Tiao hai (跳海) — which means “jump into the sea” in Mandarin — is an activity that is becoming increasingly popular on the east coast this summer.
Participants wearing wetsuits and life jackets launch themselves backward and plunge into the Pacific waters from a 3m high reef rock platform on the shoreline of Shihtiping (石梯坪), Hualien County, under the guidance of certified diving instructors.
“As Shihtiping is at the northern edge of Taiwan’s tropical coral reefs, tiao hai also introduces participants to the diversity of the marine habitat including coral reefs and intertidal ecosystems,” said Chang Cheng-kuan (張正冠), a local diving instructor.
Before participants plunge into the ocean, a lifeguard assesses the wave and wind conditions before giving the signal to jump when the waters are relatively calm, Chang said, adding that a number of participants have enjoyed the thrill of jumping into the ocean so much that they have come back for another taste.
In colloquial Taiwanese tiao hai also means “to commit suicide by jumping into the sea,” and thus some tourists have jokingly posted messages on their social media profiles saying: “I’m going to tiao hai, don’t try to stop me!”
Some added they received responses from their friends such as: “Why? Did you lose big while you were gambling?”
“At first, I was afraid to jump, and when we did, I swallowed several mouthfuls of seawater,” a woman surnamed Lee (李) said.
“After the jump I felt all my stress had been washed away,” she added.
A diving instructor surnamed Lee (李) said that for safety reasons, participants wear wetsuits with extra padding, life jackets, slip-proof shoes and gloves.
“The diving zone is about 5m deep,” he said. “After the plunge, participants can just relax, gently recline their heads backward and float to the surface.”
Instructors said that as a warm-up exercise they take participants on a dive tour of Shihtiping to experience the beautiful marine world with its coral reefs and tropical fish, Chang said.
“Many tourists are surprised by the teeming crabs, shellfish and other crustaceans in the tidal zone,” he added.