Cliff Diving: A Few Things to Know Before You Go

I guarantee that somewhere, tucked away inside of a tattered photo album hidden in a trunk owned by an elderly Japanese couple, is a picture of a young me in mid leap 35-feet in the air over Kapena Falls, Oahu. I personally do not own any photos of my jump, but I know at least one (if not ten, which is more likely) random tourists have one because I performed my very first cliff dive in front of a massive tour group who actually stopped in the middle of their guided experience to snap pics of me sailing over the side of the rocks like I was part of the entertainment.

I’ve been to Japan, but never retained how to say more than “doumo arigatou,” which I already knew from Styx’s Mr. Roboto song, so I don’t know what they were actually saying to one another as they waited for me to jump, but I’d imagine it was something similar to, “is she really going to jump from that high?! Honey, grab the camera, we have got to show the neighbors how dumb American kids are.”

I’m not going to lie: having them appear out of the bushes just as I was looking over the side of the cliff for the first time probably helped speed along my process – it’s hard to wuss out when 30-some foreigners have their cameras pointed towards you, waiting for you to hurry up and do your death-defying thing. A gal can’t disappoint her fan club, after all.

While I will admit that among my friends I was the first to volunteer to jump, it was mostly because I almost always want to go first when I do anything that requires bravery on my part. There are a lot of reasons for that: anticipation gives me adrenaline, which naturally makes me want to move; I’d rather not sit around contemplating whether or not something is a good idea once I’ve made up my mind to do it; my automatic response when it comes to anything my mind perceives as potential danger puts me in ‘momma bear, I’ll lead the pack and protect everyone else in the herd’ mode; and the (probably obvious, if you’ve been paying attention) fact that I’m a sucker for a dare. Yes, I freely admit that I sometimes suffer from the Marty McFly “don’t call me chicken” complex.

All of that aside, jumping off of that cliff was beyond fun: the moment I resurfaced I immediately wanted to go again. And again. It was just enough free fall air time to get a stomach drop, which I love, but not so long that I had to worry about my legs flailing out from underneath me and somehow going into the drink sideways or something equally painful. Which brings me to the point of this post: things you should know before jumping off a cliff.

  1. This is the most important one of them all: know without a shadow of a doubt the depth of the water that you’re about to jump into. And where the rocks are located. I can’t stress this enough – nothing will ruin your cliff-diving adventure (and life) faster that shallow water and a sharp rock. Also, for obvious reasons: make sure there’s enough space between your jumping point and the wall of the cliff.
  2. Jump solo: jumping at the same time as someone else is a great way to ensure you end up smashing into the other person or belly flopping into the water. I don’t know which is worse, but they’re both a painful disaster.
  3. Keep your legs and arms together and tight into your body, and enter the water from a straight angle. I had a friend who forgot to do this, went in on her tailbone, and ended up limping for the remainder of our vacation.
  4. No matter where you are, know that the water is safe to swim in and even if it is, make sure you don’t have any open wounds. Ever heard of MRSA? My buddy got it from swimming in bacteria-ridden water with a scrape on his leg and almost lost a limb.

That’s my advice, for what it’s worth. If you get the opportunity to go and decide to take it, I hope you stay safe and love the experience. And if anyone over in Japan is reading this and has a picture of me from that Hawaiian dive so many years ago, I’d love to see it.