is one big dive after another
on photos for enlargements
The jet-setters who flocked here in the 1960s and ‘70s have
long been replaced by package-deal tourists. The world-famous thoroughfare,
Avenida Costera Miguel Aleman, is now a gauntlet of theme restaurants
and shopping malls. Although the beaches are as inviting as ever,
Acapulco is no longer the preferred destination for hipsters, dignitaries,
and movie stars. But it continues to flaunt the greatest dives on
1934, the Quebrada Cliff Divers have thrilled audiences with death-defying
diving demonstrations. Like Olympians competing for
a gold medal, the divers leap from a high platform and plummet down,
down, down into a pool of water, leaving only the slightest of splashes.
What makes the Cliff Divers special, however, is their diving platform.
It’s a rocky ledge atop a 110-foot cliff. And the “pool” is
a channel of shallow seawater, the depth of which changes with each
I first saw the Cliff Divers (“Los Clavadistas”) more
than 3 decades ago, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Eyes wide,
mouth open, I gawked at the TV screen while the Mexican divers leapt
one-by-one into a rocky chasm.
Back then, Los Clavadistas seemed as brash and exotic as Acapulco
itself. Thirty years later, having finally gotten a chance to see
the divers in person, I realize how brash they really are.
The first diver strutted through the crowd of spectators positioned
on a low cliff. Clad in a pair of Speedos, he walked down the steps,
swam across the 22-feet-wide canal, and emerged at the base of the
opposing 110-foot-high cliff. Jamming his bare feet into crevices
and clinging to rocky overhangs, he scaled the rocky wall with the
dexterity of an experienced rock climber.
reaching the top, the diver paused—as do they all—to
pray at the Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine. Considering the complexity
of a cliff dive, blessings from the Mother of Mexico, Our Lady of
Guadalupe, were definitely in order.
A leap from the Quebrada cliffs is a test of faith, courage, technique,
and athleticism. The diver prepared to hurl himself nearly 30 feet
horizontally to avoid rocks jutting from the cliff. Because the water
is as shallow as 11 feet, the jump must be timed with an approaching
wave. (A 2-foot swell increases depth to 13 feet—a minimum
Even with perfect timing and an adequate horizontal leap, these daredevils
face a multitude of challenges. A diver’s body hits the water
at a rate of 55 miles per hour. To prevent broken hands and fingers,
he must clench his fists before knifing into the channel. To avoid
shattered limbs, he needs to slice into the water at just the right
angle. To protect his eyes from serious damage, the top of his head—not
his face—must hit the water first.
Against a perfect blue sky, the Clavadista stood alone atop the cliff.
He stared 110 feet down into the churning channel, watching the waves,
judging their rhythms. Suddenly, he raised his arms and waved to
the crowd. It responded with a cheer that echoed across the channel.
It seemed as though an hour passed before the diver took one final
breath and flung himself from the perch. When he did, it was elegance
personified. Arms flayed, chest bulging, feet curled backward like
twin rudders in the air, the Clavadista executed a flawless swan
dive. His lithe brown body soared through the bright blue sky. He
seemed to hang for a moment, frozen in balletic self expression.
In the next instant he was gone. If this were an Olympic event, the
judges would have awarded him a perfect 10.
The dive is even more spectacular at night.
La Perla Restaurant, adjacent to the Hotel Mirador, was built primarily
for the dive performance. (It’s also one of the best spots
in Acapulco from which to watch the sunset.) The 10-tiered structure
is wedged into the Quebrada Cliffs like a ancient Greek theater.
It boasts dining tables on every level. Chairs are positioned on
either side of the tables so that audience members can better see
From my perch on an upper level, I watched the first of 3 Clavadistas
strut through the crowd. He swam past the cluster of private yachts
which had anchored at the mouth of the channel. He climbed the 110-feet
cliff face which was now illuminated by floodlights. As dramatic
music roared from La Perla’s speakers, the crowd held its collective
The Clavadista knelt at the Virgin of Guadalupe Shrine and waved
to the crowd. With poise and perfect execution, he then performed
the greatest dive on Earth.