‘Tombstoning’: an alternative hobby, a dangerous sport, a dive into the unknown.

Posted on May 11, 2012

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Nick cliff diving into Anglesey waters.

 Written by Verity MacGregor

“The rush of adrenalin as I’m soaring through the air is incomparable to any other feeling. Those few seconds seem to last a lifetime as I’m free-falling.”

Nick Stevenson-Steels, 21, from Chesterfield is a regular cliff jumper and can often be found at the Welsh Anglesey coast jumping from various cliff tops along the coastline.

‘Tombstoning’ or cliff-diving, is the practice of someone jumping in to water from a high point, often a cliff, and keeping their body vertically straight, like a tombstone.

Nick’s love for cliff jumping began when he was 14 and he saw others diving from the rocks.

“I remember sitting for hours and watching a small group of men throwing themselves off a cliff near the caravan site I was staying at in Anglesey.”

“They would dive off, help each other climb back up and repeat this for hours on end for the two weeks I was staying there. I remember thinking that was something I was going to try when I was older.”

Nick’s first cliff dive was when he was 16; at the same spot he’d seen the men doing it a few years before. He waited until it was high tide and climbed down to a rock which was about 20ft high.

“I can still remember the feeling of sickness and nerves like it was yesterday. I knew it was something I wanted to do but I struggled to find the urge to knock myself over the edge.”

“I made the leap, closed my eyes and waited for the water to engulf me. From that point I was hooked, constantly looking for new platforms to dive from.”

Since then Nick has been making regular dives, his highest to date being from 60ft (18.3 metres).

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Nick diving the 60ft drop.

In recent months the nickname ‘tombstoning’ has lived up to its name and earned its reputation through a number of fatalities, mostly teenagers, through careless jumping and ‘copycat’ dives.

The media now portrays tombstoning as a death-defying sport and every summer the news reports on jumps that have left youngsters badly injured, paralysed and sometimes dead.

Nick is aware of the dangers tombstoning brings but says the hobby would not bring with it the high level of adrenalin if it was as safe as diving in to a swimming pool.

“My mum has never watched me do a dive and she is not happy with the hobby I have chosen, but when crossing the road or driving a car causes more fatalities a year it puts it more in to perspective for me.

I have my regular spots which I know are deep enough and these are the ones I jump at low tide to get that proper free-fall feeling. I would never put myself at risk and do an unknown jump without someone being with me and having not swum over the spot beforehand.”

The art of ‘tombstoning’ is making sure the body is vertically straight at every point throughout the jump; however there are some cliffs which make it impossible to do this. Nick tends to vary his jumps depending on the height and shape of the cliff.

“I often have to do a running jump to propel me over the hanging rocks; these are often the scariest as I’m unable to see the sea below.”

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Nick taking a ‘running jump’ over the edge

“The scariest jump would definitely be the dive as I am going in head first, if my body hits the water at the wrong angle I could risk causing serious injury or knocking myself unconscious.”

With an average sea temperature of 9 degrees and an air temperature of 5 degrees over the winter months in Anglesey, Nick is now looking for other places to expand his cliff diving hobby.

“Although a wetsuit keeps out some of the cold, the shock from plunging straight in to the icy water is always a big shock.

My next aim is to travel further afield and try the warmer waters in Southern Europe. I have watched videos on YouTube of the divers in countries like Malta and Portugal and hope that one day soon I can follow in their footsteps, just like I did in Anglesey when I was 14.”

The European Cliff Diving Championships in Southern Switzerland take place over three days every July. The men jump from heights of 22-27 metres, and the women from 18-23 metres with a minimum 5 metre water depth.

“I’d love to one day be able to jump from the same heights as the divers in these competitions. Although cliff jumping is just an alternative hobby for me at the moment, it’s something which I will continue to do as long as there are always new cliffs to jump from and new waters to dive in to!”

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Nick cliff jumping from 60ft into Anglesey waters.

Alternative Lives does not condone dangerous activities of any sort! Remember to always check the full safety measures before taking part in any activity.

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