Atop cliff diving platform, there’s only one way down


This is what most people know about the sport of international cliff diving:

You can do it while wearing a wristwatch, provided the watch is a Timex. At least that’s what John Cameron Swayze said in those old TV commercials.

And about once a month, or so it seemed, they would show cliff diving from Acapulco on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

It usually would be hot down there on the Mexican Pacific Coast, and so Keith Jackson would shed his blazer to reveal a print shirt with a pointed collar that called attention to his long sideburns. Which, like those wristwatches, took a licking but kept on ticking.

But that was then, and now cliff diving is considered one of those extreme sports they show on ESPN2 late at night.

There’s an official cliff diving tour, called the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. It consists of seven stops on multiple continents. Speedos, energy drink banners, jagged cliffs, majestic backdrops, narrow water-filled inlets at which to fling oneself, as Keith Jackson put it in less-than-technical terms on TV.

No acrophobia, which is a fear of heights.

The first stop of 2014 is in Cuba next weekend.

Andy Jones, who for the past five years has performed dives both high and off the Russian swing in the Cirque du Soleil show “O” at Bellagio, said he’s looking forward to seeing what kind of platform the Cubans have rigged up for the Red Bull cliff divers, how much it will sway in the breeze.

After that, he says, he plans to check out the old cars. Maybe visit a cigar shop.

“I’m leaving for Cuba on Monday,” said the 29-year-old aquaman. “I’m already checking the weather reports. It looks like it’s going to be a little bit windy every day, 30 percent chance of rain every day. And we’ll be in Cuba.”

Jones grew up in Sandy, Utah, which is about as far away from Cuba as one can get. He made the diving team at the University of Utah as a walk-on; he finished second at the Mountain West championships one year.

He started high-diving in “O” to provide the show’s only high diver with a respite. The top show dive height of around 70 feet is sort of comparable to the Red Bull platform height of around 90 feet. But that is where the comparison ends.

“Whole ... ’nother ... ballgame,” Andy Jones says about diving off cliffs and platforms when the wind is blowing and the water is cold, provided you can even see the water.

“I’d been working at ‘O’ on 58-footers for two or three years, and then I show up in Boston, to a full 90-foot tower, and the tower was a little bit wobbly, and there were 25,000 people watching.

“And then you have to jump into Boston Harbor.”

Jones said the first time he went cliff diving, he was chagrined to discover that once you start up, there is only one way down.

“The first time I looked over a Red Bull platform I was like, is this really possible? But then I saw other guys doing it, and I thought, OK, I guess I’m not going to die.”

He did land on his belly once. From 27 meters, or 88.583 feet. In Thailand. Which felt like Mike Tyson punching him in the ribs, during Tyson’s prime, provided Tyson could transform himself into the Incredible Hulk.

But when everything comes together and you stay locked in the tuck position, or in the pike or whatever, diving into a narrow inlet from a platform pretty close to where the ground ends and the sky begins is exhilarating, Jones says. Probably the closest thing to flying.

And the cliff diving venues are spectacular. They look like picture postcards, beautiful vistas and panoramas, with a little dot in the upper right- or left-hand corner.

The dot is the cliff diver.

The dot is why most people think guys who jump into narrow inlets of freezing water from a craggy 90-foot perch are daft, because the dot looks so small in those pictures.

Divers on the Red Bull circuit must perform four dives, two basic and two with a higher degree of difficulty. Jones said the “easier” dives provide the biggest rush, because you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects so much. The easier dives is when you hear the Steve Miller music:

Fly like an eagle. To the sea. Fly like an eagle. Let my spirit carry me.

But on those difficult dives, time does not slip into the future, and then cliff diving isn’t so mystical anymore. Then it mostly borders on terrifying.

“My dad always thought I was crazy for doing this,” Jones said. “He came to a competition last year; now he understands it a little bit better: The control, and what is possible (from that height). I didn’t think he could really fathom it.”

And his mom?

“I don’t think she’s ever seen me do a high dive,” Jones says.

“She closes her eyes. At least that’s what she says.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.