” Can you freedive in really really cold water?”
“yes, i guess so…. how cold?”
“ummmm , freezing cold, ice cold”
“Well yes, but I may need to fix the holes in my wetsuit first… where are you thinking?”
And so it began, planning a trip to the land of fire and ice, to dive in the liquid nectar of the Silfra spring water lagoon, and anything else we could fit in to a few days.
Silfra is a narrow crack in the earths crust, about 6 foot across at its narrowest points and up to 60m deep (if you are willing to crawl through gaps and probably die!). The walls of this ‘crack’ are actually the European and American tectonic plates, so you can dive between the continents.
Although it had been dived by freedivers before, we had no available information about whether we had to pay entry to the national park, if we needed a guide or any other logistical difficulties which we might face along the way. So out comes Google, a few well placed emails to the Icelandic tourist board and a stroke of luck. The stroke of luck being initial contact with a local Icelandic freediver and scuba diver, Bigir. He found our ‘holidays’ page on the website, introduced himself and asked if he could join in on the trip. Obviously we jumped at it, as nothing quite compares to local knowledge.
By about November the trip was fully booked, so our merry band of ‘super chilled’ freedivers was ready to plan further and prepare for the cold.
Winter in the UK dragged on as it always does, only made a little brighter by the light at the end of the tunnel that was Iceland…. and what a light!
April 19th 2012, the Freedive UK crew meet at London Gatwick departure lounge, already wrapped up warm for the cold. The weather forecast was favorable in Iceland, with light winds, scattered clouds and light snow cover but we were all a little nervous none-the-less, well, nervous excitement is probably a better decription.
As we landed in Iceland we were greeted to thick fog and snow showers…. great! We knew it would be cold, but this looks very unappealing. Things started to turn though, and by the time we had all squeezed in to our 7 seater 4×4 the clouds had parted and the sun was shining, giving us a clear view of the snow capped mountains in the distance and glimpses of the sea peeking over the gnarled, dark volcanic rock.
The first night was squarely designated to finding food, thankfully Reykjavik has a lot of amazing restaurants , so we tucked in to a good meal and went back to the hotel for a good nights kip and to prepare ourselves for our first dive.
We were met by Bigir and his friend Guðjón in the morning and we were guided along one of the lovely empty Icelandic roads, through the mountains to the Silfra lagoon.
First impressions…. ‘Um…. where is it?’. As we walked over the moss covered rock we see the start of the crack, opening up in front of us and stretching towards the lake and mountains. What a sight!
Hearts beating that little bit faster, we get kitted up in one of the most spectacular locations imaginable, thankfully bathed in the bright clear morning sun.
We gingerly creep over to the steps at the end of Silfra, all talking under our breath about ‘how cold it might be’.
I was first in to the water And wow…. the cold on the skin around my mask and on my lips was literally breathtaking, but not painful or unpleasant. Im sure this was helped by the bright sunlight and the lack of wind, but it really wasnt as ‘bad’ as we had imagined. My Cressi 7mm suit kept me warm the whole time (50 minutes) with only my hands and feet suffering the effects of extreme cold.
Guided from the start by our Icelandic friends we saw every nook and cranny Silfra had to offer, and with every corner turned, an even more stunning sight greeted us. On a personal level i particularly enjoyed a swim though at 17m deep and the moment we moved in the ‘The Cathedral’, a wide and very clear section where the blue of the water was bewitching. Other highlights had to be the ‘Blue lagoon’, not deep… perhaps only 3-4 m at the most, but wide … blue and completely mind blowing. The reflections hitting the surface from below were so vivid that it gave an almost infinite image of the scene before us, the bright green of the algae on the rocks shimmering in the glow of the sun, each peice a home to thousands of perfect pearlescent bubbles, as the plants produced oxygen.
By then end of our 50 minute dive we were reluctant to get out, but the sting of cold in our hands and feet forced us to leave the water and seek warmth in a cup of hot chocolate by the car.
This wasnt the end of our day by any means (we had a lot to fit in to 3 days), although we wouldn’t dive again on that day for the sake of our core body temp.
After piling back in to the car we left our guides and headed further in to the interior to visit ‘Geysir’, where unsurprisingly we watched the Geysers do their thing (and yes that is where we get the word Geyser from) and then on to Gull Foss, a waterfall of Niagra proportions. Two things which really are a must see in Iceland and were well worth the drive (Fyi driving in Iceland is amazing, no cars and lovely sweeping roads through amazing scenery). On the way back we stopped to see a volcanic crater, as you do, a volcanic crater which once apparently held a Bjork concert in its very center!
Little did we know we had another highlight to look forward to at dinner. If you are visiting Reykjavik you must visit ‘The Sea Baron’ , a little bare-bones fish restaurant on the harbour side, where we ate like kings (or perhaps hungry fishermen) on a feast of fish and even the infamous rotten shark that holds its title as one of Icelands most ‘interesting’ flavours!
Our 2nd day held even more surprises, mainly as the day had been planned in secret by our new friends. First dive was at another crack in the earth in the south west. This time it was a mix of seawater and fresh water, up to about 20m deep and probably 100m long. A freedivers playground! Swimthoughs, caves, gulleys, clear water and even a pile of whale bones! The water was a fair bit warmer here so we could stay in for a lot longer, i think about 2 hours.
We were then treated to an Icelandic lunch of dried fish, smoked lamb flatbreads, Lamb terrine, Skyr (like a yogurt on steroids!) and Mysa (a whey drink). All of which was gobbled down with great appreciation!
Off to dive two! This was at the little village of Garður even further west. Although similar in visibility to diving in Cornwall, it has to be said that there were more fish than you can see here (especially as it was still winter water temp), Flounders abounded (some of which were caught for dinner), along with the biggest muscles i have ever seen! About the size of a mans hand.
It was then time to go and visit Icelands deepest lake, not for freediving, as we were all very cold at this point, but perhaps next time! The road to the lake was brilliant, an off-road adventure for us cosseted Brits, made all the more fun by the guesswork required when driving through the dust clouds of the lead vehicle!
After our little sightseeing trip we were taken to one of the capitals thermal baths. A vast swimming pool complex all heated by the earth beneath us. Our thoughts at the time were quite simple… get warm! So after braving the vast open plan and busy male (and female) changing rooms , we headed straight to the hottest hot tub. Set at a very hot 44c, it definately warmed us up, and left me with a red line running around my chest. They really are spoilt up there with their swimming pools, this local baths had two olympic sized heated pools! One of which was empty… on a Saturday!
That evening we went for a final meal at the sea baron and then to a local bar. Some left at about 11:30pm, whilst other stayed until 6:30am…. A good night was had to say the least.
Our last day, and no one wanted to leave. As a final treat we left town and aimed our dusty car at the steam rising from the hills… the home of the famous ‘Blue lagoon’ , the result of waste water spilled out from one of the countries geothermal powerplant. Mineral rich water that is supposed to revive, cleanse and soften the skin. Whatever it did, it was very relaxing, helped to some extent by the cool glasses of Viking beer.
And that marked the end of our Icelandic freediving adventure. We loved every minute of it and thank our Icelandic friends for their overwhelming courtesy, kindness and assistance… we look forward to repaying the complement!
If you want to join us on our 2013 Iceland freediving trip then email us to mark your interest. Id recommend it!
Watch the video if you need any more convincing!