Hiking NZ director Malcolm witnessed a near accident at his local swimming hole recently so decided to share some tricks and tips he has learnt from experience.
Nothing beats falling through the air then punching through the water surface into the dim dark depths. The fear, the free fall, the splash and then emerging from the deep with a big wide grin all over your face! Crisp clear blue water on a summer's day. But you can also look like a hero without actually needing to be one. Here are some tips, and a few words of wisdom on how to look good and be safe(er).
This advice is for normal people and kids, not people with GoPro's pushing boundaries and doing amazing stunts. The main thing to remember is that many of the folk you see doing incredible things on YouTube are often semi-professional. Many are snowboard/ski halfpipe/jump spinners who are simply taking years of training and applying it to a cliff face in between winters. I would not chuck on a pair of skis and follow these nutters off a ski jump. And nor would I follow them off a 25m cliff edge. They are way beyond the league of us mortals.
There are plenty of blogs and advice out on the web, but many I saw seemed to lack hard advice or even make the distinction between the nutters and the normal folk! And many seemed to say it was dangerous, but not really tell you the details. Here are a few things I have discovered over the years. It is not a comprehensive list, and generally worked for me. I'm just wanting people who are doing small jumps to do it safely. I've never done the big scary stuff that you see on YouTube - ask a real hero about that!
Lastly, just to illustrate how mad it is to believe everything on the net, I saw a 'how to cliff jump' post recently. At the end a reader has asked the blogger how deep water needs to be for a 35m jump. The answer "4-6m and be safe". He fails to mention that many people have died jumping less distance than that.
First the obvious. Don't jump from too high as this is dangerous or even deadly (based on your landing skills). Too high and water turns to concrete. Sometimes the water is so clear you don't realise how high you are or how shallow it is. The best plan is to start jumping just a few metres up, and work up till you reach your limit (under 10 m). Most people jump as diving is dangerous above a few meters, whereas jumping is cool. Water depth can play tricks too. Some people swear that mirror-clear water looks deeper to you than rippled and other people say exactly the opposite. My experience is that many factors come into play here. Visual cues (size of stones or weeds on river bed) suggest distance/depth as well as light angle, how wired you are and how many espressos you had today. If you can measure depth and height by gazing down at the water you are better than me. Best measure it by person heights/sticks or swimming it - something more scientific. With regards to height (assuming depth is OK) I reckon with a 3 to 5m jump it is hard to really damage yourself too badly by a terrible water entry alone. You can create enough pain to elicit some sympathy, but you are unlikely to be doing too many trips to the physio at 4m gone wrong. 7m gets more serious but for experienced folk who have it all together on landing up to 10m generally works aside from slapping numbness and small sprains. Above this height it can go horribly wrong. Here are some ideas and points for normal achievable jumps (below 7 or 8m). I'm not suggesting any higher is worth the pain or risk.
Homer Simpson can do it, why can't I?
Don't be tempted to follow the previous crazy guy off a cliff - what was an easy safe jump for the person just in front of you can go badly for the next. Some locals might look like Homer Simpson after a session at Moe's Bar, but they could actually be rather capable gymnast-like folk who can launch like a coiled spring and defy gravity for extended periods of time. Assess the jump not the mammal doing it.
First penguin off the ice flow?
If you are new to a spot or you are the first here on the day remember today is a new day for the river, the half submerged log, the rope that’s 98% chaffed through at the top and the angry, very hungry, 100 year old eel nicknamed 'alien' by the locals. My point is every day is a new day so assessment starts afresh each time.
I've probably only jumped into muddy water in two places in my life as New Zealand water is usually clear. One spot was the deep Murray River in Australia, the other a lake in the far north. In the lake I always swim the drop zone thoroughly to be sure it is clear. The Murray River is just huge and I was young. Generally it's just daft to do the same in NZ in a muddy river as it means the river is flooded, so logs, fence posts and other submerged detritus are in the river. Golden rule is swim it first if it's a lake, and don't do it if it's a brown river.
I am always amazed at how close my bum gets to the ground on swings even though at the release zone high up the hill it seems impossibly high when I start. It seems humans are useless at judging horizontal distances and converting them to vertical. Do bear this in mind. Tail bones take months to come right. It's so tempting to hang off the big knot on the bottom of the rope, but be very sure you will not hit the ground on the way to nirvana. I've rarely seen a swing that you can hang off the knot on your arms - generally it seems its a sit spot. So where does it go wrong? I've seen a few swing rope failures on someone's second jump when hands are wet and you slip. Small radius swings starting high will generate higher G force value too.
On our Far North hike - Tepaki Stream lake jump into murky water. An excellent dismount. Air and style but no spin, he was French so you should expect perfection!
Shelfs and undercuts
River cliffs can have under cuts as well as shallow rock ledges around the pool. Ledges are things you need to clear - obviously - and due to humans being useless at calculating horizontal relative to vertical (see previous note) you really want to spend time getting this right. It's probably the biggest risk as it is easy to underestimate how hard it is to clear a horizontal distance. Which brings me to why I am writing this blog.
