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Rise of cliff diving adds to PH sports tourism brochure | Inquirer Sports

Poland’s Kris Kolanus performs one of his dives. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/DEAN TREML

EL NIDO—First it was golf, reeling in Asian neighbors for weekend retreats at some of the most picturesque courses in the region. Then came beach volleyball, whose rise unearthed a lot of local seaside stops all over the country.

Now, cliff diving, a sport that mixes the grace of Olympic diving with the adventurous thrill of jumping off cliffs, is polishing the country’s reputation as a sports tourism destination. ADVERTISEMENT

Greg Louganis, the iconic four-time Olympic gold medalist, would have even wanted to take a stab at jumping off the jagged cliffs of Miniloc Island here if not for his responsibilities as the sports director of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

“If this was not the first stop, this is ideally where I want to dive. I mean, ideally,” said Louganis, who also is a certified cliff diving judge. “If this was in the middle of our season, this is definitely where I’m going to dive.” FEATURED STORIES SPORTS PBA semis: June Mar Fajardo hits face on floor in hard fall SPORTS Ateneo fades against rival La Salle anew, but coach Almadro quick to move on SPORTS Fuel Masters pay price for veering away from defensive identity

The protected and secluded bayous of the island is the first stop of the series, which will have multiple legs and will end at La Salve Bridge in Bilbao, Spain.

A 40-minute pump boat ride gets you through a gap between two untouched limestone formations and ushers you into what locals call the Small Lagoon. Not far away is the Big Lagoon, a venue with deeper waters frequented by sea mammals and kayakers.

Louganis calls El Nido and Oman his favorite spots in the contest that has been going around the globe to showcase the world’s best cliff divers.

“[They] are kind of neck and neck. Both are very remote areas that it’s really hard to get to, so it has a certain challenge. But those sometimes are the best because you really feel in nature and you’re embraced by nature and that’s what the heart of cliff diving is,” he added.

The sport has generated added revenue for this tourist haven. Chedie Veran, who has been living in here since 1999, has witnessed the throng of visitors here grow each year—with the cliff diving event adding to the numbers.

“I’m liking it so far,” he said in Filipino in between ferrying guests to Miniloc Island. “This has become the driving force of livelihood to many of us here.”

Among the guests who have flocked here are the 16 elite divers and 25 wild-card entries to the tournament. One of the contestants also considers El Nido a special stop of the tournament—but for a different reason. ADVERTISEMENT

Xantheia Pennisi, who finished seventh in the contest among the women in the field, was born to a Filipino mother from Tarlac before she was adopted by Australian parents. She made it clear, though: No relation to Filipino-Australian former PBA standout Mick Pennisi.

“Although it would have been cool if we were related,” said the 20-year-old diver.

Her Filipino mother brought along family to watch her perform, giving her some “sort of home court advantage.”

But her being a rookie competing against the world’s top divers showed in her performance. She managed 209.30 points, performing for her last dive an inward somersault with a 1/2 twist off a pike position. Still, it was a strong showing for Pennisi, who came in with modest goals.

“I’ve never done cliff diving before, usually it’s just from platforms,” she told reporters before the tournament started. “I never knew about the sport until two years ago, and once I saw it I knew inside my heart that I wanted do it.”

She is likely to return when the tournament makes another stop here, bringing with it its usual fare of sporting icons, elite athletes, hopeful beginners and a wellspring of opportunity for locals hoping to cash in on this dive into a new sports tourism stream.

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TAGS: cliff diving , Greg Louganis , Kris Kolanus , Philippine sports , Xantheia Pennisi For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.