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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Reviews

Nov 22, 2018

Film Review: Extreme Cliff Diving in The Outback

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.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

At the age of 27, Australian Rhiannan Iffland has just established herself as the best female cliff diver in history. She’s had so many wins this year that her wikipedia page can’t keep up. Beyond her travel for competition, Rhiannan and her sponsor Red Bull have just released Diving Into The Australian Outback, a short film featuring Rhiannan’s extreme cliff diving adventure into the wild.

3 PEAT CHAMPION

From June through September of this year, Rhiannan competed in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, which took her from Texas to Spain, to the Azores, to Switzerland, Copenhagen, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the final stop in Polignano a Mare, Italy.

After skyrocketing to the top of her sport, Rhiannan returned home to Australia to explore her roots.

COMPETING ON THE WORLD STAGE

As the back to back champion in 2016 and 2017, Rhiannan had to defend her title over all seven stops to claim her third King Kahekili trophy in just 3 seasons on tour, becoming the first diver to do so ever. Diving from a height of 75 feet is a difficult mental hurdle and takes a tremendous toll on the body even with a perfect landing. The dive that secured the victory this year for Rhiannan was a new variation for her – a backwards triple somersault with a double twist.

Just weeks after earning the hat-trick on the Red Bull circuit, Rhiannan traveled to Abu Dhabi to compete at the FINA High Diving World Cup. One year after winning gold at the Worlds in 2017, Rhiannan needed to rank in the top 8 to compete in next year’s world championships. She dominated the competition over four rounds of diving.

FILM REVIEW – RHIANNAN’S RAINBOW DIVE

After skyrocketing to the top of her sport, Rhiannan returned home to Australia to explore her roots. With a small Red Bull filmmaking and safety crew, Rhiannan ventured into the Australian outback to a remote area called the Jawoyn lands.

In the film, she speaks with native aboriginal tribes people to learn about their culture, pastimes and rites of passage. With their blessing and guidance, Rhiannan explores the Nitmiluk gorge system, scouting out the best and most extreme cliff diving spots. She braves several narrow scrambles to reach picturesque, monolithic rock faces cropping out over black water below. After tossing down her sneakers to break the water, she performs a series of graceful dives between 52 and 78 feet, her highest dive to date, creating a spiritual connection with her surroundings.

In terms of production quality, Rhiannan’s Rainbow dive, shot in 4K, delivers the level that we’re used to seeing from Red Bull. The shot selection, grading and sound Red Bull achieves in this 14 minute sports documentary require talent and years of experience, much like what it takes to achieve Rhiannan’s elite diving skills. The opening shot of the film captures Rhiannan performing a massive layout gainer from over 70 feet, instantly hooking the audience. The low angle illustrates the extraordinary height in a scene that looks unreal. Taking such dives out of competition amplifies the daredevil aspect of the sport. In Rainbow dive, Rhiannan isn’t diving for a trophy or winner’s purse or even glory – she jumps to a connect with a sacred place.

Another highlight of the film is during the traditional ceremony – sand whips through the air as the musicians play an ancestral melody in a truly chills inducing experience. The film’s score departs from the lo-fi bass beats that you might expect from an action sports doc. More appropriately, the score reflects tribal voices like you might hear in the film Avatar.

Out of respect for aboriginal peoples, Red Bull’s production thoughtfully connected with a Jawoyn cultural advisor to guide the crew on their journey to some of the most dynamic cliff diving spots on the planet. Stripped down, Rainbow Dive plays out much like an episode of Adrenaline Addiction, where a group of untrained daredevils throw caution to the wind as they seek out extreme cliff spots in locations like Hawaii and Arizona. However, Rainbow Dive is enriched with layers of cultural significance as Rhiannan explores parts of her homeland that are not accessible to most of the population and listens to stories that have been passed down through oral tradition for thousands of years like the mythical story of the Rainbow Serpent, for whom the film is named after. “We feel very lucky. There’s not many people that get to experience this, and you’re welcoming us here, and it’s definitely a privilege,” Rhiannan shares.

To follow along the career and training of such a grounded champion performer, check out Rhiannan’s social media.

Instagram: @rhiannan_iffland
Facebook: @rhiannanathlete

 

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Features

Feb 20, 2019

The Death Zone

World champion free-diver Pierre Frolla sinks without air to depths unreachable by most scuba divers. One day he nearly didn't make it back to the surface.

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WRITTEN BY

Pierre Frolla

This story originally featured in print, in the fall 2015 issue of The Outdoor Journal

Deep down under the sea, so far away from where you live, I have been through the last seconds of my life.

In 2005 or 2006 (oddly I don’t remember), I had the worst accident of my freediving career. After being world champion in variable weight apnea with a dive at 123 metres, where I used a weighted sled for descent and returned to the surface by pulling myself along a line and using my fins, I was training to go deeper.

“No matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.”

In my sport, risks are quite important. Imagine you’re running a 400-m race. You start way too fast, and after a few hundred meters you’re out of breath and you just can’t go anymore. What do you do? You just stop, walk a bit and slowly catch your breath again. When you’re free diving, no matter what happens to you, you’re stuck underwater. There’s nowhere else to go.

