“If you don’t go in right, you could get severely hurt. It’s not a sport for the faint of heart,” said Joe Sellars, 45, owner and founder of AirAboveWater.com, a worldwide cliff-jumping database. “You can die cliff jumping.”
Leaping over jagged cliffs into the unknown waters below seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but, for a select few, it’s a pastime. Ranging anywhere over 10 feet high, cliff jumpers take a leap of faith and close their eyes all for the rush of the thrill.
Cliff jumping is an extreme sport that has been popular for years. Before legality complicated the situation, droves of people could jump at their local spot armed only with their bravery. In the Hudson Valley, however, the Palisades region park office makes it clear that cliff jumping is illegal in most area parks. Where there is little threat of legal action, adventure-seekers show up in droves.
Many local spots are hard for jumpers to get to and impossible for emergency vehicles, making jumping incredibly dangerous. Depending on rainfall, even a familiar spot can become a death trap. During a dry season, water levels plunge, making jumping unsafe. And with no standardized safety procedures for the recreational pastime, all jumpers – students, families and senior citizens – are left to figure it out for themselves.
“All kinds of people do this,” said Sellars. “I’m 45 years old myself and I still jump. I love jumping. I know 50 to 60 year olds that love to jump.”
Warnings from park police are not going to keep die-hard jumpers out of the water. As with many underground sports and local activities, safety precautions for cliff-jumpers are passed down through the ranks to new enthusiasts from seasoned ones.
“It’s important to swim around first,” said Dean DiViesti, 23, of Marlboro. “You need to check out the water where you’ll be landing.” The avid cliff-jumper explains that you need to make sure there are no boulders at the bottom and you need to figure out how deep the water is.
“You need to have at least 10 to 15 feet of water,” said Sellars. “You don’t want to jump to your death where the water is three feet deep.”
Sellars, who also owns and runs CliffJumpingTV.com and BridgeJumping.com, has held Jumpfest since 2004. The event brings jumpers from all over to Oregon for a rush and some mingling with like-minded people. Sellars, a jumper all his life, understands what it takes to safely jump.
- Swim down and make sure the water is safe.
- When you’ve determined that your jump site is safe, you need to start out slow. For beginners, it’s important to start on small cliffs and work your way up. You need to be confident in your technique before jumping from potentially fatal heights.
- When it’s time to jump, bend your knees and jump out.
“You need your arms to keep you balanced all the way down,” said Sellars. “When you jump, you’re going to have your hands over your head, leaning slightly forward. If you’re straight up, gravity is going to pull you back.”
- 4. Tuck when you see the water. You can either lock your arms above your head or at your sides and just before entering the water, lock your knees and make your body as stiff as a pencil.
“It’s not dangerous if you know what you’re doing,” said DiViesti. “It’s an awesome rush.” His best advice? Don’t hesitate.
Air Above Water tells you where to go by state or country, how to get there, and what the jump heights are. The site includes profiles of cliff-jumpers around the world who tell all about their personal injuries. You need to have confidence and experience to execute jumps safely.
Enthusiasts strongly maintain that the rush outweighs the risks even as skeptics dismiss this as a death wish. With dozens of local spots from High Falls, Fawn’s Leap, Peter’s Kill and others, residents cannot deny the sport’s existence even if they fear it.
“You’ve got people that have no fear. You’ve got people who have the fear, but are going to do it anyway because they want to experience it. Then there’s people that aren’t going to do it no matter what,” said Sellars. “It ranges from little kids all the way up to Grandpas and Grandmas. It just depends on the individual.”