Under the ice, it’s just you and your bubbles

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Antique tongs are used to remove the cut out ice from the water.  Warming houses seen in the background are a luxury and provide a space for divers to prepare and recover from their dive.  Photo courtesy of Richard Skibsted Antique tongs are used to remove the cutout ice from the water. Warming houses seen in the background are a luxury and provide space for divers to recover from their dive. Photo: Richard Skibsted.

By Ava Heinrich
Lake Voice News

For Richard Skibsted and Rudy Prouty, Lake Superior and many other lakes offer a winter oasis that presents them with another way to continue their passion of scuba diving, in a world where it’s just you and your bubbles.

Skibsted and Prouty share a unique passion for scuba diving that goes beyond the picturesque tropics.  For them, it is the inescapable desire to experience their love for water and the world within it.

Skibsted, a young man in his 20s, got hooked on scuba diving at the age of 16 when he traveled to Mexico with his family.  For Prouty, he found his passion when he was 19 years old working as the manager at Innerspace Scuba Center, which he now owns.

These men seem to live and breathe scuba diving.  They love it so much that they venture under the ice for another way to fulfill their craving.

Lake Superior is just one of many lakes and mine pits that they explore.

Lakes may not seem like the most intriguing place to scuba dive; but from Skibsted and Prouty’s descriptions, they offer unique spectacles.

“On Crow Wing Lake we were actually diving on a historical railroad bridge and looking at all this old equipment from the logging days, and we found a lot of really cool stuff,” recounts Skibsted.  He also mentioned his experiences diving in mine pits. In these pits he’s found things like old buildings that were in use before the mine was filled with water and sunken World War II helicopters.

Prouty describes his experiences diving fresh water shipwrecks and says that, “When you dive shipwrecks, that’s history that you can’t see anywhere else because they’re perfectly preserved like the day they sank.  You see how they built these ships and you see the craftsmanship that went into these vessels.”

Unfortunately, because of the depth and extreme temperatures, shipwrecks are too dangerous for divers to be drawn to in the winter months.  However, places like Crow Wing Lake are able to provide an added element of interest to the already beautiful winter water.

Ice divers prefer to dive at the tail end of winter around the month of March because of the slightly warmer water temperatures and safer conditions.

IMG_2819 Skibsted getting help with his gear after a dive because his hands are too cold to effectively do it himself. Photo: Richard Skibsted.

Skibsted dove in mid- February four years ago, but says that right now Lake Superior isn’t safe.  “The water temperature is warmer than the air temperature, and there’s a lot of river inlets going into the lake right now, so the ice shifts and changes on a daily basis this time of year making it unstable to walk out on,” Prouty explained.

However risky or uncommon this activity may seem, these two men have been able to find enough people to accompany them over the years to make their dives successful and safe.

The safest and most preferable number of people is five, but the dive can also be done safely with four.  Two people are used for managing the safety lines that get screwed into the ice and connected to the divers. The other two are diving, along with a safety diver in the case of a fifth person.

Safety is of the utmost importance, and with that taken care of, there’s much more fun to be had.

“It’s something nobody wants to do, it’s something that people are scared of and it’s something that I feel gets a bad rep,” says Skibsted. “I thought it was really fascinating and I thought, ‘I want to see what it’s like’, and it was really, really beautiful and scary, really scary at first, but as soon as you’re under the ice, you think, ‘This isn’t scary!’”

Prouty explains that being under the ice is something that can really intensify the feeling of claustrophobia for some people.

For these two, taking all the precautions and having the proper equipment has kept them from any life jeopardizing experiences. Getting tangled in fishing line and lures is the closest they’ve come to an endangering experience.

Overcoming any hesitations that are held by many has allowed these men to see the world from a perspective that isn’t seen by most.

One group of people who pursue this activity are ones like Skibsted’s dive mates that fall into the category of first responders who do rescue diving. Most of them are diving to keep up with their diver’s certification hours.  Then there’s the smaller group of people like Skibsted and Prouty who do it because it is their passion and they can’t get enough of it.

When asked what the draw of ice diving is, Skibsted and Prouty had identical answers: they love the feeling of being in the water.

“It’s just you and your bubbles,” says Skibsted. “You see light penetrating through the water, and you see how it bends and flickers. In open water it can be really choppy, but this water is just calm.  It’s a gentle sway.  I mean it could just rock you to sleep.”

“To me, it’s just the way it makes me feel.  It’s weird, but it’s almost like a healing quality for me.  It just makes me feel better to be in the water for whatever reason. It’s just the euphoria of it.  I love it all,” says Prouty.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 5.47.16 PM Divers can play with bubbles beneath the ice sheet. Photo: Richard Skibsted.

Besides loving the feeling of being in the water, part of what makes it so intriguing is the different appearance water has when a sheet of ice protects it.

Skibsted describes it as ocean water clarity with bubbles that resemble liquid Mercury produced by the divers when they let their air out and the ice sheet traps them under water.

The unique underwater experience mixed with the simple love of being in the water remains the true reason why Skibsted and Prouty pursue this unique hobby.  It’s not for everyone, but just like anyone else’s favorite pastime, these two men have found a way to do it year round due to their ever-present enthusiasm for a scuba diving adventure.

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