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South Florida’s Steven LoBue is one of about 30 men in the world who competes in the extreme sport of cliff diving.
It’s his job to jump from a platform bolted 90 feet above a body of water. The location is Italy, Spain perhaps, or even Dubai. Up to 70,000 people have gathered to witness the leap, but they look microscopic, like grains of sand. Among the specs are five judges who plan to rate his performance. A cocktail of nerves, excitement and gratitude bubbles in his stomach until finally, he bends his knees and lifts his feet from the platform. He soars perpendicular to the water at 50 mph. Flip, flip, flip, flip, flip, half-twist, splash. Three seconds is the duration of his trip, and now he’s decelerating through water until he’s about 10 feet deep. Then he paddles to the surface and flashes a thumbs-up that symbolizes all body parts are intact.
There have been two stand-out times in Steven LoBue’s career as a Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competitor that all body parts have not, in fact, been intact. The 31-year-old Pembroke Pines resident suffered his first injury in the sport before he was actually in the sport.
“In 2011, Red Bull had an open qualification. They put it out like, ‘Hey, we’re looking for people who want to try this and will fly out to Australia for a competition to try out,’” LoBue says.
“ ... I got accepted to compete. And that’s where I actually fractured my tailbone because I hadn’t really done harder dives [before].”
LoBue’s injury came the day before the competition for a spot on the world tour. Not knowing the injury was a fractured tailbone at the time, he dove again the next day during tryouts and qualified by .01 points, securing himself one of seven open spots.
While cliff diving has been LoBue’s full-time career for the past five years, competitive diving is something he’s practiced for the bulk of his life. He first discovered the sport during an introductory swim program.
“At the end they let you jump off the diving boards, and that’s what I was really excited about. So I went up to the three-meter springboard and I just tried to do a front flip, and I landed flat on my face,” he says. “... I knew at 7 years old that was what I wanted to do.”
LoBue attended Purdue University on a diving scholarship and was an Olympic trials finalist in 2004. Burnt out from competing after graduation, he found an opportunity to work for Royal Caribbean cruise lines as a diver.
“Performing was really amazing,” LoBue says. “It kind of opened my eyes to what diving could be, and it sort of brought back the passion for me at the end of my competitive career in college.”
LoBue moved to China in 2009 to do entertainment shows. This was where he was first introduced to a 90-foot dive, which was the reason he felt confident trying out for the Red Bull world tour two years later.
Since then, he’s finished third in 2012 and 2014 at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. But last year, he endured the second injury scare of his career in La Rochelle, France, when he made national headlines for not jumping far enough and hitting his face off the platform on the way down.
“I think my body was on autopilot,” he says. “I was really committed to the movement that my body had to do, so my body kind of got through it and my brain picked back up right before the water and I was like, ‘Crap, that was bad.’”
While LoBue competes in an extreme sport, he assures he isn’t an adrenaline junky. “In reality, it’s much more calculated,” he says, which is why each morning he takes 15 to 20 minutes over coffee to visualize himself on the edge of a platform, “what the wind feels like that high, what the surroundings are like, what it smells like, everything.” As he pictures the scene, his heart rate speeds up and his hands get sweaty. Once he’s in this state of nervousness, LoBue practices calming himself down. “You can’t just go up there and expect to relax in conditions like that,” he explains.
Plus, now he has more on the line. With his wife, Lindsay, and their 7-month-old, Ellie, expecting him home in one piece, LoBue’s perspective on the sport has shifted, but not in the way
“I thought that having a kid would make me a little more concerned about the financial end of everything [since] you have to do well to get paid well,” he says. “So I thought that would put more stress on me to do better to be able to provide, but I think it’s sort of had the opposite effect where I have such a sense of purpose now outside of what I’m doing that if it were over tomorrow I would be OK with it and I would still have a drive, a reason to go.”