Standing on top of that cliff, for a moment all I thought was how lucky I was to be the first person to dive there, into the Nitmiluk Gorge in Australia’s Northern Territories. I’d come on an adventure to explore a remote part of our country, learn about the local culture and do what I love without the pressure of a competition. Then fear gripped me. Climbing up over slippery rocks and uneven ground, unsure what was around the next corner, had been scary enough. Now I was about to drop 24 metres – farther than I’d ever dived before – into a rocky river where crocodiles lurk along with, according to the Jawoyn people who live there, Bolung, the rainbow serpent. For a dive like that, you need to respect the height and stay focused. I chucked my trainers into the water far below and stood on the lip of the rock, trying to run through what I had to do to pull it off.
It’s the same routine as in a competition. But there I’m doing something technical, with multiple twists and somersaults. Here I was doing a simple reverse dive, entering the water feet-first at a speed of around 80km an hour. The force of impact is tremendous – and we were a three-day kayak paddle up the Katherine river, far from any hospital.
I ran through my strategy, visualised the dive, then took off. At that point muscle memory took over. The tension dissipated and it felt natural: I entered the water and was flooded with satisfaction – and relief. As soon as my head was above water I wanted to climb straight up and do it all over again.•
Rhiannan Iffland, 2018 world cliff-diving champion, was talking to Samantha Weinberg