Hot springs a plenty, amazing dive sites, incredible seafood, some of the most beautiful volcanic scenery, its own vineyard… my list of why I love the Azores just goes on and on. Then when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we discovered that whilst we were there, the island of Sao Miguel was hosting the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at the magnificent Islet Vila Franca do Campo. Springsaunaswim was invited to join the Red Bull Media boat on the Sunday for the final day of diving. With no prior knowledge of cliff diving as a sport, RBJ and I went along to see for ourselves and we weren’t disappointed.
So the first thing to point out is that (in the nicest possible way!) these guys are nuts! This is definitely not a sport for the faint-hearted, especially in the Azores which is the only destination in the World Series where the athletes dive on day 1 from the rock itself rather than a board. On day 2 the athletes then dive from boards – the highest of which is 28m high or in other words, the height of a nine storey building! Thus making it one of the most dangerous dive sites in the world.
Now the guide books don’t lie when they say in the Azores you can experience every season in one day. So this year we were incredibly lucky to have two full days of beautiful sunshine. Lucky primarily because it means better dive conditions for the athletes but secondly (and of course most important for me) is that it meant I got some incredible photos!
Islet Vila Franca do Campo is a short boat ride from the small town of Vila Franca do Campo (not Franca Manca the pizza restauarant as we kept accidentally calling it 😬). It is the crater of an ancient submerged volcano, with the crater forming an almost perfectly circular lagoon in the centre of the rocky cliffs. The whole islet is a nature reserve and is home to lots of fish and birds that you don’t see on the mainland.
Without my own drone I can’t show you the aerial pic but there are some pretty spectacular ones on Red Bull’s Instagram page that are worth checking out.
We arrived at the islet at 10.30am and were joined by lots of spectators in other boats and kayaks. The female divers went first, with Jessica Macaulay representing GB. The women dived off the lower board which was 24m high and after the first dive, we were immediately awe-struck. The majority of the female divers did around three somersaults and a twist before hitting the water – enough to make me dizzy just watching! Each dive was scored out of 10 by each of the 5 judges and each dive had a difficulty rating which their score was multiplied by to get their final score. Jessica did amazingly and was successful in getting through to the next and final round.
Next up were the guys, this time with two Brits – Gary Hunt, 27 and Blake Aldridge, 25. Again each dive was mesmerising, both to watch and to listen to as they splashed into the sea, some more smoothly than others. It was pretty nail-biting to watch as one foot wrong and they would do themselves some serious injuries. Both of the GB boys qualified to the second round. Here are some of my favourite mid action photos:
In the final round, Gary then went on to take third overall gaining himself a place on the winners podium. Columbia’s Orlando Duque who is an incredible 42 years took the first place for the men and Mexico’s Adriana Jiminez took first place for the women.
Red Bull put on great hospitality for the press boat, which was made up of an array of foreign and local journalists. There was food, sunshine and, of course, Red Bull a plenty! RBJ was a
At the end of the competition, the winning three guys and girls were awarded whale shaped trophies before heading back to the mainland to do press interviews and autographs.
After the interviews we managed to grab Blake to ask him a few questions about his diving career to date. He told us that he had competed with Tom Daley in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 before retiring from diving in 2010. When he retired he had the choice to pursue either professional snowboarding or cliff diving and chose the latter. He told us that he was a bit disappointed with his dives in the Azores and that he was struggling with a groin injury. When we mentioned that we lived in Streatham he told us that he is from Norbury and that when he isn’t competing abroad that he still trains in the diving pool in Croydon. Small world! Well Blake may not have been happy with his performance in the Azores but we thought he did amazingly and felt very proud to have London represented amongst the athletes!
All in all it was an absolutely incredible day and I would recommend to anyone thinking of going on holiday to the Azores to try and time it with the Red Bull Cliff Diving as it is a once in a life time, nail-biting experience!