/Red Bull content pool
Image caption Gary Hunt (R) and Blake Aldridge (L) celebrate their dives in Cartagena, Columbia

Along with Wales, the world series sees the professional divers compete in Texas (USA), Copenhagen (Denmark), Azores (Portugal), La Rochelle (France), Polignano a Mare (Italy), Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Sandanbeki (Japan) and Dubai (UAE).

"Each location is different and I can't really say I have a favourite," said Hunt.

"I love diving in front of the home crowd and I'm looking forward to the weekend.

"The crowd in Abereiddy is great and my family and friends come along. It's a great place to watch as not all places on the series are spectator-friendly."

Abereiddy also welcomed female competitors for the first time, with Australia's Rhiannan Iffland coming in first, Lysanne Richard from Canada second and third place going to Cesilie Carlton from the USA.

"It's great the women are on the series now," said Hunt.

"It adds a new dimension to our sport. There are only 10 female athletes at the moment, but I know of a few more in training.

"It gets the sport closer to our dream of it becoming an Olympic sport. It's only a matter of time before it does."

Image copyright Paulo Calisto/Red Bull Content Pool
Image caption Ginger Huber (USA) Cesilie Carlton (USA) and Adriana Jimenez (Mexico) are set to make their Welsh debut
Image copyright Romina Amato/Red Bull Cliff Diving
Image caption One of Gary Hunt's favourite high dives is in the Yucatán jungle in Mexico where divers start at the same level as the top of the trees
  • Red Bull said because of the extreme nature of the event, only around 50 people in the world with detailed technical training and experience took it up. There are emergency service personnel and rescue divers on standby.

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