Ice Divers Say This Is the Time (Really!) to Plunge In

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Ice Divers Say This Is the Time (Really!) to Plunge In

For most of us, the cold weather is a cue to stay inside. There are, however, some brave people for whom the cold signifies an opportunity to partake in an unusual sport. Scantily clad, with steely resolve, they jump into rivers - through a hole cut in the ice.

A group of about 20 people gathered on the banks of the Imjin River in Kyonggi province this month to share their passion for ice diving. After cutting through ice 30 centimeters thick to make a hole, they plunged into the frigid water wearing just swimsuits.

"Cold? You bet. It feels as if your skin is being lacerated under the water," said one diver, trying to warm her body in front of a bonfire. "Although the water is only 3 meters deep, it's an exciting challenge, as you're entering an unknown world."

"In the hole, the currents move faster than you expect," said another diver. "Dipping your body in icy cold water clears your mind." These stalwarts were taking part in the Iceman Event, organized by the Coral Scuba Diving Club, which also includes ice scuba diving, where divers use additional equipment and swim to further depths.

Ice diving enthusiasts say they consider it to be one of the most exciting, challenging and important of the winter sports. In summer, when currents are at their strongest and animal activity is at its height, visibility under the surface can be obscured by shifting dirt. In winter, the water is quieter, and divers get a clearer view of the silent underwater world. Fish can be seen lying on the bottom, completely still.

Yoon Sang-pil, a diving instructor from the club, explained, "It is essential to have a lot of training and to plan everything in advance before diving. Preventing any kind of safety hazard depends mostly on cooperation between partners, supervisors, assistants and safety guards." Divers must be alert to their body temperature as the low temperature of the water can be dangerous. A diving suit called a dry suit, made of waterproof cloth with a warm lining, is a must for ice scuba diving. Also, to secure a way out, divers must be attached to a rope called a lifeline before entering the hole.

It takes about two days for people who have previous experience in scuba diving to learn the basic skills required for ice diving, such as how to attach the lifeline correctly, how to send signals through the lifeline to those above the water and how to use a regulator, a breathing device specially designed for winter diving.

Ice diving is only possible for two to three hours either side of midday. The best months for ice diving are January and February, when rivers form a crust of ice over 20 centimeters thick. Two holes, 3 meters wide and 6 meters apart, are cut into the frozen surface of the river using an electric saw and a hammer. The lifelines are then attached to the hard frozen surface around the holes.

Ice diving is not as dangerous as it may seem, as experts are always available to help beginners in any difficulty. It is, however, important to keep the body warm with rubber gloves, waterproof shoes, a windproof jacket, wool socks, gloves and extra underclothing.

Ice diving is usually done in a clean river. Imjin River and Hantan River in Kyonggi province, Hongcheon River, Naerincheon River and Baekdamsa valley in Kangwon province are some well-known spots for ice diving.

The Coral Scuba Diving Club will hold another Iceman Event on Sunday and Monday at Imjin River, and on Saturday and Sunday at Dong River in Kangwon province.

For more information, call 02-478-2663, or visit the company's web site at (Korean language only).

by Kim Sae-joon

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