Fan Pier Boston & ICA Host Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series!

Going off the deep end at ICA

High divers should make quite a splash in harbor

August 17, 2011|By Kevin Paul Dupont, Globe Staff
Article Courtesy of:

The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston will be on the cutting edge Saturday.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, the eye-catching building on Fan Pier, is usually a quiet, contemplative place. But just as all works of art are not meant to be framed on a wall or tucked into a glass display case, the ICA at the edge of Boston Harbor will break form Saturday afternoon and yield its roof to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.

Venture to the Atlantic’s edge Saturday and you won’t see that paradise has put up a parking lot. You will get a glimpse of the athletic art form more commonly associated with the idyllic and majestic hills of Hawaii, Jamaica, Australia, even Switzerland.

ICA Institute Contemporary Art Boston - Fan Pier Boston MA

ICA Institute Contemporary Art Boston - Fan Pier Boston MA

More than a dozen of the world’s best high divers, competing in stop No. 6 of this year’s Red Bull seven-city international tour, will dive from a platform anchored 85 feet above sea level. According to the folks at Red Bull, the water at the divers’ point of entry is 23 feet deep.

Now, that certainly sounds deep enough, at least as far as diving off a downtown building and into Boston Harbor goes. We resisted the temptation to make a call to the Elias Sports Bureau for any comparables. Some measurements just have to be accepted on faith, kind of like that 310-foot marker at the base of Fenway’s left-field wall. The Custom House would have offered a higher platform, but imagine the running start required for divers to avoid a dry landing. Haymarket gets messy enough on weekends.

“Diving has always sold itself as a sport of somewhat daring,’’ said Tom Groden, Boston College’s longtime swimming coach, checking in via e-mail. “We who remember the ‘Wild (sic) World of Sports’ on ABC as kids all remember the Acapulco cliff diving contests. The announcers always emphasized the height, the changing depth of water, the wind – all in the hope of keeping the audience in their seats.’’

The folks at the ICA don’t know what to expect for a crowd, but outdoor seating at the water’s edge will be free, with space that should comfortably accommodate 2,000 or more, according to Colette Randall, the ICA’s associate director of marketing. The action begins at 3 p.m. For those interested in combining art and athletics, the ICA has rolled back ticket prices by $5, to $10, and ticket buyers can watch from inside the ICA’s John Hancock Founders Gallery.

High dives, high art, low prices. How do you beat that in this challenged economy? A sawbuck for art moderne and a 2 ½ twist from a tucked position.



“Everyone here is excited about the building being used in this capacity,’’ reported Randall, although she confessed none of her coworkers inquired about giving the platform a test run. “Yeah, well, I tried volunteering one of my colleagues, but she didn’t go for it.’’

No doubt a curator type, looking to get her hands on something, like, say, another day of living.

We’ve had at least one bigger, more daring, tide-changing event in the harbor, of course, though perhaps none with such world-class athletes. This one comes with Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis, now 51, as one of the judges. It’s also the first time the Red Bull tour, now in its third year, has picked an urban setting for its big dip.

But if we’re talking thrills and spills in the harbor, then it’s likely nothing ever will top Dec. 16, 1773, the day when a bunch of locals rushed to Griffin’s Wharf, a fairly short toss from where the ICA stands today, and dumped 342 chests of Darjeeling tea into the deep blue sea, thus capturing the attention and ire of the British Crown.

For the record, the Red Bull reigning champ and leader through five events this year is Gary Hunt, who happens to be from England. Note to Gary: Be advised that the water can get a little choppy ’round here.

Prior to landing here in the Hub of high dives, the tour visited Chile, Mexico, Greece, France, and Italy this year. It concludes next month in Yalta, the Ukranian outpost probably best known for the Livadia Palace, where Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin met in February 1945 to figure how best to get Europe back on its feet in the wake of World War II.

Now Red Bull will prop up its launching pad for a bunch of wild-and-crazy guys willing to fire themselves missile-like into the Black Sea. Thankfully, it’s a much different Yalta 66 years later.

Bully for Red Bull, I say, for trying something different, and for the courage to bring the sport to our city, where for decades the best diving to be found was at Fenway Park, usually in August and September. If these guys show up on Saturday with red socks to match their Speedos, as an homage to infamous diamond divers Mike Torrez and Bill Buckner, then it could set diving back for decades. But we’d get it, which is all that counts.

“The 85-foot-high platform, built on top of the ICA building, beckons individual expression and creation,’’ according to the Red Bull website, “by way of complex diving manouvers (sic). Count on the divers to deliver unforgettable impressions.’’

Honestly, it should be something to see. And in the spirit of art and creativity, it should make us all ask, what next?

Perhaps our sporting scene could handle medieval jousting on horseback on the Common (State House and City Hall employees not eligible). Or maybe a Chinese Dragon Boat race on the Muddy River. Would it be too over the top to think that the roof of the Hancock or Prudential could be where the Red Bull Hang Gliding Tour opens its 2012 season? How about roller derby inside the Hatch Shell? The things we could see.

“This,’’ said the ICA’s Randall, “is our first extreme sporting event.’’

High diving off the roof of the Institute of Contemporary Art. In a town where we revere line drives off The Wall, the craziness of things hoisted to the top of the MIT dome, and the straying of the Hilltop’s miscreant plastic cattle, I say this is going to work. Bring it on. Ten toes to the edge of the ICA roof. And to make it a true Boston moment, free iced Darjeeling for everyone.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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