LOCATION: Reykjavik, Iceland
Silfra is a dive location in Thingvellir National Park that is between the two continental plates of North America and Europe. The water is the clearest in the world since it is filtered through the lava rocks. So pure, that you can drink it there. The water stays a constant 34 degrees at all times as well. Considering all this, I was very excited to dive this with my friend Laura even though we were hesitant as first time dry suit divers. However, our dive company told us no experience was needed, maybe I should have gone with my gut and snorkeled it instead.
The dive site proved to be gorgeous with snow all around. It was just crazy to me that I would dive in a snowy climate. We started the long process of gearing up by getting down to our base layers and putting on a coverall jumpsuit that was pretty warm. From there, the dry suits were applied. They were extremely tight with tight rubber seals on all the extremities. The neck seal was especially tight and my guide, AJ, explained that I needed an additional choker to make it even tighter and water resistant. Once the choker was on, I seriously felt like I couldn’t breathe and that I would faint, but AJ assured me that this is how I was supposed to feel. However, after 10 minutes, I told him I had horrible pressure in my temples and that it felt like blood was pooling in my forehead and I was going to pass out. AJ continued to dismiss my pain and said that it was the choker, or I would get soaked with freezing water while diving. He even suggested that some people enjoyed being asphyxiated and that the pain really wasn’t that bad. After complaining two more times, he finally loosened the choker, which helped some, but still remained to be very tight and restricting due to the damage that was caused already. I decided to go with it though and finish suiting up. The gear proved to be very difficult to carry up the hill to the dive location. I’m not really sure why people enjoy dry suit diving when you can’t move at all in them. While going up the hill, I started to feel faint again, but AJ told me that it would be fine once I got in the water.
Once in the water, things improved some. The water was cold, but it wasn’t unbearable or as bad as I expected it to be. I couldn’t feel my lips after a few seconds, but nothing else was exposed so I seemed ok. We were told to practice our buoyancy in the cave area before we headed out. Descending felt fine and I really enjoyed the crystal clear views and rocks surrounding me. It was fairly easy to get buoyant but definitely hard to maneuver and I found myself bumping into North America and then bouncing over into the Europe tectonic plate rocks. And really, who can say they’ve done that!? I surfaced to let AJ know I was fine with my buoyancy and instead he placed a weight into my vest which caused me to sink. To correct the sinking, I inflated my BC vest, which immediately restricted my chest and neck area. I felt like I was choking again and could feel panic setting in since I was unable to breathe well, and was under the water. Not wanting to experience this any longer, I surfaced to say I was done, to which AJ said “allright, I’m going down though. Bye.” I climbed out of the water thinking someone would be available to help me with my stuff and get the suit off but no one was around except some newbie snorkelers waiting to go into the water. AJ had left me there alone. A full blown panic attack set in. I managed to walk down the hill, falling twice in the snow since I felt faint before finding my way back to the parking area. Luckily enough, another snorkel group was getting prepared which happened to be my friends who had just finished their caving excursions. I collapsed in the snow near them as their snorkel guides rushed towards me. As I cried and hyperventilated, they were ripping me out of my suit. One of the guides explained that the choker was too high up on my neck and was pinching my carotid artery, which would have eventually caused unconsciousness. It took a good hour to bring me to normal afterwards since it was so scary. What if I had gone unconscious while diving at 60 feet, or even faint walking back alone? My life was in danger with something I’ve always felt so natural doing. Still, a few days later, my neck area is still a little sore to touch and while I’m fine now, I don’t think I’ll ever be trying a dry suit dive again. Diving under the surface for any minute counts as a dive, and I was under for about 15 minutes. I saw enough of Silfra that day to count this as a life experience, one that I will never be trying again. The moral of the story: Always listen to your body and what you feel is right or wrong. Just because someone is a professional or a guide doesn’t mean that they are exactly smart or know the right thing for you. If I had left the decision up to AJ, there is a chance I might not be here today writing this.
*Thanks Laura for accompanying me on this interesting adventure. Thanks to Ian, Kyle and Amanda for saving me!
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? No way! Not only did I not enjoy the dry suit, but it has ruined the experience completely.
HOW TO DO THIS:
Dive Company: Dive.is 34990 krona. http://www.dive.is/diving-snorkeling-tours/diving-day-tours/silfra-diving-day-tour