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Weird Job: Make Money Cliff Diving at Casa Bonita

October 31, 2014
by Steve Gillman
Contributor

You might have heard of Casa Bonita from South Park’s Eric Cartman, who called it a “Mexican Disneyland.” Yes, it’s a real place, and there really is a 30-foot waterfall inside — along with people in gorilla suits and others fighting with guns. And then there are the divers who jump from cliffs while people dine, landing in the rocky pool of water at the base of the waterfall.

Cliff divers in a restaurant? That’s right. General manager Mike Mason says 85 dives daily for 40 years adds up to 1.2 million times that Casa Bonita divers have taken the plunge.

When we visited, my wife and I tolerated the food (it isn’t why people visit) while watching the various stage shows. The restaurant is dark, with trees and jungle foliage around the waterfall and show area. The gunfights and gorillas were fun for the families with kids, but watching the diving is the highlight of the experience.

These divers don’t use a ladder or platform; they scramble up the rocky cliffs like monkeys and dive from a ledge halfway up. Later, they climb to the top of the waterfall for the big dive. The beautiful pool at the bottom seems too small of a target but, of course, they nail it every time.

Is It Dangerous?

Casa Bonita cliff diver Tyler Harding says he’s “endured a few cuts and scrapes, but nothing horrendous.” We’re guessing that safety must be a priority; dead or injured divers would probably be bad for business.

Diver Caleb Thayer does mention that sinus infections are part of the job. It seems that diving all day in a restaurant forces a lot of water up your nose and into your sinuses.

How Do You Become a Restaurant Diver?

Diver Ethan Larson says he learned everything on the job (including fire juggling), which is common at Casa Bonita — where else would you learn restaurant diving? Harding started at Casa Bonita at age 17 and became a diver a year later. Thayer became a diver three months after starting work at the restaurant.

All divers have to learn acting as well, because they participate in the stage shows. Harding says, “Typically, the diver plays the villain in whatever show is being performed on the stage, be it the Gunfight, the Gorilla show, the Pirate show…”

Future Opportunities for Divers

Harding worked at Casa Bonita seasonally while going to the University of Northern Colorado, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts in 2010. He became a full-time employee and was promoted to manager of the entertainment department at Casa Bonita within a few years of being hired.

Larson says he would love to travel the world diving professionally for cruise ships. He says there are former Casa Bonita divers all over the country who dive at amusement parks or compete in diving competitions.

Thayer wants to be an actor. Since all the restaurant’s divers are required to be part of the stage shows, working at Casa Bonita might not be a bad place to get started. And this is not a small venue. Manager Mike Mason says “On a Saturday night, we might serve 5,000 guests — that’s just a normal weekend.”

Regardless of what their futures may bring, all of the divers seem to like their work. Harding says he has “always enjoyed cliff diving” because he loves performing.

One of Larson’s favorite things about the job is, “when little kids tell you that you are awesome and that those dives were the coolest thing they have ever seen.”

Thayer says, “I’ve always been an active type, so being able to jump off cliffs, climb rocks, and not get in trouble for it is pretty great — and on top of that I’m being paid.”

Your Turn: Would you consider being a cliff diver in a restaurant?

by Steve Gillman
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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