Sandanbeki to host international cliff diving contest

SHIRAHAMA, Japan (The Japan News/ANN) - Dramatic event to be first of its kind held in Asia.

The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competition will be held at the Sandanbeki cliff in the town of Shirahama, Wakayama Prefecture, on October16, the first time for the event to come to Japan.

The cliff provides a scenic view as it rises along the Pacific Ocean, but it is also known as a place where many people commit suicide. The local community welcomed the cliff diving event with the expectation it will create a more positive image for the area.

In the world competition, men dive into seas and lakes from heights of 26 to 28 meters, equivalent to an eight-story building, while women dive from 20 to 21 meters. They compete on positions in the air and the difficulty of technical diving skills. The heights are more than twice those for high diving in a conventional swimming competition.

The first cliff diving event was held in 1997, organized by Red Bull, a beverage company based in Austria. It has been holding these events at scenic sightseeing spots around the world to decide the world No.1 in the sport since 2009. About 75,000 people reportedly visited last year’s event held in La Rochelle, France.

The upcoming season is set to begin in June, and will take place in nine nations, seven of those for women’s diving. The Sandanbeki cliff will be the site of the eighth round of the season. About 20 male and female divers will participate in the competition with an audience of about 3,000 people expected to attend. According to a company in charge of the competition’s public relations, no Japanese diver has yet taken part.

Sandanbeki is a precipice measuring 50 to 60 meters in height and stretching about two kilometers. An observatory deck built on the site provides a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. The cliff is considered one of the main sightseeing spots in Shirahama, together with the Shirahama beach and onsen resort. About 3.4 million people visit the town for sightseeing annually.

The cliff is also known as a spot where many people attempt to kill themselves by jumping off. The number of those who commit suicide at the site has been decreasing, with eight people doing so last year after the number peaked at 21 people in 2008, according to a local police station.

However, the cliff is still seen as a suicide spot.

The diving event organizer sounded out people related to the town’s sightseeing and economic organizations about a year ago. They welcomed the event, considering it the best opportunity to completely change the cliff’s image and took efforts to get permission from the town government and the Environment Ministry. It was decided informally this January that the diving competition will be held at the cliff.

The decision was made because the local community and the organiser had shared goals. The town wishes to enhance the reputation of the cliff, and the company wants to hold their events at scenic spots.

Shirahama mayor Makoto Itani said: “As it will be the first of these events in Asia, it can also serve as a new tourism attraction for foreigners who visit Japan. We hope to establish an image that Sandanbeki is a cliff diving spot by making the event a success and continuing to host it.”