Tall cliffs, deep water. It's one of the easiest ways you could be risking your life this very weekend. Here's how and why from one of the sport's leading outlaws.
Full Disclosure: I'm a big Fraidy Cat and won't go off anything over about 20 feet and, even then, only when the ribbing from friends reaches fever pitch.
In certain circles here in Los Angeles, a guy that goes by "Throb" is a bit of a legend. He runs LA Swimmin, a site that fills Facebook feeds with video after video of beer bellies falling from the sky. I first heard about him shortly after I moved here and some friends started talking about going jumping at Tar Creek. They pulled up videos and attention was immediately called to a death-defying 70-footer — the landing zone nothing but a small pothole in the rocks at the bottom. It terrified me.
"Don't worry," the friends said. "That's just Throb doing his thing. We won't be going off that one."
Turns out his real name is Jeff Edwards and here he is in his own words.
IW: How'd you get into jumping?
Jeff: "I was studying for a graduate degree at Art Center in Pasadena when I got into a debilitating car accident. I was in the hospital for months and was told I would never walk again. A year later, I was able to do just that and started camping and hiking to help regain my strength and sanity. My friend Brett took me cliff jumping. Stony Creek, The Devil's Slide, Fish Camp Falls. We discovered places not many people knew about, and we jumped all of them."
IW: What possessed you to jump off a cliff?
Jeff: "I've always been into extreme sports, I live for that adrenaline rush. Skateboards, bungee jumping, rocking climbing, whatever. But, it all costs money. With student loans and medical bills piling up, I couldn't do that stuff anymore. Cliff jumping is free. Anyone of any age can do it."
IW: Is there organization or a movement attached to it?
Jeff: "People have been cliff jumping since the dawn of time. Until recently, the young men of the Supai tribe in Arizona used cliff jumping as a rite of passage. It's a way of proving to yourself and others that you can overcome your fears. Since the arrival of YouTube and social media, cliff jumping has turned into a small subculture and is growing larger every day."
Havasu Falls, a popular jumping spot in Supai, AZ.
"Like any other subculture, it has its origins. Swimming and high diving are its parents. Drinking and smoking weed are its creepy uncles. What we do at LA Swimmin is create cliff jumping events and invite everyone. We camp, we party, we have a blast but, at the same time, we push a stewardship agenda. We're the ones with the trash bags yelling at people who bring glass bottles. We pick up every piece of trash we can find and paint over all the graffiti. We want these places to be around for a while."
IW: What makes an ideal jumping spot?
Jeff: "An ideal cliff jumping location would be far enough away that the cops wouldn't want to hike in, the water needs to be at least eight feet deep, but preferably more, and the cliffs should be 20 to 50 feet high. With anything above 50, people can get hurt pretty bad. Those are where the crazy shit happens."
IW: What's the gnarliest jump you've ever done?
Jeff: "The top of Red Rock along the Santa Ynez River near Santa Barbara. At 90 feet, it was definitely the biggest jump I ever did, but what made it super sketchy was the wind blowing, nonstop, the entire time. When I jumped, I got thrown off center and hit the water hard enough to crack a few ribs. I lost my short term memory for about an hour and my girlfriend at the time was really worried. I recovered, but I won't jump that cliff again and I warn others not to. Yet every year, some kid gets an ambulance ride doing just that."
IW: Is it just a bunch of hipsters?
Jeff: "We get all kinds of people showing up at our events and don't exclude anyone except No Moms Allowed! Yeah, it's mostly a younger crowd that love to be outside and active and like to party. We are definitely not the cool kids. If you look at Red Bull Cliff Diving as the vert skating, then we're the ditch and backyard pool skaters. Total outsiders."
IW: If someone thinks this sounds neat, how should they get started?
Jeff: "If you have never jumped off a cliff before, you should start small. Find a cliff about 20 feet tall, swim around in the water and make sure it is deep enough. Be extra careful and look for submerged rocks or other obstacles. Stand on top of the cliff, focus on the spot you want to land, pound a beer and jump!"
IW: What safety rules do you follow that keep you alive?
Jeff: "I always check water depth for myself. That is the most important thing to do. If it's a little shallow, I'll cannonball rather than go feet first; it's better to bust your ass than shatter an ankle. You need at least eight feet of water, adding an extra two feet of depth for ever 10-foot gain in cliff height. Also, I don't jump anything over 70 feet these days, I'm getting older and things are just hurting more."
IW: Ever seen someone get hurt?
Jeff: "Just the other week, my really good friend Jarrod broke his ankle at Arroyo Seco. He flipped a huge 50-foot cliff and landed a little close to the shallow end and broke some bones. He still climbed back up, flipped one more time and then hiked the two miles back to the car."
"People die all the time. Last year, a kid died at Hermit Falls, the year before that someone ate it at Upper Eaton Canyon and the year before that someone at Ringda Dam in Malibu. Most of the time, it's either because they didn't check the water depth or are jumping from higher than they've done before, just to impress their friends. Deaths happen when people, hit the water, gasp for air and swallow water. They get knocked out and they drown."
IW: What about the cops?
Jeff: "Rangers are our mortal enemy. Even though we clean up other people's messes preach stewardship and paint over graffiti, we still get harassed by The Man. They write us tickets for drinking and weed possession and basically hate us for having a good time. I'm sure they see it the other way around though."
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.