FOR hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, humans have deliberately put themselves in dangerous situations. History calls these people adventurers, explorers and swashbucklers. We know them simply as adrenaline junkies.
Extreme sports have become increasingly popular in recent years — more people are taking part than ever before, with higher numbers turning up to live events.
Never was this more evident than on the rugged shores of Inis Mór during this year’s Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event. Over 3,000 spectators travelled to the largest of the Aran Islands to watch daredevils from all over the world dive into the depths of a natural blowhole.
The Serpent’s Lair, or Poll na bPeist, as Gaeilge, spurts water as high tide approaches and conceals a myriad of subterranean caverns which lead out to the open sea. During the competition, divers position themselves atop the formidable-looking cliff overlooking the blowhole and, when the time is right, will launch themselves into the air, performing incredibly intricate flips and twists before hitting the water at breath-taking speeds of up to 90kph.
Considering the force of impact from a height of 28 metres, almost three times the Olympic diving height, the potential for something to go wrong is enormous. Even the slightest error could spell disaster — which is why the divers prepare for each jump as if it is their last.
The athletes must ensure they hit the water heels first with their legs together. If they hit the water head first, they would sustain life-threatening injuries. Alternatively, if the diver was to land horizontally, they would rupture vital internal organs and, again, would most likely die.
Even forgetting to keep their feet together has horrific consequences — the force of the water would splay their legs apart, breaking the pelvis.
So why take the risk at all? It’s all about the rush according to UK diver and World Series participant Blake Aldridge.
“When you leave the platform there seems to be a complete calm as you’re flying through the air, as if your body has taken over and your mind is on auto-pilot,” he explains.
“It’s an amazing feeling that only lasts for a split second. After this comes the entry, where you must spot the water and brace yourself for what can only be described as the biggest impact your body will ever feel; it’s like a shock from head to toe. Then the feeling of excitement, relief, and the joy that you’re still ok and able to do it again hits you.”
Fellow UK diver Gary Hunt, who was the victor from the weekend, also commented on the “incredible rush” to be felt after a jump, and revealed he had been nervous about the Irish leg of the competition.
“It’s such a challenge, but to have got through it and taken the win… it’s pretty special. Two wins in a row definitely makes a statement and is definitely going to help me in my challenge for the top spot. I’ve got a nice lead now, but with just one mistake you could miss a final and then that lead is gone so I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Though the athletes obviously vary in fundamental characteristics such as age, height, ethnicity and nationality, they are all linked by this one collective quality, that they don’t take anything for granted, and by their overwhelming happiness.
Despite what must have been a long, taxing and no doubt tiring day, not one of them showed any signs of annoyance at the sheer throng of people clamouring for their attention after the final dive. No mean feat, considering the thousands of people in attendance and the warm summer sun beating down relentlessly on their bare chests.
No doubt the adrenaline still coursing through their veins had a fairly positive effect on their mood, but one has to wonder if there could be more at play here.
Why are they all so happy and full of joy? What’s their secret? If these questions were directed at Nietzsche, he would reply: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
If we were to ask Eleanor Roosevelt, she would say: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear”.
If she’s right, and the purpose of life is simply to live it, who could possibly be more alive than someone who has just cheated death?
And in this modern-day rat-race these ‘daredevil adrenaline junkies’ may be the only ones who have it all figured out.