Interview: Reagan Popoff, Freestyle Cliff Jumper

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Hi Reagan, can you first please tell us a little bit about yourself?

What’s going on? I’m Reagan Popoff. I’m 23 years old. I’m from Plano, Texas, and I’m a freestyle clip jumper.

Can you explain how did you get into cliff diving?

I have always been an athlete, I love sports. I grew up with two older brothers that pushed me to be better in every sport that I do. That competitive nature has always drawn me to love sports and it’s just been my passion my entire life. I didn’t know what sport it was going to be for me. It was basketball, then baseball and soccer and then golf. When COVID came around I really loved to do parkour, like you know, the world’s my playground. I got into cliff diving during COVID. I started to do some small jumps off some little bridges and some small cliffs with some of my friends.

I tried to do some flips, and next thing you know, I was actually pretty good at it. At the same time I found this parkour gym that I could train at. It’s called Tempest. This was a crucial timing, right when I started jumping, I found this training gym. I started coming here. They have trampolines; they have an airbag with ledges next to them. It is just a really cool place where you can practice your flips safely and progress. When I found this gym I immediately knew this is what I want to do right here. It’s just something that I was really good at and fell in love with. I’ve never really traveled much, but I figured clip jumping would be a cool way to travel and it might take me to some pretty cool spots.

Can you tell me a bit about the cliff diving world?

So technical diving has been around for a while. Olympic-style diving, which is pretty cool but, it’s just from a platform into a pool or into water. It is very manicured. Freestyle cliff jumping on the other hand, there’s a lot more variables that are involved. We’re jumping off of a waterfall and maybe there are slippery rocks, or there is a gap, or there is precision, or there are trees you have to worry about. It is not manicured. So that’s the cool part about freestyle cliff jumping. That is it a lot more raw. Also everyone has different styles, too. In technical diving, everyone has the same style. They have the same trick. You want to keep your toes pointed, you got to keep your legs together. You always know what you’re going to see.

In freestyle cliff jumping, you have no idea what you’re going to see. Everyone has different styles. Skier grabs, they’re throwing jumps at different axes. It’s really cool. Everyone has their own swag; everyone has their own personality when they jump. It’s like an art form and I think that’s really beautiful. Everyone can have their own unique style. So that’s pretty sick.

And then there is death diving which is a Norwegian sport that I got into because it’s super fun. Initially, I got into it just because it was a blast. It’s a style of dive where it looks like you’re going to belly flop and then at the last second you tuck and you save yourself. It’s a crowd pleaser. Everyone is like, oh my gosh, are you okay? You’re like, yeah, yeah, it was fine. It didn’t hurt at all. So that was cool. And I got pretty good at it.

Next thing you know, fast forward a couple years later, I’m getting invited to Norway to go compete in the world championship depth diving event, which is so surreal. Somehow I got second. So now I’m considered the top U.S. depth diver, which is like… I can’t even fathom that, it’s pretty cool. And it just shows like, I started working pretty hard at it and it started to pay off, you know?

Reagan Popoff checking the view from above the cliffs.

Can you talk to me about fear; is there fear or nervousness before the jump? How do you overcome that? The chance of injury seems high if you make a mistake on higher jumps.

Is there any fear or nervousness before the jump? Oh yeah, so much fear.

Fear is there, but the way you overcome fear is preparation. Preparing is everything. I spend all my time in the gym preparing for these jumps. So when I get to the spot, I know exactly what I’m capable of doing. If something is beyond my capability, then that fear is going to be overwhelming and I’m not going to be able to do the jump. But when I have put all the preparation and I know what my body is capable of doing and I know that I can do the jump, then that fear is still there, but my confidence overcomes that fear. If you’re not confident enough, then maybe you shouldn’t do that jump. Also, we always swim and check the depth before jumping into water. That’s very important.

Can you describe your scariest jump so far?

My scariest jump so far. Sometimes the jumps… aren’t the scary part. Sometimes the scary part is checking the depth. Sometimes the waterfalls are too powerful and it’s scary to get in there and fight the current and see what’s under there and make sure there are no rocks. And sometimes the climb is scarier than the jump. Climbing up to a certain takeoff can be very scary or climbing out. So it’s not just about the jump a lot of times. It’s like the whole process of doing a jump can be really thrilling.

My scariest jumps, man, there’s too many to choose from. But I think what makes it scary is when you’re at a spot that’s super remote and you know there’s no room for error. A lot of times we are deep in the jungle or deep in the forest miles away from civilization so you know that you cannot get hurt or else it’s going to be a very, very hard hike and you’re going to make it hard for your friends that are with you. So that puts a lot of pressure on your jump, which is good. I think pressure makes diamonds, you know.

What was your best, most memorable jump? What is it that makes one jump especially sick?

My most memorable jump was probably in Hawaii when I went to this one island called Lanai. It’s a very hard island to access. And I got over there and I kind of went there by myself. I met a couple guys at the beach and they took me out to this sacred cliff jumping spot. I didn’t have any of my buddies around and I did some pretty epic jumps and that was really special to me because I felt like I just went on this mission, this side mission and made it happen all by myself. I was at this super sacred, amazing cliff jumping spot, probably the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen and I got to do some pretty extraordinary jumps there and I was super excited about that.

Hawaii is super cool. It’s also very dangerous. There are sharp rocks, there is the jungle, ocean, and there are sharks. I think Hawaii is just known for energy. I think if you don’t have the right energy in Hawaii, it’s going to spit you right out.

What is your favorite location for cliff jumping and what is your dream location that you would like to visit?

Somewhere I want to go is definitely Eastern Asia. I know that there are some beautiful locations over there. Australia. I want to explore South America a lot. I mean, I want to go see the whole world. I want to jump everywhere. But right now, my favorite spots are either on the West Coast or Hawaii.

You spend lots of time near and on the water, how important is a good waterproof backpack? Btw, what is the purpose of throwing a rock or a backpack down into the water before you jump?

Dry Tide is by far the best backpack for me. For what I do, sometimes we’re traversing through rivers or we have to jump a waterfall and keep going. And there’s nothing like having a good backpack you can trust with your phone and camera, keys, money, passport. Being able to have that backpack in the water and not worry about those things getting ruined.

Reagan Popoff with DryTide backpack.

Whenever people see our videos, they’re like, why are you throwing the rock? So the reason why we throw rocks is to get a good estimation of how long we’re going to be in the air. Whenever I throw a rock, I pretend that rock is me. And so I’m seeing how long it takes to hit the water. It’s like physics, and you see, okay, if I jump this far, the rock’s going to land right there. Okay, that’s where I’m going to land.

A rock really gives us a good idea of where the water is, how long we’re going to be in the air, it’s very important. The cool thing is with Dry Tide, I figured I can throw this off the waterfall. So instead of throwing a rock, I’m just throwing my backpack and then follow the backpack down. It’s a cool video idea. It’s a great way to promote the backpack as well.

Your goals for the future?

I don’t want this to just be a two-year thing where I come on the scene and then I have an injury and then I’m out. I want to be able to do this for a long time. And so health is very important to me, my physical fitness. I’m always in the gym, training, preparing my body for these very intense feats. I just try to stay strong, stay wise, and you know, stay healthy.

Where can we follow your adventures?

If you guys want to check me out on Instagram, my Instagram is rpopoff1. Or if you just search Reagan Popoff on YouTube or Instagram, you’ll find me and you can tag along on my adventures. I hope you enjoy.

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