On the edge of amazing
From Lake Macquarie to legendary: Rhiannan Iffland travels the world leaping from great heights and loving it.
Imagine you are standing on the edge of a platform that is an incredible 21 metres high. Your toes inch forward and thousands of people cheer as you prepare to launch yourself into the air. The backdrop is always spectacular; Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Italy’s Adriatic coast, the impressively modern Opera House in Copenhagen. As your feet leave the platform you have less than three seconds to perform a series of precise acrobatic twists and turns before landing in the deep water below. Sounds terrifying doesn’t it, but this is Rhiannan Iffland’s life, and she loves it.
Rhiannan, 30, grew up in Nord’s Wharf, New South Wales, and is the most decorated female athlete in the history of cliff diving. She jumps from cliffs and platforms in stunning locations all around the world, testing her limits and pushing her personal goals every time.
“To read that I’m the most decorated female athlete in the history of cliff diving, well, it still surprises me to be honest,” Rhiannan says humbly.
“There were so many years and days of hard work that I put in and my family put in, supporting me as a young diver. The most rewarding feeling for me is knowing that all those days of hard work in the pool paid off and now I’m travelling the world doing a sport I love.”
Cliff diving is one of the most extreme sports, some even consider it an art. It is also a feat of breath-taking athletics.
Dating back about 250 years to the Hawaiian Islands, legend has it that the King of Maui, Kahekili II, forced his warriors to leap from cliffs into the water to prove they were brave, loyal and daring.
Today, competitors free fall and combine awe-inducing acrobatics of incredible complexity. In the Red Bull World Series, 12 men and 12 women compete at several locations earning crucial championship points along the way and at the end of every season, a champion is crowned and awarded the coveted King Kahekili trophy.
In 2016 Rhiannan was the youngest female diver to win an event in the Series. It was her first year of competition and she was a wildcard entry. In 2021 she won the entire Series for the fifth year in a row and in 2022, this unassuming Australian Olympic athlete will defend her title against the best divers in the world with the Series’ final event taking place in Sydney.
When the location for this final dive was announced, Rhiannan told reporters that she cannot wait to be standing up there and living that moment.
“The World Series is coming to Australia for the first time and not only for a stop, but the final. Wow! It’s very exciting, especially for me because it’s just down the road from where I grew up. For me personally, I think it’s going to be the most exciting and amazing event yet.”
Yet for Rhiannan, to be a young woman from Newcastle, travelling the world and competing in one of the most spectacular and terrifying sports is just as amazing.
“Often I find myself thinking, ‘OK I have to take a step back and look at my life from the outside in and appreciate it a little bit more’. It looks like quite a glamorous life but there’s a lot that goes into it in terms of competing. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it and I’m very appreciative of my life regardless of whether I’m in Australia, or overseas. I’m still putting in the hard yards that’s for sure.”
For the love of water
There’s no doubt that Rhiannan has indeed put in the hard yards. Up until the age of nine she trained in trampolining at Belmont High School under former World Champion Brett Austine, then, from 2001 to 2006, at Hunter United Diving Academy and the NSW Institute of Sport.
“I just really loved [trampolining] as a kid, I loved the different elements of progression, flipping around and learning new skills. But once I got to the outdoor diving pool, it was the atmosphere that drew me into the sport.
Read more about Rhiannan and her passion in the Spring issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.
Story by Megan Hazlett, photography courtesy of Red Bull Media House