Iceland, Reykjavik • Diving Silfra

The Reality Of Diving Cold Waters

Diving the Silfra fissure in Iceland – a crack that runs between the North American and Eurasian continents. In answer to the first reaction that normally comes to mind, yes. It is really cold. With water around 2°C and the air above at approximately 4°C at that time of year, it was definitely not my most toasty experience.

I wouldn’t consider myself to have many fears, but I am definitely a fearful person when pushed to do extreme things. I’m not an adrenaline junkie – maybe an experience junkie would be a better term? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that mid-dive is definitely not the best time to start pondering the discovery of previously undiscovered sea creatures that are too grotesquely enormous to even begin to describe. This may sound over the top, but just look at the statistics. Humans have managed to trek 8848m above sea level whilst the deepest scuba dive is just 332m – yet we know that the sea level can go as deep as 10,911m.

Anyway, returning to Silfra. Driving a little way out of Reykjavik you find yourself in a small graveled car park. You sense the cold immediately as you exit the warmth of the vehicle and attempt to battle into a dry suit and fight off the rock-sized hail falling from the sky. Whilst being well acquainted with a wetsuit, putting on a dry suit is a whole other event and once finally in, you will probably wonder whether you’re going for a dive or planning to head to the moon, all before considering how you might plan to exit the new attire.

The optimism of warmth from my snug thermals was left far behind with the realization that the gloves and hoods remained in the other car that was still half an hour away and we were left to contemplate the speed of frost bite on our poor little fingers, that surely will have all fallen off by the time we begin the dive. I think I could be acting a bit dramatic about this, but basically, it was cold.

Once the gloved saviour arrived, we made our way a few metres along the path to be greeted by a set of what appears to be swimming pool steps; except these lead straight down in to the glacial water. Already feeling a little anxious about the oncoming cold and the pressure to remember all of the correct procedures to carry out a safe dive, I gave myself a last little bit of self-congratulatory encouragement for even getting this far and entered the water. Bobbing about on the surface I consider that perhaps it won’t be as cold as I previously anticipated? And then, down we go.

WHAT?! Okay, it is beyond colder than I had actually ever possibly anticipated in my entire life and I can suddenly feel my teeth. Like, every single one of my teeth and how they sit in my mouth and oh wow…. How am I supposed to be able to deal with feeling this for the next 3 seconds let alone a whole 30 minutes of submersion? The realization that I have literally chosen and lead myself to be in this torturously cold chamber makes me immediately think that I have lost my mind. But then… the wonder that is the human body kicks in (or doesn’t perhaps?) and everything goes a little bit numb and the eyes begin to focus and suddenly, it all becomes clear. Like really, really clear. I’m not talking mentally; I’m talking literally clear because Silfra has underwater visibility of over 100 metres. Nature really has a way of giving you a little (or bloody massive) punch every now and then at how freaking awesome it is and making you feel like you’ve been walking around with your eyes shut for an entire lifetime.

As I previously mentioned, I had no experience of dry-suit diving before and for those that don’t know, the deeper you go the more compressed your suit becomes around you. The simple procedure of pressing a button on the front of the suit to inject some air will easily rectify this scenario and assist you in a graceful dive. Well, that is if the strap of your BCD (buoyancy control device) isn’t directly over said button and navigating your new marshmallow-like arms wasn’t so difficult. Once my dive buddy came to rescue me from my dry-suit-compressed-doom I actually, dare I say it, began to enjoy the dive.

The company leading the dive are obviously aware of the traumatic and emotional rollercoaster involved because once completed, you do the exact same dive all over again. By the time you have exited dive number 1, walked the 200m back to the car carrying what feels like approximately 6 fully grown men on your back, considered quitting, drunk the best tasting hot chocolate of your life, had a little cry and eaten your own weight in biscuits, you’re back in the water and questioning your own sanity all over again.

I think that it is during the last 10 minutes of dive number 2 where everything becomes as mentally clear as Silfra’s visibility. Relaxation, euphoria, unexplainable sheer joy, unworldly hues of blue – this is why we do these things. This is why we push ourselves – both our mind and our body – to the absolute limit where that thin line between love and hate trembles so violently that it feels like it might explode if we try to distinguish between the two any longer and before you can even consider anything else, it’s over. We exit the depths of the earth and shiver our way back to the warmth of normality.

With water trapped in both ears, tucked in a temporarily cozy state inside my hood, I can just about hear the slight whispers of the few individuals around me, a last little reminder of the peaceful Silfra.

Why do we do these things?

 It’s very simple really – because we can.


* I booked my dive with the really great guys at DIVE.IS.
Really easy to book & brilliant communication before arriving in Iceland and on the day.