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Ice Diving university

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Ice Diving university


Sergey Vinogradov

Dozens of divers from all over the world, from Ireland to Ethiopia, come to Republic of Karelia, Russia, every year to learn ice diving techniques. What attracts them to Russia is not only the unique White Sea (the only sea in Europe that freezes), but also highly skilled professional Russian coaches. Russian divers are world leaders in ice diving, they are second to none in their experience, the number of set records and invented techniques. The reporter of the Russkiy Mir Foundation found out what it is that the guests of the White Sea take home apart from diving skills.

The world beneath the ice

The Polar Circle, the North of Karelia. Finland is at hand to the West and there is Murmansk region to the North. Strictly speaking, here, in the middle of nowhere, a white desert stretches as far as the eye can see. The weather is changing with minus 30 yesterday and around zero today. A light breeze turns into a blizzard. The White Sea seems to be testing its visitors and awarding the patient ones with breathtaking Polar lights.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

An old Karelian village of Nilmoguba came to life when in the early 2000s a group of Lomonosov Moscow State University graduates with scientific degrees set up a Polar Circle diving center visited by hundreds of divers from all over the world. February-March (when the ice is the thickest) is high season here. Divers from across the globe - both experienced divers, who have encountered sharks and whales in the warm sea, and ordinary qualified divers come here to practice ice diving.

The best Russian coaches, who have thousands of diving records, work with them. This year there are over a dozen of experienced divers, who have been invited by the director of the Polar Circle diving center Mikhail Safonov.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

Groups of trainees follow one another, as soon as the Chinese leave, the Irish take their place, followed by the French and then the divers from Hong Kong. Training usually lasts from three days to a week, depending on the trainees’ initial skills. What do they learn? Safety underwater is the top priority. As soon as the person learns to do everything safely, he or she starts to feel comfortable. The trainees learn what the cold is and how they can protect themselves, they learn to use the shotline (a special rope which is used to make sure the diver can come back safely) and to secure the partner, they also study tactile communication and many other things.

Why do people all over the globe come to Russia to learn ice diving? This is mainly due to the systematic approach to work which made it possible to gain the world’s biggest combined record of diving.

This March there are so many visitors that up to 45 people dived at a time. Such training was difficult to organize, because it required transporting the people, making safe routes over the ice, and the ice on the sea is heterogeneous, also it was necessary to secure everyone, feed everyone, etc.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

Alexander Gubin, one of Russia’s most experienced divers, who participated in a number of records, including the deepest ice dive record, explains:

Over the past two decades, a real university of ice diving has been formed here at the White Sea. Hundreds of divers have gained a huge experience of diving and most importantly, the experience of team work of the coaches. There is nothing like this anywhere in the world, so it happened. Every year real professionals, advanced and experienced coaches meet here. Nevertheless, we refine our teaching methods each year, try new approaches and constantly develop our skills. Communication and sharing best practices help us a lot. 

Why do people all over the globe come to Russia to learn ice diving? This is mainly due to the systematic approach to work which made it possible to gain the world’s biggest combined record of diving. The divers who have trained in the Polar Circle center dive all over the world demonstrating their excellent skills, which is the best advertising for us. Russian divers participate in numerous dive-tours and expeditions including the ones to Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, the Antarctic and the North Pole. As a result a certain trend has formed for ice diving, Russians can do it the best.

The warm North

What attracts divers to the cold sea in the North of Russia when there are so many warm seas on the planet? They come in search of novelty and beauty, because the nature and the subsea world, both in terms of flora and fauna in the warm and the cold seas are totally different. According to the coaches, acquiring ice diving skills is a kind of threshold in life for many people, it’s their chance to overcome themselves.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

Both young people, for whom diving is their way of life and more senior people, who have recently found a new hobby for themselves come here. Some of them even practice to dive in the North Pole. People doing emergency related jobs also train here because they might need these skills in the course of work. The thick ice and the cold (it is below zero even under the water) don’t scare female divers either, there are plenty of girls and women among the trainees.

The nature here captivates everyone from the first sight, - Alexander Gubin says. - The Chinese came not long time ago. They were curious about everything. They said they hadn’t really seen snow before. A blizzard started unexpectedly, it was impossible to see three meters away. The Chinese were as happy as children. They jumped and laughed, started making videos and photos, selfies, tried to launch a quadrocopter but it failed in the snow. For southerners snow is also a novelty, but they get used to it pretty soon. There was even a diver from some tropical country, he looked exotic with his dark skin against the white snow.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

The international team with pleasure treat themselves with Russian dishes, constituting the most part of the local menu, which includes cranberry and cowberry drinks, fruit drinks, mushroom and fen berry pies, porridges and soups. Meanwhile cabbage and beetroot soups and pickled cabbage gained a strategic importance here because cabbage is reach in vitamin C that is essential for the body in a cold climate. The visitors of the White Sea take home not only their diving certificates, but also their warm memories of Russian hospitality.

We live in the Arctic

Everyone can see what we are doing in the Arctic today. We already know it very well, but still keep studying it and making our discoveries. But most importantly we don’t come here as guests, we live here in the Arctic”, says one of the diving coaches.

The Arctic has become a really popular attraction not only with sportsmen, but also with scientists, businessman, tourists. In the last 10-15 years the country has focused on the region. Expeditions, conferences, festivals devoted to this region take place every year.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

The Artic interests the young, who see opportunities for their personal and career development there and which is also important, they see a possibility to serve a noble course. The number of vacancies in the Polar Circle has increase many fold over the last few years.

Last week the historic hall of the Russian Geographical Society in St. Petersburg was full. Experienced specialists in the Arctic told students of the Polar departments (the demand in such departments is constantly increasing) about career prospects and their opportunities in the Arctic projects.

Picture: Alexander Gubin

One of the speakers, Ilya Gurevich, an honored member of the VeloPiter club talked about three winter expeditions to the Arctic. Ilya together with his peers cycled for hundreds of snowy kilometers over the snow-covered ground, as well as over the ice of the Arctic Ocean. There are also mass ski competitions and marathons held in the Arctic.

We dive, we research, we run for speed and cycle, in other words, we live.

Sergei Vinogradov

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