Somersault over the abyss: how in Mexico, jumping divers from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

The best impromptu is well prepared. The best risk is a well-organized one, especially if the danger turns into work

June 22, 2023

In Acapulco, professional divers, clavadists, throw themselves into the ocean every day from a 35-meter cliff. Vokrug Sveta spoke to one of them.

Salto over the precipice : how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

The ocean seems to be angry about something: the indigo-colored waves crash against the foot of the rocks with some special fury. The rock of La Quebrada, the world-famous landmark of Acapulco, plays with sharp reliefs and folds in the rays of the afternoon sun. At the very top is a man who seems to be the size of a toy baby doll.

The spectator platform is located on a smaller rock, which is separated from La Quebrada by a narrow, only seven meters wide, backwater – this is where the clavade players dive. There are a lot of people on the site: high season. I arrived 20 minutes before the start of the show to get a better seat, and those who came a few minutes preferred to wait for the next show.

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico, diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

Slightly shifting from foot to foot, the clavadist looks down at the water. He is about to jump, but for some reason he hesitates – a minute, another, a third … Finally, the diver slowly raises his hands and dives into the abyss …

Victor Hugo Lesama Cruz

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

Born in 1981 in Acapulco. At school he loved to run and swim, played in the football team. He started diving at the age of 15 from a height of 3-5 meters. At the age of 17, he jumped for the first time from the 35-meter platform of the La Quebrada rock, continuing the family tradition: Victor's uncles and nephews are professional clavadists (Spanish clavadista – “diver”).

He graduated from the Faculty of Finance and Management of the University of Guerrero, after which he worked for several years as an accountant in the oldest nightclub in Acapulco Baby’O. Last year, he began his career in politics, becoming an assistant to the deputy of the local legislature.
Married, has a son and a daughter.

Victor Cruz's Secret of Happiness

“To do what the truly great people admire who you admire yourself.”

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Three seconds with the wind

Victor, you stood at the top for so long, as if you did not dare to jump. Is it because of fear?

– The fact is that the narrow creek into which we jump is also quite shallow. On average, its depth ranges from 3.5 to 4.5 meters, sometimes reaching five. It all depends on the ebb and flow, and is constantly changing due to the waves. Therefore, before jumping, it is necessary to wait until the depth becomes maximum, that is, when the most comfortable conditions for the jump arise. And fear is always there, before every jump. Despite the fact that I have been diving for many years, now I am just as scared as the first time. But I am a risky person.

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

What do you think about when you fly down?

– From the moment of jumping to immersion in water, it takes about three seconds. And, to be honest, at this time I do not think about anything. Only with my whole body I feel the wind and hear its noise: shhhhhhh… And when I see that the water is already close, the main task is to concentrate, group correctly, press my head to the body with my hands and enter the water with my feet, without touching the rocky bottom. There is another danger that must be taken into account from the very beginning: the rock itself is uneven and is located at an angle of more than 90 ° to the sea, and in order not to hit the ledges, you need to push off properly.

Ta- ah, what other “pitfalls” should you be aware of before you jump from La Quebrada?

— There is one natural phenomenon that we call mar de fondowhen the waves can clash with each other, and this is a very uncomfortable moment for diving. Strong wind complicates jumping: it can deviate the clavadist from the desired trajectory, besides, due to rotation in the air, there is a chance of hitting the water with the stomach. Of course, it is difficult to jump in the rain, but if the audience has gathered, then you have to …

Is your show on schedule?

Our show runs all year round, five times a day at 13:00, 19:30, 20:30, 21:30 and 22:30. The schedule is made taking into account the usual schedule of tourists: before and after lunch they spend time on the beaches, and the daytime show can be seen from the restaurant with an observation deck.

In the evening, the beaches are closed, and tourists are looking for entertainment in the city. The last two shows take place in the dark, for greater effect at 21:30 we jump in the glare of a fire that is kindled on a rock, and at 22:30  with torches in our hands. It is more difficult to jump late at night, because you can hardly see anything below, and besides, the torches are blinding in complete darkness.

La Quebrada

 Somersault over the abyss: how divers jumping from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show in Mexico for tourists

The 35-meter cliff, located on the coast near the historic center of Acapulco, is not only a child of nature, but also the fruit of human efforts. At the end of the 18th century, the city, which served as an important port for trade with the Far East, suffered from excessive heat: coastal cliffs did not allow air currents from the ocean to pass, which caused diseases to regularly strike the population.

In 1799, the governor of Acapulco, José Barreiro, ordered a fissure cut through the rocks to create an air corridor, but the project was soon put on hold due to lack of funds. The case was continued in 1886, when several thousand cubic meters of stone were removed from the rock during blasting. True, due to various difficulties, these works were not completed, but the place was nicknamed La Quebrada – “gorge”.

In 1934, when the first beach resorts appeared in Acapulco hotels, Swiss actor, organizer of the first discotheque in the city, Teddy Stauffer, founded the clavadist show, which began to attract Hollywood stars to the resort and contributed to its global popularity.

