Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Leap of faith

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

The only thing better than watching Dustin Webster jump off 85-foot cliffs is listening to his fun-in-the-sun preparation routine.

Diving for dollars

What: Third annual Red Bull Cliff Diving Lana'i Hawai'i

When: Tomorrow, 12:30 p.m.

Where: Sacred 82-foot cliff face of Kaunolu

Who: 11 of the world's best cliff divers

Prize money: $35,000

To watch: To preserve the area, spectators can only watch from the water from special platforms. Call Trilogy Excursions for reservations at (888) 628-4800 or (808) 661-4743.

Webster listens to rock band Alice in Chains, whips spectators into a frenzy with wild screams and acts like he's the coolest guy on earth at cliff-diving competitions normally reserved for serious-faced and quiet competitors.

His routine draws laughs and smiles from spectators, and as world class cliff divers go, Webster may be one of the most decorated and wacky of them all.

"I like to entertain people," said Webster, who holds the record for most gold medal finishes in international cliff diving competitions with 15. "This sport happens to be a true crowd pleaser. This is something that people can relate and understand the risks of."

Webster will be one of the 11 competitors in tomorrow's third annual $35,000 Red Bull Cliff Diving Lana'i Hawai'i event with the world's best divers jumping 82 feet off a cliff into 25 feet of water.

Contest organizers said Lana'i was chosen as the site because of its steep cliffs and cliff diving history. The sport dates as far as 1770 when Kahekili, chief of Maui and Lana'i, performed "lele kawa" which translates to jumping off high cliffs and entering the water without a splash. To prove their courage and loyalty, Kahekili forced his warriors to follow his example.

Centuries later, Webster and a new breed of cliff divers will pay tribute to Lana'i, considered the birthplace of cliff diving. Organizers said care will be taken when dealing with holy sites, temples and other culturally significant spots.

Webster, 34, of San Diego, said he tries to keep his dives fresh and spontaneous. He sometimes starts dives balanced in a handstand position, then pushes off, and executes spins, somersaults and twists.

"When Dustin's competing he likes to have fun," said his wife, Becca. "You can always tell which one Dustin is because he looks relaxed. He's really focused but he doesn't let the competition get to him. He likes to impress the crowd."

Not all divers are as loud and carefree as Webster. Two-time Red Bull defending champion Orlando Duque, 27, of Colombia, said he's just the opposite. The 5-foot-9, 150-pound diver, who just last year performed dives at Waimea Falls Park, takes a serious approach.

"I'm a quiet guy who concentrates," said Duque who lives in Punalu'u. "But I enjoy it as much as he does."

Webster said his thoughts are scattered when he's perched upon the cliff, but all that changes about a second before a dive.

"At that point I become a businessman, I become very focused and very serious," Webster said. "Because I know the risks that I'm about to undertake can't be taken lightly and jokingly. At that point I fall back on 15 years of high diving and cliff diving experience and I let my body go into auto-pilot."

Once he leaps off the cliff, Webster has two seconds to perform his stunts and relies on muscle memory to pull him through.

"You make life-and-death decisions in a half of a second," Webster said. "In two seconds you feel opposite poles on emotion. You go from excitement and fear to relief that you're alive."

No competitor has died in the Red Bull competitions, but Webster said many divers have injured their collarbones, spines, heels and most frequently their knees landing in the water at speeds close to 60 mph. Occasionally, the impact has shredded divers' bathing suits.

Webster said cliff divers have to be physically fit and must possess quick twitch muscles. Divers rely on those muscles when they tense up just before entry to spear through the water for a "rip entry" or splashless entry.

The impact of hitting the water does take its toll on the body, Webster said. Collegiate and Olympic divers can practice all day from relatively safe heights, but not cliff divers, he said.

"We can only do, on a given day, six training dives," said Webster who is 5 feet 5 and 138 pounds. "Your body really starts to hurt after that. On the physical level it's much more intense. But on the mental level it's five times that because you know what you're facing each time. We're taking olympic-style dives, adding a flip and twist to it, and doing it three times higher."

Contest organizers said heavy impact on the grounds near the diving site called Kaunolu is prohibited so spectators may only watch the event from the water and special water platforms will be erected. For reservations, call Trilogy Excursions at (888) 628-4800 or (808) 661-4743.