After a long line of Olympic skiers, a new wave of extreme sports are filtering into the Tahoe area — including freestyle cliff jumping.
The Tahoe area has become a hub for extreme sports, as the mountainous terrain and central location to different types of bodies of water make it a breeding ground for extreme athletes.
This isn’t your Sunday stroll through the park or a jump in the river to cool off. Instead, these are highly skilled athletes engaging in extreme sports. They are performing freestyle tricks off of 100+ foot cliffs into the water with various combinations of flips. These cliff jumpers seek the gnarliest cliffs that most people would have a hard time peeking over the edge of.
Before jumping, they take it upon themselves to make sure everything is dialed. This means checking the depth and flow of the water, dealing with bad weather conditions and performing damage control if something goes wrong.
The group of jumpers is led by Nick Coulter, 27, from Sacramento. Coulter is a cliff jumper, videographer and producer for the groups’ online content, streamable through YouTube, Instagram and Vimeo.
The crew travels all over the world to cliff jump and create online content. They have made trips all over the West Coast, Canada, Vermont, Alabama and even Greece.
Coulter’s YouTube account recently passed 100,000 subscribers and his Instagram handle now has over 18,000 followers. His content consists of posts of cliff jumping content year-round from their crew.
To Coulter, cliff jumping is more than just a sport, as he gets behind his lens to tell the other side of the story.
“I use videography as a tool to show cliff jumping is more than an adrenaline rush,” Coulter said. “To us, it’s an art form. Using the beautiful landscapes that surround us, along with today’s impressive array of cameras to choose from, I am able to document our freestyle skills in quality fashion.”
Earlier this year, Coulter released a full-length film, Flow State. Flow State dives into the mind of a cliff jumper and the mental preparation necessary to be successful before jumping.
“Flow state to me is entering that mindset where everything shuts off in your brain except focusing on one thing,” Coulter said. “Knowing that something can kill you if you mess up is flow state.”
The flow state infiltrates each one of these jumpers’ minds and means different things to each one but is understood by all.
Jared Dalen, 37, explains his flow state as relying on his mental focus.
“[My flow state] is a certain mental focus one has over a task at hand, especially when one’s mortality is at stake, that harnesses all our senses into a ‘super sense’ if you will,” Dalen said.
Cliff jumper Jay Briggs, 26, said his flow state is silent.
“For me, during my flow state, everything goes silent,” Briggs said. “I hear nothing. My mind has shut off, and my body knows what to do. It takes over everything. The next thing I hear is my body hitting the water, and my flow state has turned off.”
The Tahoe winters have become instrumental in the shaping of freestyle cliff jumping. Many of the jumpers from the Tahoe area are also skiers, meaning their skiing has influenced their jumping and vice versa.
Dalen was born and raised in Reno and grew up skiing the daunting terrain provided around Tahoe. He uses cliff jumping as a way to hone his skills for big mountain skiing while bringing his ski tricks to the cliff jumping scene.
“The tricks themselves are purely inspired from skiing, at least for me,” Dalen said. “I like big, floaty airs with grabs. I’m more motivated by height than flips and spins. Ultimately, my goal is to do ski tricks off cliffs in competition and this combination is the best training available. Tahoe… what can I say. The rowdiest of the rowdy tend to flock to this area.”
Cliff jumping has caused controversy in the online community. The jumpers feel this is not putting anyone in danger but themselves, but they have been accused over social media of encouraging dangerous jumps.
This past summer on a trip around the southern United States, they were banned from Noccalula Falls in Alabama. In an article from Gadsden Times, the group was said to have made two dives each at 95 feet before park officials escorted them to the exit because they “did not want to promote such antics.”
Briggs explained that he has learned to handle the negative stigma that is sometimes attached to cliff jumping.
“I live my life just the way I do,” Briggs said. “We try to constantly show everyone how well we train and prepare for large jumps/dangerous conditions. We always praise the safety of what we do with the depth checks, the safety teams, the talks with each other during times of doubt or if something doesn’t feel right, and how to deal with peer pressure.”
Coulter also acknowledged the negative stigma surrounding cliff jumping and admitted that it was quite frustrating at first. He understands that there will always be some naysayers, but he will continue to cliff jump and approach each new element in the safest way possible.
“It’s become a lifestyle for us,” Coulter said. “We have devoted the majority of our free time to become better cliff jumpers. I, personally, have devoted so much time into cliff jumping and videography that I am at the point where there is no turning back.”