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Hope in God

Three divers climb La Quebrada along the ledges – surprisingly quickly and dexterously, without any insurance. They come out onto the platform and stand in front of two small grottoes, painted blue and white on the outside. Two cross themselves and literally in half a minute go down a little lower for a jump, the third remains at the top. The clavadist quickly falls to the smaller grotto, then goes to the second one, prays and stands on the edge of the cliff. Through the camera lens from the observation deck, you can see a female statuette inside each grotto.

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

How did the tradition of jumping from La Quebrada begin?

— Local fishermen were the first to do it. They often had to jump into the water from coastal cliffs to pull out fish hooks stuck in the rocky bottom. In the early 1930s, four teenage brothers named Apac Rios: Rogeberto, Alfonso, Enrique and Salvador, came up with the idea not just to get the hooks, but to compete who will jump from the highest height. The winner got all the catch.

In 1934, they were spotted by the Swiss impresario Teddy Stauffer, who arranged for musicians to dance on the terrace of the hotel El Miradornext to La Quebrada. Stauffer decided to organize a diving show, recruited a team and began to hold several performances a day. At first, one clavadist participated in each of them, who jumped from a 35-meter height. Now we are jumping from a height of 35 and 28 meters for several people: one by one, two or three. Each show lasts half an hour.

Before jumping, you pray in front of two small grottoes. To whom are prayers addressed?

—To the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, our patroness. Both chapels are dedicated to her. The first appeared in the 1940s, the second, smaller, was built in the 1950s for filming commercials for whiskey Johnnie Walker. Last December (2019. — Note by both grottoes were repaired at the expense of the city budget, and a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe also appeared in the former advertising one: it was sent as a gift by a resident of Mexico City. During prayer, we ask Lupita, as we affectionately call her, so that the show goes well, without injuries.

And how does it help?

“Minor injuries happen to everyone, but serious ones are rare. I hurt my shoulder once, hurt my back three times. The last incident happened during the torch jump: I hit the water hard and lost consciousness. I woke up when two friends were already pulling me out of the water. My colleagues also had fractures. I also broke my leg once, but ironically not diving, but playing football.

Fortunately, in the entire history of La Quebrada there was not a single death and no one became disabled. It is not for nothing that every year, on December 11, we arrange a special ceremony: we gather on the platform, pray, rest and then jump in honor of our saint. By the way, veterans always take part in this ceremony.

Virgin Mary of Guadalupe

The Mexican version of the Virgin, the most popular Catholic saint in Latin America. According to legend, on December 9, 1531, she appeared to the peasant Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill, in the suburbs of modern Mexico City, with a request to build a church. The peasant told the Archbishop of Mexico City Juan de Zumarraga about what had happened, but he did not believe it without evidence.

They were presented: at the site of the apparition of the Virgin, Juan Diego discovered a rose bush. The peasant gathered the flowers in his cloak, and the Mother of God laid them out in the right way. When Juan Diego unfolded the cloak in front of the archbishop, the face of the Virgin appeared on the fabric. In 1709, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was built on the hill, where the original image of the Virgin framed by rays was placed, which became one of the main symbols of Mexico. The image is currently in the new basilica next door.

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Until about what age do clavadists jump from La Quebrada?

— There are those who continue to participate in the show even after 65 years. Of course, they don't jump every day. The most active divers are between 18 and 45. But many start as teenagers.

Are there any women among divers?

“There have been four women in the history of jumping from La Quebrada. The most famous is Iris Selene Alvarez, daughter of the clavadist José Luis Alvarez. Iris has been diving since she was eight years old and in 2007 got into the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest female diver in Acapulco, jumping from a height of 18 meters. She was then twelve. And at the age of 17, Iris suffered a shoulder injury and left her career as a clavade player. Today, her 12-year-old niece is training – the girl is already jumping from a height of 8 meters.

1/5The evening show with illumination is one of the most spectacular. And the most dangerous

How do clavade players prepare for jumps, train?

– Every day on weekdays from 9:00 to 10:30 we hold joint training: we run, do push-ups, dive, swim, jump from other surrounding rocks, play football, do gymnastics – in our business it is important to have a good stretch and elastic muscles . Before starting to dive, each clavad player, among other things, takes a four-day course on the basics of safety, where they learn to rescue drowning people and provide first aid. During the jumps, two of us always belay our colleagues below in order to come to the rescue at the right time.

Do you have medical insurance?

— All clavadists have insurance from the state. Sick leave is also paid: then, in connection with the fracture, I stayed at home for six months and received a salary all this time. Most divers return to diving after treatment.

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Show, business and a little personal

The show continues: the final, group jump is coming. Two clavadists who descended lower, to a height of 28 meters, vigorously warm up. The one who remained at the top stands motionless and looks to the side, at the Mexican flag fluttering nearby.

