Grey clouds separate sun and sea.
Rolling waves heave over rocks, shaking fists at stubborn skies.
Fishing boats convert into ferries
Ferries prepare to cut through crashing waters.
Groggy travelers step onboard.
Feet mind gaps between boat and dock.
Boats… ferries… putt-putt-putt away.
From one land to another.
Eyes turn toward clouds.
Eyes stop midway.
A brilliant orange cliff.
High above boats.
High above spectators.
High above shaking waters.
Sprinkled with bodies.
Bodies near edge.
Chins point skyward.
Groggy travelers become alert.
Tired eyes squint toward cliffs.
Noses awaken to diesel smells.
Quiet mouths release cheers.
Closed ears open at slaps.
Slaps of bodies.
Bodies meeting rolling waves.
Bodies twisting, turning, tumbling.
Bodies piking, tucking, inverting, reversing.
Bodies submerging in cold waters.
Faces smiling at success.
Eyes widen with disbelief.
Spectators roar with approval.
Rolling waves heave over rocks, clapping hands at sunny skies.
Red Bull Cliff Diving is an event like none other. Trained daredevils climb sky high at eight events in eight countries. Judges score them on technicalities ranging from 0 to 10. Some are veteran divers, some relatively new to the scene.
Eight stops are marked around the world, a few at which both men and women compete. Sao Miguel in Portugal’s Azores Islands was one of those three locales giving all the world’s highest ranking divers a chance at Gold.
After two seasons of tracking these world-class athletes during their competitions around the globe, I’d been lucky enough to squeeze in a trip to the Azores for one of this year’s events. For me, it meant ooo-ing and aaah-ing at the talents I had at been able to work with during a short yet sweet performance stint at Sea World. I, a synchronized swimmer. They, divers. At Sao Miguel, two of the American female divers had an extra cheer section in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean aboard a quaint red boat. And I yelled as loudly as this little voice can yell in hopes that they’d get one extra smile in before their big dive.
A chance encounter at the Sao Miguel airport with another tourist secured me a spot on one of the island’s finest boats: a 5-person motor boat prepared to handle the toughest of waters. Don’t believe me? Check out the photo.
I was worried. Believe me, I was very worried. Crashing. Barreling. Capsizing. Those waves I mentioned, shaking fists at stubborn skies? They were real. And they were more capable of shaking fists at Little Red Motor Boat than any rain cloud in the sky. At least the swimming’s easy!
It was incredible to see. Each athlete exuded a confidence that only those risking their lives by tiptoeing to a rock’s ledge 28 meters over tumultuous waters can exude. They danced, they sang. Crowds thought these giddy ups were part of the show. I bet they are, but I also bet they are part of the athletes’ own self-encouragement: A little “You’ve got this”
And they did: they all “got this” with grace, attitude, congeniality and confidence.
What a perfect place to be. Sao Miguel is ranked time and time again as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The island’s soil is rich in nutrients, keeping its small surface area filled with multitudes of natural resources. Rolling hills are covered in checkerboard fields, cows grazing, tractors mowing. Pineapples grow like wildflowers.
Water babies find an abundance of options to satisfy their every desire. Beaches covered in black volcanic sand dot coastlines, and public pools are as frequent as corner markets. And for those who a more relaxed, private atmosphere: hot springs can be found high up in the mountains, easily accessible by tour company or private car.
There are tea plantations, a liquor factory, and world-class pottery facilities. Food is nothing to look away from either. The Azores are known for their cheeses and Sao Miguel in particular has a very special method of which to cook a hot meal: using geysers as ovens. Visitors can take one of the island’s few highways to Al Furnas to experience a cooking method where food is buried under ground in a hot geyser, cooked, and retrieved to enjoy! This is a definite once in a lifetime experience of a meal.
Put Sao Miguel high on your travel radar, and keep Red Bull Cliff Divers in mind as well- maybe you can spot them there next round. In the meantime, you can learn more about Red Bull Cliff Diving at: http://www.redbullcliffdiving.com/en_INT