Laso Schaller's World-Record Jump Was Not a World-Record Dive

08_24_dive_01
Laso Schaller leaps into a pool from 193 feet atop Cascada del Salto, a mountain ridge along the Swiss-Italian border, during a stunt sponsored by Red Bull. Red Bull

Laso Schaller stepped to the edge of a temporary platform built atop a waterfall and found himself standing on the precipice of viral glory.

Schaller, 27, stood atop the Cascada del Salto, which is situated near the Swiss-Italian border and plummets into a pool of water far, far below: 193 feet, in fact. Dozens of onlookers and a team of Red Bull videographers waited to witness and/or record the moment. Then, pushing off his right leg, Schaller, who is Brazilian by birth but was raised in Switzerland, propelled himself into thin air...and onto the World Wide Web.

Wearing a blue bodysuit and a helmet equipped with a GoPro camera, Schaller leaped from a height greater than the equivalent of the Tower of Pisa, the Arc de Triomphe or your standard 17-story building. It is estimated that he was traveling 76 mph when he made contact with the surface of the water after 3.58 seconds of hang time. Schaller survived, his only injury a slightly dislocated hip.

Within a day or two, Schaller’s leap last week had made it onto the home page of ESPN.com and onto a plethora of other websites (FoxSports.com, DailyMail.co.uk and USAToday.com, to name a few). Each story noted that Schaller had set a “world-record cliff jump.” While that is technically true, a coterie of lunatic fringers would remind you that a cliff jump is not the same thing as a high dive, and that the latter is far more perilous.

“I think [Schaller’s leap] is a bad image for the sport of high diving,” says Dave Lindsay, 58, who twice set the high diving world record in the early 1980s. “He didn’t do anything related to high diving. He’s just an idiot who jumped off a cliff.”

In the quasi-suicidal sport of high diving, two conditions (besides the obvious: elevation) must be met in order to set a world record. The first involves a 180-degree rotation, vertically, of the diver’s body position. “If you jump from a standing position, then at some point of the dive your head must be the nearest part of your body to the water,” says Lindsay. “But you can be creative. When I set my second world record (170 feet), I started from a handstand position.”

The second condition stipulates that a diver must emerge from the water under his own power. Watch the above video and note that while Lindsay is in obvious pain, he refuses offers of assistance before climbing out of the pool on his own. To have accepted such would have nullified his world record.

"I've got to get out on my own power," says Lindsay, who sustained a cracked right clavicle, "and then you can take me to the hospital."

Lindsay’s feat took place at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, in 1982, when the sport of high diving was soaring in popularity almost as swiftly as its practitioners were plummeting in the opposite direction. From the mid-’70s though the early ’80s, extreme diving was one of the most popular segments on ABC’s late, great Wide World of Sports. While old-timers may recall that show’s coverage of cliff diving from Acapulco, those perches were no more than 80 or so feet above the Pacific Ocean. High divers were jumping from platforms more than double that height.

“Height is one of those things: You either love it or you hate it,” says Dana Kunze, who is regarded as the king of high diving. An eight-time high diving world champion, Kunze set the current world record of 172 feet in 1983 at Sea World in San Diego. It was his seventh world record. He was just 22 years old.

“The man who introduced me to diving, John Tobler, taught me psycho-cybernetics, the idea of mind over matter,” says Kunze, an affable Minneapolis native. “The idea was that if I envisioned it, it would happen. Now that I’m getting older, I think John was maybe lying to me.”

Back then, though, the gravity of Kunze’s undertaking never weighed on him nearly as much as, well, gravity did. For his final world-record attempt—in high diving, there are often either world-record holders or casualties—Kunze scaled a tower that he himself had helped erect to a most dizzying height of 172 feet. Wearing nothing but a couple of pairs of Speedos, shin guards and a lathering of zinc oxide on his nose, he hurled himself into the abyss to perform a reverse triple somersault. Watching the video now, it is difficult to comprehend that Kunze attempted this while sober.

“I clearly broke the record. I clearly got out of the pool under my own power and did the interviews,” says Kunze, 53. “And I clearly went out and had a couple of cold ones that night.”

Kunze was introduced to diving when he was just 11 years old by Tobler, a PE teacher at Phillips Junior High School in Minneapolis. A classmate, Randy Dickison, displayed a similar aptitude for diving and a similar fearlessness. The two boys would practice by leaping off bridges in the Twin Cities area that spanned the Mississippi River. Stunts took precedence over style.

“John sat us both down and explained to the two of us that we could train for four to eight years to make the Olympics,” says Kunze. “Or we could turn pro and make money.”

The two friends turned professional in the same year, when Kunze was 13 and Dickison was 14. “Randy was my best friend,” says Kunze.

In 1985, two years after Kunze’s world-record dive, Dickison attempted to break his record with a dive of 174 feet, 8 inches in Hong Kong. Dickison fractured his leg in three places and was unable to leave the pool under his own power. In 1996, Dickison died during a leap into a giant sponge at a show in Belgium.

Dickison is not the only man to have climbed higher and dived farther in an attempt to break Kunze’s record. In 1987, Olivier Favre of France dived from a height of 177 feet, a backward double flip, but he broke his back upon hitting the surface. Favre was carried from the water on a raft.

To appreciate just how, um, impactful, high diving can be to one’s frame, watch this video of a novice attempting a straight jump into a pool from a 10-meter diving board. The lab rat, an intrepid British film producer, lands awkwardly on his bum (2:50). Two days later, the backs of his thighs are a deep purple (3:45), and that was from a mere height of 33 feet, or about one-fifth the distance of Kunze’s world record.

Earlier this summer, Kunze, who last weekend appeared in shows in upstate New York that would see him dive from a height of 80 feet, was contacted by Schaller’s representatives. “They got in touch with me and wanted me to sign off on his jump,” he says. “I told them I didn’t know this person, and then after I learned more about what they were doing, I told them that I didn’t want to tie my name to that.”

He does not sound bitter in the least, but rather protective of the legacy of a practice that has been his life’s work. “If you watch the video of Schaller’s leap,” says Kunze, “he clearly does not rotate 180 degrees, and afterward they used a rope to tow him out of the water. So he failed to meet either condition.”

And so Kunze remains the world-record holder for the world’s highest dive, while Schaller is the legitimate world-record holder for the world’s highest cliff jump. But they’re both one thing: crazy.