“It’s a really big mental game, standing up there,” says cliff diver Rhiannan Iffland. “You never know what will happen.”
One thing is guaranteed though — the toll it takes on her body extreme.
“We’re hitting the water at anywhere between 77 to 80km/h, and slowing down in a couple of seconds,” she said..
“You can imagine the impact on the body.”
Iffland has set her sights on another successful year in 2018, after being crowned world champion for the second consecutive time.
She has returned home to the New South Wales Hunter region for a break over Christmas.
“It has been nice coming home and being able to reflect on it all, and just chill out with the family and feel a little bit ‘normal’ again,” she said.
Iffland defended her title in the final event of the season in Lago Ranco, Chile, in October.
The Cliff Diving World Series also held events in Ireland, Portugal, Italy, the United States, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Women competing in the event dived from between 19.5 and 22 metres off a man-made platform in a natural environment.
“Sometimes it feels like [hitting] concrete,” Iffland said.
“You can land perfectly straight and still come out and go, ‘aww where did that pain come from’?”
From suburban pool to Caribbean cruise ship
Iffland’s love of diving ignited as a nine-year-old in suburban Newcastle.
She came from a trampolining background, and eventually starting diving on the three-metre springboard and 10m platform at her local pool.
“I’ve always been interested in extreme sports, and I’ve always been a pretty outgoing kid,” she said.
“It got a bit repetitive going to the swimming pool every day, and doing the same thing over, and over again.”
She took up a job working as an ‘aquatic acrobat’ on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, before working at a theme park in France, where she took her first high dive.
Now on the world cliff diving circuit, Iffland said the training regime is gruelling on the body.
“We usually break down the dives into three parts,” she said.
“It’s a bit hectic on the body to be training cliff diving every single day at 20m.
“We have to take a bit of the pressure off the body and just keep it at lower heights.
“Also, mixing up the training a little bit [is important], so you can surprise your mind and stay on the ball.
“You just never know what will happen. You want to be able to trust yourself, and doing repetitive training with skills, different twists, a different amount of somersaults in different places. Every little bit helps.”
‘I’m always scared’
No matter if she is diving at her local pool, or taking on a cliff in an exotic location, Iffland said her stream of thoughts when diving remained the same.
“I’m always scared, to tell you the truth. Every single time. But I love it,” she said.
“I think it keeps me a little bit safe, and makes me feel like I’m not crazy.
“The build-up is much, much worse than that actual moment when you step onto the platform, because you’re thinking, ‘things could go wrong, what could happen here?’
“I find once I get there into that moment, onto the platform, I look out at the location, and usually I go ‘wow — this is amazing. This is why I’m here — because I love to do this’.
“I think that really helps a lot.”
Iffland said when she is about to dive, her brain switches to ‘go-mode’.
“You think only what you have to do, because you do have that danger there and that fear that’s on your shoulder,” she said.
“You can’t remember any of the thoughts that go through your mind.
“As you take off, muscle memory just takes over, and then you just go through a process.”
With another year of travel and world-beating behind her, Iffland had her eyes set on being crowned champion again in 2018.
“At the end of the day, I love what I do,” she said.
“It’s overcoming that fear which makes me want to climb back up there and do it again.”