Finally, all three jump in sync: the bottom two perform somersaults in the air, and the top one makes a difficult jump from the front stance with backward rotation – in Mexico it is called the Dutch. After the end of the show, the clavadists gather on the audience platform – barefoot, fit, tanned to the color of milk chocolate; from clothes on them only swimming trunks. Everyone can take a photo with the heroes as a keepsake. The audience is delighted, especially the ladies.

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico, diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

So, jumping off a cliff is a profession, not a hobby?

— For me, as for most of my colleagues, this is the main Job. True, some divers work side by side as taxi drivers, in the city administration or the Ministry of Emergency Situations. I also have a small business – I sell La Quebrada T-shirts. A year ago, he entered politics: he became an assistant to a deputy of the local legislature.

Are you saying that such a dangerous job doesn't pay well enough to have to look for a part-time job?

– For jumping we get paid: twice a month for 2000 pesos (for spectators a ticket to the show costs 40 pesos per person). The salary may vary depending on the season, but, of course, our main income is tips that tourists leave after the performance. During the holiday season, when there are many spectators, cruise ships, you can earn from 500 to 1000 pesos a day.

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

Who pays your salary?

– Association of Professional Clavadists of La Quebrada. It was founded along with the show in 1934. This is a private company. She, like any business, conducts office work, pays taxes. The association has a clear structure: 65 members, the president, his first and second deputies, six administrators who solve all organizational issues, interact with public and private travel companies, and lawyers. And another thirty shareholders with voting rights. Every three years they elect the President by direct vote.

Is it possible to get into the association from outside, or is it a closed clan organization?

— Most of us really continue the family business, among the members of the association there are many fathers and children, uncles and nephews. The largest clavadist families are Alvarez and Ramirez, three generations of them have been diving for more than forty years. Now in our association every single native of Acapulco. There used to be divers from neighboring cities: Ometepec, Zihuatanejo, one even from Mexico City. But these are rather exceptions.

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

Does the Association participate in international competitions?

—Since 1934, when the official performances of the clavadists began, La Quebrada began to host the World Championship. In the 1980s it became an annual event, and in 2006 it was named after one of our famous divers, Raul Garcia. Unfortunately, the last championship took place in 2011, and since then no funds have been allocated for its holding (at the beginning of 2020, the Clavadist Association discussed with representatives of the Federal Ministry of Tourism the possibility of resuming the competition, but then the coronavirus pandemic intervened. — Note. “Around the World”).

We used to be visited by divers from the USA, Colombia, England, Ecuador, Denmark, Canada and even from Russia. By the way, Artem Silchenko took the third place in the last championship. In the 1990s, our clavadists themselves went to international championships. My uncles, for example, visited Italy, Spain, Japan, the USA and Canada, Australia and Slovakia… Unfortunately, I didn’t have such an opportunity.

Will your son continue the family tradition?

– In no case. It is very dangerous. If he wants to – I will dissuade. God forbid that he falls for this hook.

Then why do you keep jumping yourself, although you have an education, the opportunity to engage in politics?

– Probably, it is important for me to be involved in an old tradition that glorified our city all over the world. Public recognition. I am happy when we are applauded after the show, when tourists from all over the world come from afar to see us. When we are admired by the most famous politicians, athletes, artists… Hugo Sanchez, Giovani dos Santos, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Taylor, Brooke Shields, Romy Schneider, Cantinflas, Maluma… Even Carlos Slim, one of the richest people on the planet!

And to my idol, the Mexican singer Luis Miguel, I once dedicated my performance. We are respected, considered heroes, and that's great. In fact, La Quebrada and politics in my life complement each other. Thanks to jumping, I have the opportunity to communicate with famous people, and in politics, I use all my connections in order to benefit people. It's worth it.

Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico

Flip over the abyss: how in Mexico diving from a 35-meter cliff turned into a show for tourists

Square of Acapulco 119 km²
Population658,000 people
Population density 5782 people/km²

Area of ​​Mexico 1,972,550 km² (13th in the world)
Population 129,151,000 people (10th place)
Population density 61 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSSan Diego Fortress, Diego Rivera Murals, Papagayo Park, Peace Chapel, Symphony of the Sea Amphitheater.
TRADITIONAL DISHES seafood cocktail, fried octopus, mole de jumil bug sauce, soup posoleguerrense, tortillas with meat and chipotle sauce, chalupas.
TRADITIONAL DRINK Acapulco cocktail based on tequila and white rum with lime juice, pineapple and grapefruit.
SOUVENIRSTasco silver jewelry, textiles with traditional embroidery, ceramics.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Acapulco ~ 11,000 km (from 17 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME behind Moscow by 8 hours in summer, by 9 hours in winter
VISA electronic permit
CURRENCYMexican peso < em>(100 MXN ~ 5.8 USD)


Material published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 6, June-July-August 2020, partially updated in June 2023

Maria Zhelikhovskaya

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