You walk forward. Stop. You close your eyes. Take a deep breath. And another. Visualise. Another breath. Your mind a whirlwind of thought. Go. Jump. Do it.
You do it, you jump, from twenty seven metres in the air, down into the dark blue abyss below. Squeezing three perfectly executed flips and four twists in the three seconds in between.
As a man who can barely swim a width of a swimming pool, the thought is terrifying, but for Gary Hunt it’s just business. He’s made a career out of it, and a pretty good one too.
The Brit has taken the cliff diving world by storm since the inaugural Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2009, winning seven of the ten titles up for grabs in that time, and not missing a single event in the process.
Not bad for a man who has just the day before an event to try out his dives:
“We just have one day of practice, we arrive on Thursday, then Friday is the first practice day. I do what I need to do, I practice my difficult dives and my intermediary dives,” the native Londoner says.
“We have to split the dives into several parts, because I only have access to maximum ten metres. You just practice each dive in individual parts. It’s only when we come to the event that we put everything together. It’s one of the very few sports where we don’t really have a training ground.”Embed from Getty Images
Not that the daredevil isn’t putting in the hard yards in the off-season, as well as between events. He has set the bar – for himself and the rest of the field – as high as the board he jumps off.
“For a few years it didn’t feel that important to be strong because my dives were easier to make from 27m I had a lot of time, but now my dives are a lot more difficult. I’m no spring chicken anymore, I have to be careful that I don’t grow old and grow slow, so every year I have to put a bit more work in to make sure I’m improving.”
Ten metres may be high enough for most, but Hunt wanted more. A fledgling career on the highest rung of the indoor diving ladder wasn’t enough, and the emergence of a certain Thomas Daley on the scene paved the way for a change of scene.
“I’ve just always been curious, I’ve always liked learning new dives, up on the ten metre I had a good career, but I could feel a plateau coming on. So when I got the opportunity to try high diving I took the opportunity with no questions asked,I loved it instantly and I knew it was the sport for me.”
So you’re twenty seven metres in the air, everyone’s eyes are on you, in the Philippines, Italy, Bosnia, wherever the series goes, their eyes are on you, the star of the show. That moment before you jump, take the plunge, so to speak, what would be going through your mind?
“It’s difficult to say what you think about, you’re obviously thinking about the dive you’re going to do. I would say I try to think as little as possible, because its very easily to think negatively about what can go wrong.
“Once you start thinking like that it can only go downhill, you’re only going to worry yourself and make it harder for yourself. I try to block all those bad thoughts out. When I’m on the platform I get my feet in the right position, I take one deep breathe and go.”
After ten years, and multiple titles, it would be easy to think Hunt is unflappable. Jumping from such height is just normal to him these days right? Wrong. As the opening round of this year’s series begins in Palawan this weekend, Saturday’s jump could be the hardest of the lot.
“The first competition of the year is always tough. I remember, in 2012, there was a long off season and when I finally got back on the platform again, my legs were just shaking. I wanted to jump, I wanted to go, but I couldn’t control the muscles in my legs. I had to stand back from the edge of the platform and compose myself and eventually I just had to go. I felt it was easier to jump off the platform.”
With the ocean down below, jumping off may well be the easy option, but for Hunt, the urge to jump never goes away, wherever he is. Ever felt the urge to throw your phone of a high building, or steer your car into oncoming traffic? L’appel du vide, they call it, the call of the void, this means Hunt gets the urge to jump more than most.
“Because of my career, now when I’m on a balcony, I cant help but imagine what it would feel like to jump off the edge. I have that feeling much more now since I’ve made a career out of jumping off a platform. Now I don’t feel comfortable if I’m on a high edge and there’s no water underneath.
“If I’m standing up there I can’t stop myself imagining what it would feel like to jump. So I prefer staying on low ground, and not spending too much time on high balconies. Even if there’s no water there I can’t get out the habit.”
After a poor start to the 2018 campaign, where he finished eighth and tenth in the opening two rounds, rumours were that Hunt was finished, washed up, if you will. Four consecutive wins to end the year saw him wrap up the title on the last dive of the competition. Another year, another series title in the bag, which begs the question, where does he go from here? Will complacency kick in?
“It really depends on how my body holds out. My dream is that high diving becomes an Olympic sport. We have a chance to be included in the 2024 Olympic games, and by that time I would be 40 years old. The perfect scenario for me would be to have a good performance at the Olympic Games and then pursue a different direction in life after that.”
With a lack of divers from Africa and Asia in the current crop of talent, acceptance to the Olympic Games is not as straightforward as it seems. As much as the Red Bull events are increasing in popularity, global participation is yet to take off.
But even to be considered is a major turning point, and if one man has raised the profile of cliff diving more than anyone, it’s the somersaulting, twisting, all round maverick that is Gary Hunt.