SOUTHAMPTON thrillseeker Gary Hunt is preparing to launch his defence of the Red Bull World Cliff Diving Championship.

Hunt, who celebrated his 33rd birthday earlier this month, has a phenomenal record in the competition since its inception in 2009.

He has won the world title six times in eight years and, in the two years where he was not crowned champion, he finished runner-up.

Having finished level on points with Orlando Duque in 2009, he saw his rival awarded the title by virtue of having won more events that year.

Hunt – a former member of Southampton Diving Academy – recovered from that disappointment to claim a hat-trick of victories in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Hunt was beaten by Artem Silchenko in 2013, but again hit back to win the title three years running – 2014, 2015 and again last year.

His bid for a seventh world title starts on a cliff diving platform high above the mysterious blowhole of Serpent’s Lair on Ireland’s Inis Mór this coming weekend.

“They are all chasing me, but I’m a good runner! I’m going to keep running,” said Hunt ahead of the new season.

Hunt is expected to face stiff competition from 2016 runner-up Jonathan Paredes (Mexico) and American Andy Jones, third overall last year.

Inis Mór was for centuries a local secret, one that’s only been shared with the wider world in the last five years.

Standing on the 27m platform, Hunt and his fellow divers will look out to a vista of jagged rock and rolling ocean.

Below them, the target – a natural sea-pool formed by thousands of years of the push and pull of the sea. Thanks to a network of underwater tunnels and caverns the ocean flows in and out of the pool, meaning that the water rises and falls with every crashing wave.

The result for the cliff divers is a moving target: “Because it’s a blowhole you have water coming in and then the level is going up and down a little bit,” said Duque.

“You have to be aware of that, because at one point you can be diving at one metre more or less and if you miss that and you’re miscalculating, it can be pretty bad.”

The 60th event of the World Series will be the first for Greg Louganis, four-time Olympic gold medallist and the greatest diver of all time, as sports director.

The US diving legend follows Niki Stajkovic in this position, after the Austrian passed away in February.