BOSTON -- I stood with the other father the same way I used to stand with the other fathers on assorted sidelines when my kids played school sports. Chatter. Chatter. Blah. Blah. It was a familiar enough situation, equal parts conversation and killing time and looking, waiting for your kids to do whatever they had to do in the game, except this time, of course, I had no kid involved and we were only looking, waiting for Tom Colturi’s kid to do what he had to do.
We had to tilt our heads backwards to do the looking part.
“Here he is,” Tom Colturi finally said. “I was wondering if he was done practicing for the day. I guess not.”
Ninety feet, 2 11/16 inches above the sidewalk where we stood -- 27.5 meters -- 23-year-old David Colturi walked onto a slender platform that extended from the roof of the Institute of Contemporary Art, which is an eight-story modern building along the Boston waterfront. He was wearing one of those Speedo kind of bathing suits, nothing else, looked trim and focused, walked with the precision of a palace guard. He seemed to be far away. Too far. Too high. Definitely too high.
When he stopped walking he was perhaps a foot from the edge of the platform. I don’t know how he felt, way up there, but my hands became clammy way down here. No, I take that back. I guess he did feel better than I did because he then flipped himself upside down, braced his arms and stood on his head.
“He’s just practicing the start for a new dive,” Tom Colturi said, a distinguishable tone of relief in his voice. “See? He’s not going to do the dive. He’s too far back from the edge for this to be a real dive.”
With that, David Colturi pushed himself into the air. He now was standing on his hands instead of his head. He stayed like this for one second, two, maybe five seconds.
Then he pushed himself over the edge.
I had been here for a while at practice for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012. I had seen the 13 entrants from around the world throw themselves off the edge of that platform, drop from the sky, zero to 60 miles per hour, twist and turn, flip, flop, do a somersault or two -- in the three seconds to cover the eight-story distance it sometimes seemed as if these guys had time to cook, serve and clean up from a five-course dinner -- then hit the water, SPLAT, feet first.
I was uneasy with each dive. The distance is roughly two-and-a-half times the platform dive in the Olympics. (Tell me that the platform dive, 10 meters, didn’t look like a long, long drop in London.) I have found that most sights in sports that make me nervous -- like the first turn at the Indy 500, for instance, the prizefighter being pummeled, the big hit in football -- become less threatening with time and repetition. This change had not yet occurred here. This was the first time I had ever seen cliff diving.
I think I made a noise when David Colturi went into his dive from his handstand. I think the noise was a gasp. I think his father also gasped, mainly because he hadn’t been expecting the dive. Gasp. Double gasp. SPLAT.
Five or six scuba divers treaded water in a circle around the spot where the divers landed, an ominous sight in itself. The diver, battered by the entry, even a perfect entry, travels another 10 to 14 feet into the water before he is able to reverse direction and return to the surface. His first move when he breaks the water is to give two thumbs up to signify he is all right.
“It’s different,” Tom Colturi said as he watched this process and his son, bobbed up, OK, fine again. “Every dive is frightening. David has been diving since he was five years old. He dove in high school, dove at Purdue, dove at all the big national meets, the championships. The first thing I always would do when he dove was turn to the judges to see what his score was. Now, I don’t look at the judges at all. I just look to see if he comes back up.”
This is the son’s first season on the cliff diving tour. Colturi was a late substitute for the only North American competition, the same event, Boston, the ICA, a year ago, and was hooked. He put career plans on hold, went to a cliff diving qualifying event in March in Australia, finished first, and made the lineup for the tour. For a summer job, he worked as a stunt diver at an amusement park in Indiana, diving off the top mast of a fake pirate ship three or four times a day on weekends, then took time off when Red Bull sent him to the assorted stops on the schedule.
He had competed in France, Norway, the Azores and Ireland before Boston last weekend. The two remaining stops are next weekend in South Wales and, in three weeks, Oman. Boston was the only urban stop, the only jump off a building. The divers were able to swim to a dock, walk up flights of stairs in the museum, go onto the roof for the next dive. At the other sites, simply getting to the platform was a challenge.
“His mother and I took vacation and went to Ireland and here,” Tom Colturi, who is a gastroenterologist in Sylvania, Ohio, said. “Ireland was at Inis Mór, a pool called The Serpent’s Lair. It was so inaccessible that only 700 people were allowed to attend by lottery. They were bussed in. The day was windy and rainy, everything coming off the North Atlantic, so dangerous that no one even took practice dives. It was quite a scene. To get back up to the platform, the divers wore safety harnesses.”
The prize money for these events is modest on the modern athletic monetary scale. The payments are in euros, ranging from 7,000 euros ($8,761) for first in a meet to 500 euros ($625) for last. Everybody has another job. There are no cliff-diving millionaires. A career with Cirque du Soleil is seen as a showbiz possibility.
In the competition on Saturday in Boston, before a crowd of more than 30,000 people, no admission, sunny day, Red Bull everywhere, the energy drink company grabbing for that young, adventure demographic and getting it, a pair of announcers and dance music and video screens in the background, noise and pictures molded together with the competition with the appropriate oohs on descent for each dive and aahs for each survival, Gary Hunt, a 28-year-old Brit, finished first. Orlando Duque, a 37-year-old Colombian was second. David Colturi was third, his highest finish since he went on tour. He was elated.
Fantastic,” was the word he used to describe his feelings.
I did not see his father after the event, so I called him last night. Tom Colturi was back in Ohio. I offered congratulations. He accepted, but without great excitement in his voice.
“David’s happy,” he said. “So I think this means he’ll be staying with this for a while. (Pause.) Myself, I’d like to see him make a better career decision.”
I told the other father I understood.