Jumping for joy: Cliff diving at Tahoe exhilarating, dangerous – Tahoe Daily Tribune

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Brandon Beck uses a rope swing at DL Bliss to catch more air before going into the water. (Provided by Brandon Beck)

At a place on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore where a rock face meets the lapis lazuli water, my friend is standing on the edge of the cliff gazing at the crystalline liquid below.“Jump!” we yell from our boat that’s a safe distance away, and soon he takes flight for a few seconds, eventually landing feet first into the water, popping back up, and swimming back to us.Our other friend is climbing the sketchy ladder, preparing himself to jump as well since going back the way he came seems like a riskier option.People jumping into the lake from the West Shore and swimming back over to their boats is a common sight during the summer at D.L. Bliss where the locals call Rooster Rock. Someone built a makeshift ladder to get up to the famous ledge, and from there the only place to go is down.A few years ago, Truckee-Tahoe native Brandon Beck and his cliff jumping friends built a 46-foot rope swing near Rooster Rock and practiced doing backflips into Lake Tahoe, swinging out and letting go at 99 feet above the lake. Even though the rope swing isn’t there anymore, it’s still a popular place to jump.

“There are a bunch of rocks that are 15 to 35-40 feet high,” Beck says about the West Shore and D.L. Bliss area. It’s one of Beck’s favorite places to jump because it’s accessible year-round (his friends and he will go out there in wetsuits in the colder months), and he’s been jumping off rocks pretty much his whole life all over the West Coast and beyond. He agrees that the most terrifying part of jumping Rooster Rock is climbing up the sketchy ladder that leads to the launching off point, but once you get over that then it’s just going out to the ledge, picking a safe spot to land, and going for it.Beck was born in Truckee and started jumping off cliffs with his dad at Emerald Pools located off Highway 20 along the Yuba River when he was a young kid. His dad learned about the spot from one of his fly fishing friends and started taking Brandon out there in the warmer months. When he got older, he kept up with the sport and continued to test his limits with his friends.“I’m 35-years-old now and have been jumping off big cliffs for over 20 years. I’ve probably done thousands of jumps; my friends and I joke that we may have spent more time in the air than we have in the water,” he laughs. When asked about how much time he thinks he spent in the air, Beck laughs, “Oh, probably days.”Along with jumping cliffs in Northern California, Lake Tahoe and in Oregon, Beck has hucked himself off rocks in Alabama, Tennessee, and Vermont. However, his favorite rocks are right here at Lake Tahoe.One of his other favorite spots is Angora Lake.“It’s really beautiful and a nice hike up there,” he said. “You can only get to it in the summer because snow covers the road in the winter, but it’s a good jumping spot. There are 10-65 foot ledges to jump from, perfect for people jumping off rocks for their first time to seasoned pros.”Beck always brings tape measures to make sure it’s safe and scouts out the area around him. When asked if it’s true if there’s any cliff that’s “too high” and makes hitting the water feel like concrete, he replies, “I’ve heard that too, but you need to take into consideration what your form is when you land and pay attention to what you’re jumping into. Personally, I’ve jumped from 130 feet and it was a heavy impact. I didn’t break any bones, but I felt like I reached my limit,” he said of a cliff in Burney Falls in Northern California.Beck explains that what’s nice about jumping in waterfalls is that the gushing water creates air bubbles, breaking the air tension and forming an air pocket that can make landings a little softer. One of his friends did a 160-foot jump at Toketee Falls in Oregon and walked away from it with no problems.“You want to land like a pencil. The perfect landing is that moment when you enter the water and you’re kicking your feet and swinging your arms … if you kick just right as your feet are extending in the water, you create an air pocket as you go through. If you do it perfectly then you won’t even feel an impact,” Beck says.Beck’s top three favorite spots are D.L. Bliss, Emerald Pools and Angora Lake because the water is deep, and you don’t have to jump too far out to safely land in the water.

Jumping off a rock at Angora Lake. (Provided by Brandon Beck)

It also helps cliff jumping in the summertime when there’s other people around, although that can be a blessing and a curse.“With lots of people being there, you have more of a chance to get saved if something goes wrong, but there also tends to be more drinking and instances where people may jump on top of each other,” he said.At Emerald Pools in the spring of 2020, Beck saw someone lose his footing walking in the cobble of the Yuba River and get swept downstream and over a waterfall. Fortunately, he saw it happen and saved the man from drowning.“When all the snowmelt starts happening then water starts flowing really hard and it can get dangerous,” he said.Trained in swift water rescue and CPR, Beck believes that a good rule of thumb is that if a cliff or area looks too dangerous to jump from, then it probably is.Although he’s never personally broken any bones cliff jumping, he has bruised his tailbone, bruised his lungs, and coughed up blood from hard landings.“In Europe they do a belly flop contest called Dods Diving competitions and people over here are getting into this more now,” Beck said.Also called “Death Diving” (it’s Dods in Norwegian), amateur divers fly horizontally through the air and then curl into a fetal position right before they hit the water to avoid injury.“You basically fly through the air like a flying squirrel, arms and legs completely out and land like a taco before hitting the water with your feet and hands together. I learned how to do it the hard way, but I’ve never gotten seriously injured, just brutal body slaps,” he explains.However, he says what’s great about cliff jumping is that “no matter if you’re a serious adrenaline junkie or a novice pencil diver, everyone still gets the same rush.”

Editor’s Note: This article appears in the 2021 summer edition of Tahoe Magazine.Photos07_zach jumping off a rock: DL Bliss is a favorite spot for cliff jumping at Lake Tahoe.| Photo by Kayla Andersonbrandon jump: Brandon uses a rope swing at DL Bliss to catch more air into the water. | Photo submitted by Brandon BeckFile_000 (1): Brandon Beck cannonballs off a rock into Lake Tahoe. | Photo submitted by Brandon Beck
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