Athletes & Explorers

May 12, 2021

Red Bull Cliff Diver Takes Her Hot Streak to the Hot Air Balloon

Cliff diving’s most decorated female athlete, Rhiannan Iffland, sets a new world record in the world's first dive from a moving hot air balloon.


Davey Braun

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“Once I slice through the water, everything goes silent.”

Watch as Australia’s renowned cliff diving champion Rhiannan Iffland dives 18 meters from a hot air balloon over New South Wales’ Lostock Dam in the lead up to a new Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series season.

Iffland performed her backflip at competition height, but with the added variable of unpredictable movement of the jumping platform attached to the swaying basket.

The balloon was descending more quickly over the landing zone than she would have hoped, yet Rhiannan put her trust in the pilot, counted down from three, and perfectly executed a sprawling backflip – stomping the landing.

After coming off an undefeated 2019 season, Iffland was looking forward to performing and progressing throughout 2020. [Read more about here record-breaking season here.]

As cliff diving’s most decorated female athlete, the 29-year-old travels the world, from the Philippines and Spain to Japan and Chile, competing in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series where athletes leap off remarkable cliffs up to 27 meters high and at speeds in excess of 85km/h. However, as the world went into lockdown last year, so did the Australian’s plans to compete with the goal to be crowned the champion for the fifth consecutive year. But when Red Bull’s season was canceled due to Covid-19, she branched out in another way that exemplifies her personality – creative, and even wacky cliff dives in remote locations. [World champion cliff diver Rhiannan Iffland ventures into aboriginal territory in search of extreme cliffs and a deeper understanding of her home country’s heritage.]

After successfully diving in one of the world’s oldest underground salt mines in Romania, another world’s first, this latest stunt raises the bar as the world’s first dive from a moving hot air balloon. Iffland is also the first female in history to dive out of any balloon.

The Newcastle native selected to soar over the Hunter Region’s Lostock Dam close to her home.

“I chose Lostock Dam because it’s one of my favorite areas and I wanted to visit a location that had been impacted by the bushfires,” said Iffland. “It was such a poignant moment, seeing the region from a new point of view high up in the sky. The Hunter Region is so beautiful and was the first place I thought of to achieve this dream dive.”

World Champion cliff diver Rhiannan Iffland performs a high dive from a hot air balloon above Lostock Dam in New South Wales, Australia on April 27, 2021

Getting the right conditions was the tricky part. The waiting game started at 4:30 am on the day of the jump. The crew had to wait out swelling winds as a result of fog in the surrounding mountains. Once the safety helium balloon stood upright as a sign of steady conditions, the hot air balloon took off from the ground with Iffland standing harnessed on a small platform outside the basket. Moving close to the exact diving spot, the balloon sank down from its 40m soaring altitude to the actual diving height and the athlete had only a fleeting moment to smoothly push off from the platform and take flight.

Celebrating this moment, Iffland said: “It feels so surreal. I’ve been dreaming about attempting world-first challenges ever since I started diving 20 years ago. I never thought I’d have the incredible opportunity to dive out of a hot air balloon, but Red Bull gave me the wings that helped make this happen. I’ve been training for this moment for the last few months and I’m so proud to be the first person to achieve this feat.”

Cliff diving at these extreme heights can lead to serious injury, even with a perfect landing.

“When I dive, every meter above 16 meters counts, as I can feel the difference in height and entry to the water, meaning I need to tweak my dive accordingly. So, to be doing a world-first dive at 18 meters high, from a constantly moving target that only seconds before diving was up to 40 meters in the air, I was feeling both exhilarated and nervous.”

World Champion cliff diver Rhiannan Iffland performs a high dive from a hot air balloon above Lostock Dam in New South Wales, Australia on April 27, 2021

But Red Bull has just announced the reopening of its globe-trotting competition circuit starting in June. Twenty-four of the world’s best cliff divers, including reigning champions Iffland and Gary Hunt from France, will once again leap, twist and somersault from breathtaking heights of up to 27 meters and up 85km/h fast.

“With only a few dives at competition height under my belt this past year, this was exactly the challenge I needed in the lead up to the resumption of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, beginning in June in France.”

Follow champion performer Rhiannan Iffland on social media.

Instagram: @rhiannan_iffland
Facebook: @rhiannanathlete

Photos courtesy of Red Bull