Barry Hayes crossing the Pacific Ocean in a rowing boat

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

Tombstoning is the act of jumping off a cliff into the water, and it has a terrible reputation, and name, because of the times when it goes wrong. On average, in the UK, there are seven reported tombstoning injuries per year and two deaths. The statistics will tell you that in almost every single case since 2004 this has been due to jumping into shallow water, cold water (so shock ensues), the current pulls them away, they were pushed, or they were under the influence of drink or drugs. What this means is that if those preventable factors are eliminated, and that you do it knowing the dangers, being ‘risk aware’, then this is an enjoyable ‘extreme sport’, safer than sky diving, safer than surfing, and about a thousand times safer than crossing the road.

On Thursday I was down at Abereiddy on the Pembrokeshire Coast with my family. Jack (10) and I (34 going on 10) sat on the edge of a cliff dangling our legs over a disused quarry, now full of sea water, and known to most as “The Blue Lagoon”. It is a beautiful place, but the Blue Lagoon is known for two things. The blue water, and tombstoning. In fact, the Red Bull Cliff Diving championships were held here just a few years ago.

We were on our way home from our holiday so we couldn’t get involved ourselves but we sat and watched people aged between around 10 and 50, climbing the remains of a brick building that created a sheer drop with the intention to jump off and into the water. There are various heights which can be jumped from, and it was exciting watching people daring to jump from the highest jump. What was far more fascinating though, was watching the children jump. They would scramble up like monkeys to the middle jump which was high enough to frighten many adults into not jumping. They would shuffle to the edge, clinging to the rocks to the side of them, peering over into the bluey green water...and then a mental block would stop them jumping. They’d try again, this time bending their knees and making jumping motions without actually jumping off. They’d dangle a leg over, then dangle the other leg over. They’d do some deep breaths in and out...anything to summon the strength to jump.

Jack and I watched one girl in particular doing this, she was about 11 years old, with a red life jacket over her pink wetsuit. Her brother was egging her on, her Dad gave her endless countdowns, an organised coasteering group turned up to jump off and the leader tried to get her confidence up enough to jump. But she couldn’t, she physically couldn’t. For a full hour she fought herself in an internal battle between what she wanted to do (jump), and what her brain was automatically telling her (fear of the unknown).

And then, she jumped.

She  immediately regretted her decision, flailing her arms in the air and letting out a piercing scream as she fell. She pulled her arms in like her dad taught her, just before she hit the water with a sharp splash. The look on her face as she entered the water was one of absolute terror. She stayed under for two endless seconds before finally bursting from the still foaming water, gasping a huge breath in.

The look on her face had changed, she was absolutely beaming with delight!

Immediately she clambered to the top and threw herself off again and again and again. She had overcome her fear, she had broken out of her comfort zone, and what was once scary was now fun. This was her new comfort zone...and it wasn’t too long before she climbed to the next highest jump to once again spend a very long time peering, and building up her courage.

It felt like quite a privilege to watch someone grow right in front of you. I don’t know who she was, but she publically faced her fear and because of this, her limits had been permanently extended, her mind had been altered, she was able to do more, and only because she pushed herself.

Anyway, it was cool to see, and provided a good life lesson, in that we will simply not progress unless we push ourselves, be that mentally or physically, so I thought I’d share it.