Cliff Divers

11:55 p.m. Nov. 8 (Day after Election Day)

Change leads to a world of possibility.

I recently got word that Iris Selene Alvarez became the first female diver from Acapulco to dive from the 59-foot height at the La Quebrada cliff. Iris was 12 when she dove off the historic cliff in December. She was recognized by Guinness World Records as the youngest person to ever dive from the cliff.

She opened her arms to tomorrow,

Tourists watch the cliff divers from the El Mirador Acapulco hotel. The lobby bar and La Perla nightclub features live music along with classic 1960s photos of when Acapulco was a getaway for the original Rat Pack, Lana Turner and others. Scenes from the hit 1963 Elvis Presley film ‘Fun In Acapulco” were shot here and edited into the film, although the King never visited the Mexican nightclub.

I wondered about Raul Garica, who is to Acapulco cliff diving what Muhammad Ali is to boxing. I met Garcia on a 2002 trip to Acapulco. He was 74 years old. He had dove off La Quebrada (the break) 37,348 times in 50 years. Due to so many blows to the head on the water, he was punch drunk like Ali. I sent out some E-mails and learned that the legendary Garcia had died on July 17, 2004…………

I have interviewed Michael Jordan, Timothy Leary and R. Kelly, but Raul Garcia is the only person I have met who knew what it was like to fly.

“Champion divers try to land in the water on the front part of their head, or from eyebrows the middle of the scalp,” he told me in his tiny apartment in downtown Acapulco. “This prevents a broken neck. You also have to know how to open your arms as if you can fly. Today, they don’t do anything different than I did. I never got nervous. I knew when I got nervous, it would be time to quit.” He quit in 1986.

Timing is key for the cliff divers, who have offically been leaping from the rocks since 1934. They attempt to time their dives to correspond between incoming waves at peak depth. The divers must travel at least 30 feet horizontally to avoid crashing into the rugged rocks below. Divers travel at least 80 miles an hour and land in water 9 feet deep. The fall takes about three seconds.

Acapulco cliff divers pass the sport down through generations. Iris Selene Alvarez’s grandfather was famous cliff diver Jose’ Alvarez , a.k.a. “The Square.” The cliff divers make five jumps a day and practice in the afternoon. Young divers start on smaller points of the cliff and work their way to the top. Before they jump, almost all cliff divers pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe shrine atop La Quebrada.

British journalist Barbara Kastelein told me about Garcia’s passing. She is working on a book on the Acapulco cliff divers. She said he went down with a fever, was diagnosed with meningitis and died five days later in an Acapulco hospital. She said how proud Garcia was to have attended the inaugural ceremony of Mexican president Vincente Fox in 2000–but Fox made no mention of Garcia when he died, nor did he send concolences to his widow Myrna.

I met Myrna during my 2002 visit. Raul and Myrna Dalia Reyes were married in 1967. They met at the swinging 1960s Acapulco nightclub Tequila A-Go-Go (appropriately a hang for Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.). Myrna was a switchboard operator at the now-defunct dance club. When she looked across the cluttered apartment at the old cliff diver she still saw a young man, “picaro y coqueto” (roughish and flirtatious).

During our conversation, Garcia’s mind wandered now and then, kind of like our current American President, whose time has come and gone. But Garcia was proud to show me scrapbooks and clippings of his accomplishments. He stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed 180 pounds in his prime.

Garcia was featured in ABC-TV’s “Wide World Of Sports” revue. He became a sideshow attraction, appearing at early 1960s gigs such as Walker Dick’s Water-Stage and Aerial Show at the Pleasure Pier in Galveston, Texas. Wearing a black cape for dramatic effect, Garcia dove into 15-foot Gulf of Mexico waters from a 125-foot steel tower.

In 1990 Garcia was featured in a color advertisement for the Timex Men’s Fashion Collection. He sported a water resistant watch that was guaranteed to click in water as deep as 82 feet. And the watch never stopped. Time rolls on, from the highest cliffs to the heat of the desert. And today I can see tomorrow with the promise of Iris Selene Alvarez.

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