High diving is the act of diving into water from relatively great heights. High diving can be performed as an adventure sport (as with cliff diving), as a performance stunt (as with many records attempts), or competitively during sporting events. It debuted as a sport at the 2013 World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona. In the world championships, men jump from a 27-metre-high (89 ft) platform while women jump from a 20-metre-high (66 ft) platform. In other official competitions, men generally dive from a height of 22–27 metres (72–89 ft) while women dive from a height of 18–23 metres (59–75 ft). The sport is unique in that athletes are often unable to practice in an authentic environment until the days leading up to a competition. High diving has been designated a sport separate from regular diving by FINA. High divers have achieved speeds of descent of 96 kilometres per hour (60 mph).
Initially, diving as a sport began by jumping from "great heights". Then it was exclusively practiced by gymnasts as they found it exciting with a low probability of injury. It then evolved into "diving in the air" with water as the safety landing base. Efforts by Thomas Ralph to name the sport "springing" were not realized, as the term "diving" was by then firmly rooted. It soon became a sporting event pursued by many enthusiasts. In the early years of the sport, finding suitable places to jump was an issue, and people started jumping from any high place – in Europe and the United States they started jumping from bridges, then diving head first into the water. This evolved into "fancy diving" in Europe, and, particularly in Germany and Sweden, as a gymnastic act. The sport further improved with gymnastic acts being performed during the diving process, and was then given the names "springboard diving" and "high fancy diving", which were events in the Olympics of 1908 and 1912. The first diving event as a sport, however, was in 1889 in Scotland with a diving height of 6 feet (1.8 m). Today, in Latin America, diving by professionals from heights of 100 feet (30 m) or more is a common occurrence.
Cliff diving has been documented as far back as 1770 when Kahekili II, king of Maui, engaged in a practice called "lele kawa," which in English means jumping feet first into water from great heights without making a splash. The king's warriors were forced to participate to prove that they were courageous and loyal to the king. The practice later developed into a competition under king Kamehameha I, and divers were judged on their style and amount of splash upon entering the water.
On January 14, 1933 the Dutchman, Lou Vlasblom, made a well documented dive from the top of one of the towers of the Rotterdam Koningshaven bridge from a height of 65 meters.
The first female world champion in this sport was Cesilie Carlton of the United States, who won the first gold medal at the 2013 World Aquatics Championships with a total score of 211.60. The first male world champion was Orlando Duque of Colombia who received a score of 590.20.
Presently, the only permanent regulation-size high diving platform in the world is located in Austria, but it is not used during the winter period. The training practice is generally done on 10-metre-high (33 ft) platforms. The "competition dives" are collectively put in place in bits, similar to the way a dress is made. Dives such as five somersault dives are thrilling, but some competitors prefer to perform simpler dives.
Some outdoor diving involves launching from significant heights. One such diver noted, "There is adrenalin, excitement, danger – so many different energies go through your mind when you jump off. That goes away and then you hit the water come up and it's a massive elation, you feel such self achievement." A rescue team of scuba divers may be involved in some instances, and are required for any official competitions.
Cliff divers practice the different components of their dives in isolation and only execute the complete dive during championship competitions. Cliff dives are considered extremely difficult and dangerous, a challenge to every competitor; in addition to the physical challenges, they can be mentally challenging to perform.
Both men and women participate in the High Diving World Championships, but the diving height for women is limited to 20 metres (66 ft). The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is held annually and draws crowds of up to 70,000 people. Participants dive from a variety of locations including castles, cliffs, towers, bridges, and the Copenhagen Opera House. Three well-known divers – Gary Hunt, Blake Aldridge and Tom Daley – the last who were champions at the 2008 Olympic synchro, were set to dive on a 27-metre-high (89 ft) platform at the Moll de la Fusta, Barcelona's port; this dive was to be achieved in 3 seconds at a speed of 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph). Huge Hunt of the United Kingdom won the August 2015 FINA world championships. The average age of the participants in this event was 30. Efforts are being made by gymnasts to make this sport an Olympic event for the 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan. If not for 2020 than for the 2024 Summer Olympics which its host city will either be Los Angeles, California, United States, Rome, Italy, Paris, France, Budapest, Hungary, or Hamburg, Germany.
There is considerable debate surrounding record claims for the highest dive, which largely revolves around criteria for what constitutes a valid dive. ABC's Wide World of Sports produced world record high dives for its Emmy award-winning sports anthology show for more than a decade. They required contestants to dive or execute at least one somersault and exit the water without the assistance of others. In 1983 Wide World of Sports produced its last World Record High Dive at Sea World in San Diego. Five divers ( Rick Charls, Rick Winters, Dana Kunze, Bruce Boccie and Mike Foley) successfully executed dives from 172 ft. In 1985 Randy Dickison dove from 172 ft at Ocean Park in Hong Kong but sustained a broken femur and could not exit the water on his own. In 1987 Olivier Fave attempted a double back somersault from 177 ft but broke his back upon impact and had to be rescued. Laso Schaller's 2015 jump from a 193 ft cliff in Switzerland is not considered a dive.
Some research suggests that the impact associated with high diving could have negative effects on the joints and muscles of athletes. To avoid injury to their arms upon impact with the water, divers from significant heights may enter the water feet first.