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Red Bull Cliff Diver Rhiannan Iffland

Like many sports, cliff diving is an artform. Free falling from up to 27-metres combined with awe-inducing aerobatics. It’s a sport that dates back to the 1700s, and Lake Macquarie’s Rhiannan Iffland is looking to be crowned the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Champion for an eighth consecutive time.

When she was little, Rhiannan’s mum enrolled her in a trampolining club after she developed an interest in backflips and cartwheels in the backyard. It was there that she met several gymnasts, and the coach introduced her to diving. Rhiannan started diving at Lambton Pool when she was 9 years old.  

“I was bouncing around on the board and mixing my passion for flipping and being a water baby, so it came naturally. From the first day I went I have never really looked back.

“It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I was offered an NSW Institute of Sport scholarship, and I was told I had to choose to pursue diving or trampolining, one or the other. So, I chose diving and competed at junior nationals, at international events until I was 20 years old and ended up working on cruise ships as an aquatic acrobat.

“A few of my colleagues were involved in or had been involved in the Cliff Diving World Series – most divers follow it because it’s an amazing thing to watch, so I thought ‘Yeah I probably have the skills for that, I don’t know about the guts but I’ll give it a go’.”

Rhiannan practiced diving from 20 metres, sent in a video submission and then went to a cliff diving event to show them what she could do.

Red Bull Cliff Diver Rhiannan Iffland

She won her first Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series Championship title in 2016 as a rookie and a wild card entry and to this day she can’t believe she did it. Let alone go on to win six more.

She went on the claim the title in Chile in 2017, Polignano al Mare in Italy in 2018, Spain in 2019, back in Italy in 2021 after the coronavirus pandemic, Sydney in 2022 and New Zealand for the 2023 championship final earlier this year.

As well as that championship title across the ditch in January, Rhiannan also won her fourth World Championship title with the highest scoring dive in Doha.

“I think in the last couple of years the dives have gotten harder and there’s a lot of younger divers coming through. It takes a lot of mental push to stay where I am,” said Rhiannan.

Diving 20 metres off a cliff, into a gorge, off a platform or a building comes with its risks.

“I do everything possible to try and mitigate those risks, but you can’t always avoid injuries or accidents happening.

“One time in Italy I had a mental block. I was standing on the platform, and I wasn’t totally convinced but I needed to do the dive for the competition. I was standing on the edge and as I went to jump and start the rotation my brain stopped me and said ‘no, you don’t actually know what you’re doing’ so body and mind weren’t connected.

“I stood there looking down 22 metres thinking ‘what do I do if I just fall’, but thankfully I completed the dive and I was fine but that’s probably the closest call I’ve had.

“I know my limits and I think with experience you learn your limit and sometimes you learn the hard way and it does get easier to mitigate the risks.”

When Rhiannan was based in Austria doing a lot of high diving, she remembers standing on the platform one day thinking she felt too comfortable, and she didn’t like it.

“The fact that I wasn’t completely switched on to do what I was doing, I looked at the other diver and told them I was going back down because things start to go wrong when you get complacent.

“Sometimes it takes more courage and bravery to walk back down and not do the dive, rather than doing it anyway.”

Red Bull Cliff Diver Rhiannan Iffland

Being able to know when you should and shouldn’t dive is crucial when you’re diving off Mostar’s 16th-century bridge, Stari Most or the flowing waters beneath the Takachiho Gorge, deep into the mountains of Miyaaki prefecture in Kyushu.

Rhiannan has seen some incredible parts of the world, but it is the 24-metre dive she did at Kakadu in a spot called ‘Jedda’s Leap’ that is still at the top of her list of favourites.

“They’re all amazing in their own way. Diving in Kakadu Gorge was amazing, it was my highest dive to date and probably my favourite because of the whole process of getting there to that moment.

“I always draw it back to the energy I get from each event. Polignano al mare is amazing because there are 75 to 100,000 screaming fans jumping for joy and just love what we do.”

Rhiannan regularly goes back home to Lake Macquarie and trains at Lambton Pool where there are plenty of aspiring female athletes who look up to her.

“It’s more rewarding than any medal or any title just knowing you’ve helped somebody or motivated them to get into something awesome and face fears on a daily basis so that’s really cool.

“It’s a nice feeling knowing that I have inspired even some of the divers on the world series.”

The 2024 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series will get underway in a couple of months’ time and Rhiannan plans on an eighth consecutive title.

“I haven’t quite figured out my next move, I have lots of ideas, but an eighth world title is definitely in sight.”

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