The basis of my sport is quite simple. Going beyond 100 meters is mythic. Only a few hardcore specialists, including the “no limit” guys can go beyond that. Athletes use a weighted sled to dive down and an inflatable bag to return to the surface. This means that the free diver reduces his energy loss to the max, and that’s exactly why he is able to go so deep. The world record is held by Austrian Herbert Nitsch: 249.5 metres on June 6, 2012, in Santorini, Greece. The problem is that at those depths, water pressure is unbelievable! At 100 m, for example, the pressure is about 11 kg per square centimeter of your skin. Consequently, the volume of air inside the human body is pressured and reduced too. Take an empty but sealed plastic bottle: If you get to this kind of depth, it’ll greatly deform. That plastic bottle is a metaphor for your body. This also means that if water manages to seep somewhere inside you through your mouth or nose, it will do so with such force that it’ll destroy everything in its path. Drowning is inevitable, and no Apneist can be saved in such case, even if experienced help quickly intervenes.

At great depths, nitrogen becomes narcotic and leads to what is called nitrogen narcosis. This kind of intoxication from staying in great depths for too long is the same as when you drink too much. In other words, you lose total control of your body and mind, and you become unaware of potential dangers. Acting like that underwater can kill you, as the slightest mistake will have incredible consequences. In my personal training, I mix apnea in variable weight and other constant weight dives, where I dive only with the force of my arms and legs.

Today, my team and I decide to put the weight to 118 m. I know I can go down 115 m, but we want to push a little, as it’s part of training. Once down, I’ll have no choice but to go back on my own. I also know there will be a small parachute and an oxygen tank hooked to the sled, but neither will be for me. The bottle empties very slowly and inflates the balloon. Both serve only to return equipment back to the surface. It’s easier for us to work like that rather than starting a counterweight system.

If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water?

I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material.

I begin my descent. I pass my midterm diver. Very soon, it gets dark. I do not have glasses because they would serve me for nothing in this environment. So I stand, with my eyes closed. I’m relaxed and sinking slowly in the water like I’m used to. I feel the pressure now, but I also suddenly feel the sledge slowing. Then it stops, softly. Usually it stops dead. When I realize that something is wrong, I feel my legs sinking knee-deep in a soft, thick and viscous material. It is almost as if moving sands are closing in on me at 112 meters below the surface. It is actually a mixture of clay and silt, a mound a few meters higher than the sonar onboard the boat. It wasn’t identified even though it stood in the stack axis of the descent of my sledge. It’s nobody’s fault; sonar is not so precise.

In no time, I understand what’s happening to me. I’m stuck. I cannot get my feet outside the box, and I know there’s no exit door. I simply do not have enough oxygen to both work my way out of this with strength and go up as I have expected, swimming, with my hands and fins. If I want to live, I have only four seconds to start my ascent. But I am stopped, stunned and unable to move. I think about my team: What will they do when they go down to find me, lifeless and filled with water? I’m dying; that’s it. Today is the day. In 15 seconds, I will have consumed all the remaining air I was keeping for my ascent. I am also a few seconds away from being caught by nitrogen narcosis. I will go crazy right before dying.

“Did I become a vegetable?”

Suddenly, I have an idea. The parachute. Yes! I trigger the opening of the small air valve, which then rushes into the parachute. It’s working but it’s slow and long. So I wait, very still, with my eyes closed. I have no other choice. I try to relax. Everything at 112 m is multiplied by 10. One consumed oxygen molecule at the surface is equal to 10 or 12 molecules consumed at that kind of depth. One second is equivalent to 10 seconds. Time and life are both very cruel at the bottom of an ocean. I am now barely conscious. Finally, I remember feeling the chute tearing me away from my trap like a champagne cork. The ascent back to the surface, back to life, is way too long. When I reach the surface, I have strangely not entirely lost consciousness, but my body no longer responds to my brain. Did I become a vegetable? My team, frightened, retrieves and saves me. If I had not been so well-trained, I would not have survived this scary adventure. Instead of the planned 2 minutes and 40 seconds that I went down under water for, I stayed 3 minutes and 50 seconds. In the boat, I gradually recover and quickly regain all my abilities.

Pierre Frolla reascending to the surface, following the guideline with the sled and parachute attached to it.

A few years later, I’m on a movie set doing 60-m free diving over and over all day long, and an air bubble is created in my brain on one of these repetitive dives. But instead of being redirected into my lungs, it remains stuck in my head. When ascending, inevitably, this tiny compressed air bubble suddenly decompresses and its size gets multiplied by six. I immediately lose consciousness. Later, I wake up in a hyperbaric chamber. I stay there for eight and a half hours. But when I wake up in that box, I cannot feel my body. I’m unable to move. For hours, I do not know if I will stay quadriplegic or not. This awakening in the box is one of my worst-ever memories of free diving. I do not understand what is happening to me. It takes me 30 minutes to remember that I was free diving and to deduce that I certainly had a bad accident.

Apnea is an extreme sport. I’ll remember it always. Yesterday I dived to 113 meters. I’ll do it again tomorrow.

Photos by Franck Seguin

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