You can’t just close your eyes. You’re picturing it in your mind as it’s happening.
Olympic divers usually spot things. They see the water going by after each somersault. They do one and a half somersaults and they see the water. Two and a half somersaults and they see the water. I’ve always been one of those guys who’s dove by feeling. When you’re 180 feet in the air, there’s nothing up there with you. There’s nothing to see. You’re not seein’ the water ‘cause it’s too far away.
I was taught a method of blacking fear out of your mind, picturing things before you do them, completing them exactly as you picture them. As a young kid, it was a powerful thing. The first triple reverse somersault I ever did was from 17 stories. You take a young guy who thinks he’s invincible already and give him the skills to do these types of things.
But before I became a diver, we had the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
There’s actually 11,000 and some. We always hung around the lakes when we were kids. In Minneapolis, you could go to a lake a mile away from your house.
Later, I started diving off the Mississippi bridges. There are probably three or four bridges that we would go to and dive off of into the Mississippi River, where the current was so strong, it would take you a mile down the river before you could get out.
There was a whole group of us from here in Minnesota that ended up being world champions and world record holders. Some are still alive and some aren’t. Some died real young.
When you’re doing a world record high dive, by the time it’s done, you’re doing over 100 miles an hour when you hit the water. The impact, you know it’s coming. You know it can kill you. But you’re still going to do it anyhow. When you come out of the water, it’s euphoria. Especially if you don’t have an injury. You can’t believe it.
I fell in love with the danger and beauty of the sport.
Once I went on the road, I realized it was a good decision because I love being an entertainer. I loved sports and doing plays. Doing live shows, that’s all it was — making a play out of a sport I loved. I dove out of helicopters, bridges, train trestles, cliffs.
La Quebrada is not easy. The first problem is you have to really jump out over the rocks, like twenty feet to clear. You have to launch yourself outward. It’s not only a cliff dive—it’s kind of like a target dive too. The other problem is timing because the waves are coming in and coming out. If you jump at the wrong time, well, there’s no water. Maybe a few feet, or maybe not.
I dove off of a crane into the Sea of Japan.
Usually, you want something nice and solid that doesn’t move. A crane has a tendency to sway, especially when it’s extended to its full extent. That day, Typhoon 19 had just gone through Japan (there are so many over there, they number ‘em) and there were still eight foot waves and high winds. I went and wound up doing a real good dive and still tore some muscles in my leg but I got out and did my interview.
I’ve had other dives where the landings didn’t go so well and you still gotta get out. At a live show in Dallas the equipment broke and I took a diving board to the face. Straight on. No hands, no nothing. Shoulda killed anybody else. But I ran right back up to do my next dive because the show must go on. The people up on stage go “No. No more diving for you.” I broke my jaw and shattered some teeth in my mouth and it wasn’t pretty. But I was ready to go do that next dive.
As told to Jason Schwartzman, True Senior Editor