Comparing Cliff Diving & Platform Diving

Most divers have likely seen videos of people jumping off the cliffs of Acapulco, Mexico. It looks exhilarating and fun. When you see someone dive off a cliff, perform multiple flips and twists in the air, and land in the water without a big splash… you know that takes pure skill (not to mention a touch of crazy!). If you are a skilled platform diver, you might even think you want to give cliff diving a try. However, before you take the plunge, you should be prepared for the numerous significant differences.

Many people think that cliff diving is the same thing as platform diving. However, the two sports are distinctly separate. Although they do have similarities, the sheer height that cliff divers launch from makes it one of today’s “extreme” sports.

History of Cliff Diving

Cliff diving originated in the 1700s, off the waters of Hawaii. Kahekili, the independent king of Maui, took a leap off the cliffs located at Kaunolu, on the Hawaiian island of Lana’I in 1770. His leap became famous and he soon required all of his warriors to prove their courage by jumping off the cliff. Jumping off the cliff feet first without making a splash quickly became a competition among the warriors.

Over the years, this became a popular sporting activity. In 1968, ABC’s Wide World of Sports broadcast the International Cliff Diving Championship competition in Acapulco, Mexico. This broadcast made the sport soar in popularity. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that the World High Diving Federation (WHDF) was formed. The WHDF is recognized by the Olympic Committee and is considered the main authority on cliff diving.

Today, cliff diving is a popular activity. Cliff divers travel the world to exotic spots and compete for world titles. Sponsors — such as Red Bull — promote the sport and follow elite cliff divers in their competitive pursuits around the globe.

Mental Edge

Entering the water at high speeds is a dangerous affair. As such, the World High Diving Federation (WHDF) requires that anyone diving from 20 meters (65.5 feet) or higher have professional rescue scuba divers stationed in the water.


Of all the differences between platform diving and cliff diving, the most obvious one is height. Platform divers dive from 10 meters in the air (approximately 32 feet high). Cliff divers dive from heights that range from 18 to 27 meters in the air (approximately 57-86 feet high). This height difference is significant, and affects the dive in several ways:

  • Speed: A diver from 10 meters will hit the water at a speed of approximately 30 miles per hour (mph). A diver from 20 meters will hit the water at approximately 60 mph.
  • Impact force: A cliff diver will hit the water with nine times as much force as a 10-meter platform diver.
  • Entry: A cliff diver needs to land in the water feet first. The impact with the water at these extreme heights is too powerful for a diver’s arms, shoulders, and neck to withstand headfirst. Entering in a headfirst position (as platform divers do) can be extremely dangerous when cliff diving, and is not recommended.


Diving from so high is very risky and dangerous. If something goes wrong during the dive, there’s no telling what injuries could occur. Hitting the water badly from platform (30 feet in the air) can hurt: Bruises, cracked ribs, and disorientation are all possibilities. But hitting the water badly from cliff diving heights can be deadly.

The water does not serve as a cushion, as some people think. Rather, hitting the water from 26 meters is analogous to hitting cement from 13 meters. In short, cliff diving is not for novices. It is an extreme sport that only expert divers under consider.

Key Personality Traits

Cliff diving is not as simple as just being a platform diver. Diving experience is certainly a prerequisite, but it also takes a certain type of person who can engage in this extreme activity. The WHDF has outlined key personality traits that qualify a person as a potential cliff diving candidate:

  • A strong technical acrobatic background with many years of competitive diving
  • Courage and self confidence
  • Extraordinary physical control
  • The decisive ability to make instant adjustments based on impulses from sight, timing, and spatial awareness

Fun Fact:

Water type and temperature affect the impact of a landing. Cold water makes the landing more painful. Cold water increases the stress your body feels upon entry. Additionally, salt water landing impacts are significantly harder because salt water is denser than fresh water.

A Dangerous Undertaking

Cliff diving is an exhilarating sport to watch. Expert cliff divers make their dives seem exciting, fun, and fairly easy. But the truth is that cliff diving is a dangerous undertaking that only experts should engage in. It takes years of technical training to know how to spatially arrange your body into the correct position in the air and upon entry to best avoid serious injury.

If you think cliff diving is for you, give it some serious consideration. Train hard on platform, and talk to your coach. He or she will know how to point you in the right direction.

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