By Rhiannan Iffland
It all started with a WhatsApp message exchange between myself and the team from Red Bull. The cliff diving series had just been cancelled due to COVID-19 and I was feeling a little lost, like we all were, with what was to come for the next year. But I didn't want to just wait around. No, I wanted to set myself a challenge to push myself further than I'd ever been before.
Myself and Red Bull had some pretty wild ideas floating around but we settled on the balloon dive. Yes, diving out of a moving hot air balloon into a lake which was 18 feet below. Red Bull wanted to make this dream and wild idea of mine become a reality. I fancied it. They fancied it. So we made it happen.
The dive itself was amazing but the entire experience as a whole was simply unbelievable. From getting to the site early, to seeing the giant balloon get inflated - I was just so stoked to see it all play out so perfectly in front of my own eyes. I even enjoyed figuring out all the logistics and challenges that came with jumping out of a moving hot air balloon into a still lake. Winds, water, heights, diving sequences, you name it - I was just loving every second of it.
While I was up there, it was very quiet. The wind was perfect and the views from the balloon over the Lostock Dam in the Hunter region were so beautiful. When we took off, I was actually really nervous, but those nerves instantly disappeared when I was up there in the sky. I was honestly just enjoying the ride and trying to take in every ounce of this once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Looking back to where it all began, I think I was around nine years old when I started out as a trampolinist and gymnast. There was some other gymnasts who I trained with who were involved with diving. I was always a water baby growing up so my parents thought 'let's mix her passion for the water and love for acrobatics together'. So one day I went to the pool at Lambton in Newcastle and, well, let's just say I never looked back.
From there I went on to compete at three metre and 10 metre diving in conventional style. I then did a few international events as a junior and was pushing into opens as I was getting older. But I ended up getting really burnt out - it was a bit repetitive for me. So my next move, and this is a bit of a unique one, was that I went to work on cruise ships sailing around the Caribbean as an aquatic acrobat. And that's when I was introduced to high diving. I knew I had all the skills and the fundamentals to get there so I basically spent a year and half learning the craft and making the transition from 10 metre to 20 metre diving.
Once that was done, I was then fortunate enough to get my first official invite to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Being on cruise ships allowed me to find a different path with my diving and light the fire again by doing something completely different which was still really rewarding. It was an amazing feeling to finish a show and pop out of the water to see that you'd entertained and pleased a bunch of people. Interestingly, it's the exact same feeling you get at the Cliff Diving World Series too, except the people watching aren't cruise ship patrons anymore - they're genuine sports spectators.
The nerves you get from diving, seeing your toes hanging over the edge, is honestly like nothing else. It's a really hard feeling to describe. I'd say I get more nervous than what my family does - which is saying something. If I'm being truthful, I'm scared every single time I go up to do a high dive at those heights because it is risky and if I didn't get scared then I wouldn't be a normal human being, would I?
Your body is just reacting to fear and the added pressure of competition. It's a really, really strange feeling but it's actually what I love most about the sport. Being overwhelmed with fear, emotion, adrenaline and that feeling of uncertainty. Then finally hitting the water after a successful dive, everything just goes silent. But when you emerge from the cold water this sense of accomplishment swallows you up. And that feeling doesn't fade, it happens every single time. It has, and always will, draw me back and make me want to dive again. There's no feeling quite like it, honestly.
I remember the first time telling my mum and dad about my goals. They said 'hang on a minute, you're going to do what exactly?' To which I replied 'yes, I'm going to become a high diver and go for a world title'. I still reckon my mum, more so than my dad, covers her eyes every time I dive. Given how many I've done in my lifetime, they're pretty used to it now though. They know I've mitigated as many risks as possible and that I've done all the training. At the end of the day, this is what I do. It's who I am.
Training this year has been great so far. It's not too long now until I head over to begin the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. The last two to three months has been full-on training but fitting in these exciting new projects has been great. It'll be an interesting series because our break from competition has been so long. In terms of my training methods, I've been focusing on getting my mind back into gear and getting myself in the position to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. And as of 2021, Red Bull Cliff Diving actually closed the pay gap between men and women for equal opportunities. That's a really nice feeling. Now females also have the same format as our male competitors so that's a really empowering feeling to know that we've moved in that direction.