Just last month I was at the Tairua River hole in the Coromandel. A summer's day and lots of people there. A bunch of us were doing a six to seven metre swing out over a rock ledge into a deep river hole. I watched speechless as a woman about 20 years old lost grip of a rope swing well before it was far enough out over the river. She had wet hands I guess. Time stopped for me as I watched her plunge, not nearly far enough out from the cliff face. All I could think of was that rock ledge that she had to clear at the base. I still can't believe her head missed it. I actually turned my head away at the last moment as I didn't want to be haunted by any image of her hitting it. It was a close call, just amazingly close, within cm of death I suspect. I have three daughters so this is my contribution writing this blog to keep some other bloke's daughters safe!
Undercuts on the other hand can drag a swimmer under a bank where there may be trees or logs to get tangled in, so make sure the current won't take you there.
Time to leave the nest
Best to depart the swing or jump point in a calm and dignified fashion, And, unless you are are a Russian gymnast, try not to leave the earth/swing in a desperate herculean burst of effort as your balance may end up suffering and you will soon be screaming like a banshee as you ungracefully windmill your way into the water - think collapsing wind turbine into the Irish sea. It's about balance, balance and dignity! Standing jumps are a good start, both elegant, powerful and safer than running jumps. Running jumps are definitely reserved for the experienced and the uber coordinated. Resist starting that rope swing too far up the bank too, if you think your balance will suffer. On a swing if you dismount at the bottom (lowest point of the pendulum) you will have a stack of horizontal speed still (as well as your falling speed). It's a more complicated landing and a harder dismount. Consider riding the pendulum to the top and letting go in that beautiful weightless moment as you turn. Much easier even though it's a smidgen higher.
Some people seem to survive windmilling into the water time after time. I never get it. I hate the assault of the hard water on my thin body, the water up my nozzle and being winded - and other more painful possibilities if I forget to close my legs. But I take my hat off to those who repeatedly endure it for the random look.
Do you remember when the original photo-bombs were unintentional? Good effort Mr Windmill.
If you are like me, here are some things I do to avoid this ignominy. I try hard as I can to disengage from the cliff or swing with no spin in any axis - a clean neutral dismount. Usually this means letting go 'softly' or jumping softly. On the way down I have my arms wide out to resist any remaining spin (reducing angular velocity). Best advice I ever got was to keep my eyes on the horizon (not looking down) which helps balance and has the additional advantage that it keeps your nose free of water, then at the last moment I bring my arms in close to my side.
Style. The world is your oyster.
Kids doing a small jump that need a hero shot for the camera? Camera needs to be as low as possible. Want to look like you are higher? Try to go into a mid air kneeling position (and arms up high) - it makes the jump look a lot higher. A gentle rotation / twist of the upper body looks very cool in photos, and seems to mess with the idea of perspective and height - see the dude in the pic below, its hard to actually work out where he is spatially in the picture - nice.
Jumping off the bridge at 5 Mile Hike, Okarito, West Coast, lets play twister.
Bent knees make you look higher than you are. Thats a fail I'm afraid Mazz.
The eagle has landed - what's the damage.....
Assuming the water is deep enough, and that depends on the height you jump from and how soft the bottom is - it's perfectly reasonable to hit the bottom with your legs a little at the end, and you haven't landed on top of a swimmer. For a classic jump I try and enter the water with arms tight by my side, fingers pointing down my thighs or gripped together in front of groin (trickier). My legs are together, feet flat or pointed, chest out, chin high and back tipped back ever so slightly - reclined from a vertical position - for a soft harmless entry. If you pull this perfect entry off it can feel like a feather pillow.
This is my daughter - nearly there. Tipping forwards rather than backwards, so nose full of water and if too much hip hinge there is the potential for face slap as your upper body pivots forwards. But at this height, who cares.
Holding nose - a very bad look? It works in in the bath, but higher up you risk the water surface catching your bent elbow and your hand breaking your nose, ouch. At 10m it's almost a given that you will need a trip to the hospital and get boxing jokes about your black eye. And that's not even addressing the biggest issue which is appalling form. Have you ever seen a dude doing this on YouTube? I rest my case.
Ignimbrite cliff Lake Tarawera. More importantly a daft holding the nose gig. In his defence, Roland is perfectly cool in every other way.
Make new friends - hold hands
If jumping with a friend, make sure you don't land with your body all tangled. Discuss what you are doing if you are jumping next to each other. If you are jumping with someone else then holding hands is actually a reasonable way to NOT crash into each other as Newton so described in his first and third universal jumping laws. You can maintain space between you on the way down. At the very least you will hit the water at a similar time which is a lot better. I could bore you with some density deceleration equations but basically if you land in a heap with someone else it's going to end badly as the first person effectively stops when they hit the water, and the second person lands on them at speed - ouch.
Piper and I holding hands so we don't crash into each other and I get hurt (she is tougher than me).
Three other things
The swim. Up high is a vantage point to see where the easiest current back to the bank lies. Don't forget to look where you should head after your (perfect) landing.
Ocean tides. Don't forget the ocean depth from a sea cliff or tidal river swing can change by about three vertical metres usually (in NZ), less in the Mediterranean and up to 5m in some places. This is very easy to forget on a tidal river swing - like this guy on the fantastic mosquito point swing near Whanganui. If you come here at high tide you completely forget it could be low the next day. Apparently he was fine!
It's more fun with a friend. And safer.
I hope that helps, feel free to mail me any additions to the list - happy to add.