Plummeting toward the water from six stories high while flipping, twisting, and turning? NBD for Rachelle “Rocco” Simpson.
1. This is Rachelle “Rocco” Simpson.
2. In 2014 she became the first woman to win the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, the world’s only professional cliff diving competition.
The World Series is now in its seventh season, taking place over several months at diving spots all over the world. Last year was the first year women were allowed to compete.
3. To understand how she does this:
5. You have to first understand a little bit about the sport.
6. In professional cliff diving competition, the platform is 65 feet high for women and 90 feet high for men.
That’s about six stories high, or more.
7. And it’s wedged into a cliff or attached to a bridge or building or other pre-existing structure.
8. These heights are two to three times greater than the highest platform in Olympic diving, which is 32 feet high.
9. Competitors dive three times in a row. Each attempt is evaluated based on the take-off, number of somersaults and twists, positioning, and water entry.
10. The higher platform allows divers to execute two to three more flips per dive than traditional Olympic-height platforms.
(Like this dive, a Front Two Somersaults 1 ½ Twist Free.)
11. But those dizzying heights also mean you can’t hit the water head-first (called “going to your head”), because the impact could cause a concussion, shoulder dislocation, etc.
Instead, you aim for a feet-first impact (which feels like you’re slamming into concrete the first couple times you do it, Simpson tells BuzzFeed Life).
12. And yes, that is really scary. Even for competitive cliff divers.
Even though Simpson has had years of gymnastics training, dove competitively in high school, and performed in numerous trick shows at Sea World and elsewhere, cliff diving competitions still freak her out. “I’m terrified every time,” she says. “It’s all about that height. If you have a bad landing, you’re done for the day, or sometimes a month.”
This is probably what’s going through the minds of divers as they make their way up to the platform. In some places on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series tour, there’s ample time to contemplate the six-story leap you’re about to make. In Texas, Simpson says, “you have a 10-minute hike to the top and then in Norway, you have to climb these ladders.” Once you reach the platform, you have another five or so minutes waiting for the person ahead of you to jump.
13. So how the hell does someone do this safely? Or at all?
According to Simpson, you need a lot of strength, flexibility, and practice. “If you hit the water and your legs can’t stay together, you can tear muscles,” she says. “You can pull a groin muscle, dislocate a shoulder or tear it.” Plus, you need to be seriously mentally tough.
Here’s what goes into her training.
14. To get as strong and conditioned as she needs to be, Simpson works out for about 25 hours per week.
A recent workout looked like this:
A. Full-body HIIT (3 rounds: 45 seconds on, 15 seconds rest):
Goblet squats, mountain climbers, single-arm dumbbell swings, T-pushups with dumbbells, split jumps, dumbbell rows, dumbbell side lunges, dumbbell pushup rows, dumbbell lunge and rotation, and dumbbell push press
C. 45-minute run
She does a workout like this four to five times a week.
15. On top of her near-daily gym routine, she also does hot yoga and diving practice two to four times a week.
16. To get mentally tough, Simpson prepares for her time on the platform with lots of visualization.
This means that when she’s on the platform, all she has to do is dive. “I visualize every day doing dives from that high. Once I’m on the platform I can’t overthink it.” She says that some competitors stand on the edge thinking. Not her: “I count to three, take a deep breath, and go, or I’m not going to go. You know what you’re doing, your body knows what you’re doing and you need to trust yourself.”
And there also meditation, lots of it. Simpson says her practice is “Nothing big, nothing deep… I sit, find a comfortable spot, breathe in breathe out, think of a word. If something comes into your head, acknowledge it, let it go.”
17. On top of all that physical and mental training, Simpson is careful and passionate about how she eats.
“I’m a huge believer in whole foods,” she says. “I don’t eat anything if I can’t pronounce it… And my husband is vegan so half the time I eat vegan.”
18. Here’s an example of what she might eat in a typical day:
For breakfast, Simpson has a heaping helping of oatmeal, with either some natural protein powder or egg whites, or these Belgian waffles. Pictured here is a bowl with mixed berries, oatmeal, raw cashew butter and a seed blend.
Lunch is a protein shake with Greek yogurt and fruit, and dinner is usually a pile of vegetables and a piece of fish. Simpson says she’ll eat “as many vegetables as I want — a huge salad loaded up with all different colors.”
For snacks, Simpson grabs fruit or hummus and carrots.
19. Here are a few more shots of Simpson doing her thing at the 2014 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series:
22. And check out incredible videos of divers in action here.
You can watch cliff diving IRL starting in April when the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series kicks off in Colombia. But just FYI, at some of the stops on the tour, it’s floating-room only; spectators watch from kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, boats, etc.