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Cliff Divers

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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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3 Comments

Hi,
Thank you for your article. I was wondering if you have any resources or information I could use to find out more about my late uncle, Jess Starr. He was the first American to dive off the cliffs of Acapulco. We have some pictures of his dives, but I know he was also written about in a newspaper and I am trying to get the article. Thank you very much.
Krissi


Lets see who can help out there......

THOUGHT I WOULD PUT MY 2 CENTS WORTH IN. I WAS PROMO MGR AT THE GALVESTON PLEASURE PIER WHEN RAUL WAS BROUGHT FROM MEXICO TO THE U.S. WE DAMN NEAR CAUSED AN INTERNATIONAL PROBLEM WHEN WE GOT HIM OUT OF MEXICO. THIS GREAT LITTLE MAN WAS THE GREATEST. HE MADE 2 DIVES EACH DAY. ONLY ONE TIME HE GOT INJURED. IT WAS BY A SCHOOL OF FISH THAT WAS NOT SEEN BY OUR SPOTTER AND HE DOVE INTO THE WATER HITTING THEM RESULTING IN SEVERAL CUTS. HE LEFT THE PIER AND TOURED THE STATES IN A SHOW CALLED THE INTERNATIONAL SPECTACULAR. IN HUNTINGTON, W. VA. WE HAD RAUL CLIMB TO THE TOP OF THE 6TH STREET BRIDGE CROSSING FROM W.VA. TO OHIO THEN SOMEONE CALLED THE POLICE DEPT AND REPORTED A JUMPER ON THE BRIDGE. SOON WE HAD TRAFFIC STOPPED. THE T V STATIONS SENT THEIR CREWS. SPOT LIGHTS WERE ON AND AT THE HIGH POINT I TURNED ON THE P.A. SYSSTEM AND MADE THE ANNOUNCEMENT LADIES AND GENTLEMEN PRESENTING RAUL GARCIA BRAVO. HE THEN DOVE INTO THE OHIO RIVER FROM THE VERY TOP POINT OF THE BRIDGE, AND WAS PICKED UP BY A WAITING BOAT. I THEN SAID TO SEE HIS COMPLETE SHOW 8 PM AT THE HUNTINGTON MEMORIAL FIELD HOUSE.... I THINK THAT OUR FINE FOR THIS CAPER WAS A $25.00 CITATON FROM THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE GOOD OLD DAYS WHEN YOU COULD GET TV ADVERTISING BY TRICK. AFTER THAT RUN WITH THE INTERNATIONAL SPECTULAR, WALKER DICK GAVE RAOUL A BIG BONUS AND HE RETURNED TO THE CLIFFS AND ALL HIS CHILDREN..P.S. HE WAS A GREAT COOK!

This isnt about the artical but Raul Gracia s my grandfather and I was wondering how to get more information on him. I was not able to meet him but have always wondered what kind of person he was and many other questions if you could help I would apperciate it.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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