In Search of the Continental Divide: Free diving in Iceland

One of the benefits of working for an international travel company is that your coworkers become great travel resources. There are very few work environments where you can send an all-office email with the subject line, “Anyone have suggestions of fun things to do in Iceland or Greenland?” and get a fair amount of replies. One of my coworkers suggested that I go free diving through the continental divide and, at first, I thought he was joking.

The Silfra fissure is a dive site where two continental plates crack, leaving a free diving space between the Eurasian and the North American plates. Silfra is apparently the only place in the world where you can free dive inside the crack of two continental plates, according to Dive.IS. The water is also really clear with visibility being over 100 meters, which is a result of the water’s temperature (2-4 degrees C.) and the fact that the water is filtered through underground lava after it runs off from the second largest glacier in Iceland, Langjökull. Essentially, this water is some of the clearest you will ever see and it is super cold. So we figured, what could possibly go wrong?

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My dad and I all suited up at Silfra

With really zero free diving experience, and no idea what we were getting ourselves into, we drove directly to Silfra moments after we stepped off the plane. The surrounding area was filled with snow and a blizzard-white sky, where visibility was pretty limited. With great struggle, we got into our very tight wetsuits instead of drysuits. Apparently, drysuits make it very difficult to free dive, because they are so buoyant, so allowing the 2 degree water to seep into our wetsuits would “in theory” allow us more flexibility when snorkeling. Keep in mind, these wetsuits are not your typical wetsuits that you might go surfing with off the coast of Florida. They’re like super suits that need to be lathered up before you can even put them on because they are so skin tight. (My group was not loving me at this particular moment).

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We then walked down a snowy path to wait our turn with 30 other people who wanted to dive into the Silfra. The groups pace out each dive, so no group goes with another when navigating the divide. Though this line moved pretty fast, our bravery was quickly fading as we watched diver after diver plunge into Arctic waters. Finally, we were up.

When everything went numb, that’s when I really started to appreciate what I was looking at.

I strapped my GoPro on and began swimming in 2 degrees C (about 35 degrees F). My initial thoughts were not about the water or the scenery, but rather were along the lines of, ‘oh my god, my face is so cold.’ I looked up to get my guide’s attention and let him know that something must be wrong, because my face was in so much pain. He very quickly replied, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Your face will go numb in a minute or so, and you won’t feel a thing.” Shockingly, this was not the comforting news I hoped for. I began to count down in my head, “Sixty, fifty-nine, fifty-eight…” until I could no longer feel my face. When everything went numb, that’s when I really started to appreciate what I was looking at.

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On the right, you’ll see the North American continental plate, and on the left you’ll see the Eurasian continental plate.

Surrounding me was crystal clear water that was like swimming in glass. Everything shinned bright hues of blue and looked magical next to the rocky walls. The realization finally sunk in that I was swimming between the North American and Eurasian continental plates. I was no longer concentrating on my fear but, instead, I focused on the fact that I was this tiny being swimming through an enormous crack in my world.

About a half an hour later, we reached the end where we got out and walked back to our van. I’m not going to lie, getting undressed in wetsuits outdoors in 20 degrees F. weather was a little rough. Yet, this brief uncomfortable moment could not bring down the reality of what we’d just swam through. In this moment, I took a step back and truly appreciated the wonder and mystery of this beautiful world we live in.

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This free dive was with Freedive Iceland, and it was an amazing experience! I would highly recommend this company to anyone considering free diving in Iceland. We were the only group to have fuzzy robes beforehand, and we even got hot cocoa at the end. 🙂 

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