It’s a chilly 12-degree day at the Royal Melbourne Show. The crowd huddles around a tiny water tank beneath a 17-metre high platform, eagerly awaiting the action-packed performance they’ve been promised.
Backstage, 17 year-old Fred Pryor is anxiously preparing to resume his role as a pirate he has not played in almost four years.
The nerves, however, are not triggered by performing as the character First Mate Skylarks but death-defying dives he is about to perform.
The show’s main diver broke his ankle diving into the same 2.7-metre deep tank the day before and Fred’s adrenalin is at an all-time high.
In less than a few minutes, parents and children alike will be transported to a world filled with sky pirates and hidden treasure, making the Aquaworld High Dive Show one of the morning’s most talked-about events.
As the swashbuckling score from the show’s speakers bellows out, the divers emerge to exhibit some of their most impressive flips and tricks, triggering an eruption of applause.
“That’s my favourite part,” Fred says. “Having the crowd react to what you’re doing like that. It makes you feel appreciated … It’s awesome.”
The Sydney-born high school student, barefoot and still soaking wet, says he’s “incredibly lucky” to be doing what he loves most.
“It’s not hard when you pursue something you actually enjoy doing. It doesn’t even feel like work. It’s just having fun.”
Fred started diving at the age of eight when he and his oldest brother were inspired after watching the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
“I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is mad.’ My brother did it first and, after a couple of years, I followed. I did my first jump and I haven’t stopped since.”
Having previously competed in national championships for diving, Fred received an email from state sporting organisation, Diving NSW, prompting him to audition for the Aquaworld High Dive stunt show. He was only 12 at the time.
“It’s a whole different thing to Olympic diving,” Fred says. “Olympic diving is more about being a perfectionist whereas high diving is just crazy.”
After a four-year break, Fred says the resurrection of the Aquaworld High Dive stunt show helped him realise that he wanted to pursue high diving as a career.
“I’d love to get into Red Bull Cliff Diving,” Fred says. His eyes light up, admiring what is perhaps the most well-renowned cliff -diving competition in the world.
“When you watch people doing it you instantly gain so much respect for them. You think ‘Wow. That’s Incredible.’ You want to be the person up there doing that.”
Be that as it may, Fred is yet to overcome one last hurdle before he can pursue his goals – year 12.
“I don’t really do well at school. I mean, I’m an intelligent person but I don’t really try because it doesn’t have any connection to diving,” he says.
“Diving is my number one priority. I’d rather not worry about anything else.”
For former diving partner and childhood friend Christian Hollman, watching Fred grow up has been nothing short of satisfying.
“He’s like a little brother to me,” Christian says. “Actually he’s more like my twin. I can’t pretend like I’m above his dynamic.
“Growing up with someone who you see more than your own siblings sometimes can make you very close … I’m really proud of him.”
Christian, who started diving with Fred when he was 11, says the bond they have is unbreakable despite his recent move to Canberra to study law.
“We don’t have to see each other all the time. Our friendship isn’t based around proximity.”
Christian says they have been inseparable since they were introduced as synchronised diving partners. They’ve now competed in national championships and toured across Australian together as part of the Aquaworld High Dive stunt show.
“When they asked me if I wanted to be a part of the reunion tour I said yes straight away because I knew it meant I’d get to do this all over again with Freddy.”
Although exhilarating, Fred says there’s always the chance that something could go wrong which, for him, means the performance is constantly terrifying.
Still, nothing will be able to discourage him from getting back on the board.
“I think the motivation comes from the fact that I actually want to do this. I don’t need to push myself to want to do it because I already do … I’m just following my own path.”