Big Island Hosts Cliff Diving Finals

The Big Island will host the final showdown in Red Bull's cliff diving championship.

Nine-time world champion Orlando Duque has competed all over the globe but resides on Oahu.

Photo: Courtesy Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Photofiles

After twisting and somersaulting their way through 80-foot freefalls in France, Mexico, Italy, Norway and Sweden, the world’s top cliff divers are headed to Hawaii—birthplace of the daredevil sport.

The 2010 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series concludes Sept. 12 on the Big Island, where a dozen divers representing 10 nations will leap from the top of Kawainui Falls, a privately owned waterfall along the Hāmākua Coast.

The Hawaii stop marks a homecoming for a living legend of the sport, Orlando Duque, who represents his native Colombia in competition but lives on Oahu in Laie. Duque nailed a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a perfect dive he performed in 2000 when the world championships were held on Lāna‘i. The 35-year-old aerial acrobat has won the world championship nine times.

Cliff diving competitions are much like traditional high-diving meets, with points awarded for form and degree of difficulty. The big difference is the drop. The tallest platform from which traditional high divers jump is 10 meters, or 33 feet. Cliff diving competitors jump from 80 to 88 feet, fall for nearly three seconds and accelerate like Lamborghinis to speeds exceeding 50 miles per hour.

The annals of competitive cliff diving trace to the sport’s origins in the ancient Hawaiian sport of lele kawa, or leaping feet first from a cliff into water without splashing. Hitting the water with hardly a splash is still a key part of competitive cliff diving. But “cliff” has become loosely defined. In this year’s competition, which kicked off in May, divers have leapt from the top of a 14th-century French fortress, the rim of a Mexican sink hole and the balcony of a seaside Italian home.

For updates on the Cliff Diving World Series, athletes and more information about the Big Island event, visit