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The old idiom “go jump in a lake” used to be a way of telling someone to leave you alone, but it’s exactly what a lot of thrill-seekers are doing…from as much as 70 feet! It may sound exciting, but cliff jumping is extremely dangerous. Popular among kids, teens, and risk takers, this age-old, summer pastime consists of jumping or diving off a cliff, or other elevated structure, into a body of water such as a lake or river.

Last July, 20-year-old Alex William Vitalis, of Shafer, Minnesota died after jumping into the St. Croix River from a rock ledge on the Wisconsin side of the river. Unfortunately, death is not an uncommon price to pay for an adrenaline rush that lasts mere seconds.

Cliff jumping: It’s not worth the risk of injury

Aside from death, cliff jumping can cause serious injuries such as concussions, fractures, dislocated joints, broken bones, injured discs, and spinal cord damage including paralysis. Because of these risks, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) “Does not advocate or promote the activity of cliff jumping or diving regardless of the height from the water surface.” However, due to the popularity of filming and uploading daredevil feats to social media sites like YouTube and Facebook, there has been a recent uptick in the trend.

Misconceptions and dangers of cliff jumping

As an extreme sport, cliff diving is considered one of the most dangerous. Although professionals dive from heights of up to 148 feet in worldwide competitions organized by the World High Diving Federation, they undergo years of training, and even they sustain injuries from time to time. Watching a clip of a professional diver, or for that matter a scene in a movie, does not paint an accurate picture of the difficulty and danger of cliff jumping/diving. Here are some facts to consider:

The water will not cushion your fall. This is one of the most common misconceptions people are under when they decide to jump. In truth, the speed you pick up while in the air (even if it’s only a few seconds) can make hitting the water’s surface feel like colliding with a brick wall. For example, a 20-foot jump means a traveling speed of 25mph is reached by the moment of impact. A 60-foot drop is equal to 60 mph – just picture going that fast on the freeway.
Hitting the water is bad enough, but if you’re jumping into a natural body of water you also run the risk of hitting something hard like rocks, floating logs, or the lake’s or river’s bottom. Even if you’ve checked out the target area minutes before you jump, you never know what could come floating by at the last moment. Also, since water is in a constant state of flux, the depth can change in a matter of seconds, making it difficult to gauge accurately.
Many people don’t know what they’re in for and become disoriented when they sink into the water. They sometimes panic, which can lead to drowning. Broken bones and other injuries can make it difficult to swim, which can further induce panic. As cliff jumping is illegal in some areas and frowned upon in others, many of the locations people go to are isolated, so rescue teams and lifeguards are not readily available.
As if all of these factors aren’t dangerous enough, alcohol is often involved, impairing a person’s decision-making abilities, depth perception and coordination. Peer pressure and the “let’s outdo each other” mentality further complicate the situation.
Bottom line – if you’re set on experiencing the thrill of diving, do it with the aid of a certified diving coach such as those at the Minnesota Diving Academy.