High diver extraordinaire Lysanne Richard
From Cirque du Soleil to plunging off the cliffs of the Azores
High diver and competitive cliff diver Lysanne Richard’s favourite moment in a competition is after about 10 metres. She’s already flung her body off a cliff and performed a series of acrobatic moves out over the cold ocean waiting below. She finds her feet and gets in position and at that moment, she begins to feel the wind, her wind created by falling at a speed already more than 50 km/h.
“At that moment, the acrobatic part is over and I just need to fly,” says Richard, a Montreal native and the only Canadian who is a regular participant of the Red Bull Cliff Diving series. “I get a visual of the water and at that moment I know everything is going to be all right.”
Richard engages her muscles, strong and well-developed from years spent diving and in the circus arts and trampoline acrobatics with companies such as Cirque du Soleil. The movement needs to be precise, too early and muscles will tire, too late and, well, it won’t end well. Like a good trampolinist, Richard excels in being in the right position when her feet strike the water.
“You need to be exactly vertical to enter the water,” she says. “If conditions are good and, everything is all right, I’m going to feel that it hurts my feet, but just my feet and right after I will feel some release and feel super proud of myself, and really just want to go again.”
But, before she does, she has to negotiate the cold open ocean, then climb up the side of a cliff to get back in position. It’s that kind of competition.
Richard is just days away from her favourite event of the year in Portugal’s Azores island of São Miguel. A live broadcast of the event is scheduled for June 22. Here, the divers plunge from natural perches high above the North Atlantic.
“You are really into nature on the island, nobody lives on the island, there isn’t even a toilet. There is no electricity and they have to put long wires down through the water,” she says. “With our little group, there is a lot of wind as you are right over the ocean, there are a lot of waves and we often see dolphins, which is really nice.”
Richard was third in the event last year and has already landed on the podium in the first two events of the 2019 series. The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series now in its 11th season features seven events taking place in dramatic locations around the world. There are 10 permanent divers in the men’s category and six in the women’s with additional wildcard entries added at each event.
And the sport is only growing both with competitions like Red Bull Cliff Diving and more traditional high diving as it looks for inclusion in future Olympic Games. Next year, there will be 12 permanent female divers.
Each competitor gets four dives, and the cumulative total points decide the winner. The dive is akin to traditional Olympic diving at the beginning with a series of complicated aerial manoeuvres, but instead of hitting the water head first, the divers must go feet first because of the height.
Richard is the oldest permanent diver on the series and has only been high diving at this level for a few years. She was introduced to the sport while working at a circus show at Canada’s Wonderland in Toronto that had an acrobatic high dive component.
“I did the circus and diving show, but it was more freestyle, I wasn’t coached and had no technique,” she says. “So every morning before the show, I was doing high diving to improve my skill and kept doing harder dives. I had to arrive before it opened and the water was so cold. I still wasn’t coached or with a diving club, but once I started doing the competitions I got a chance to train more with the national diving team in Montreal and kept improving my skill.”
Now, with the Red Bull series as well as the amateur competitions such as the upcoming FINA world championships in Korea this summer, Richard is a full-time high diver as well as a mother of three children and a sports ambassador and speaker who does a lot of work speaking with young people in schools.
“I do need to train full-time all year long if I want to challenge the other athletes,” says Richard. “I do still need to work and do a lot of other things, even those with the top ranking in the world cannot live on that alone.”
Richard has also made it her mission to attract other athletes to the sport and has some success with the recent addition of another Canadian, Aimee Harrison, to the series, although only as a wildcard at the moment.
“In Canada, I was the only one for years,” she says. “One of my missions is to make the sport more well known and convince regular divers and trampolinists to switch to this sport so we can have a bigger team. Finally, this year at the World Cup, we were a team of two Canadians.”