Ice diving in North Pole

Ice diving in North Pole

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Layan Damanhouri
Saudi Gazette

SCUBA diving team Domino Divers hit a record last month when they set out to be the first Saudis to ice dive in the North Pole.

The team, established in 2014 and made up of two members, Mariam Fardous and Hussam Shukri, was founded to fulfill big dreams and boundless explorations.

In a long and arduous journey to the North Pole, the team set out in a four-day camping trip after landing in the frozen ocean by helicopter and dived 20-25 meters deep in ice water that is minus 28 degrees Celsius and that lasted approximately 30 to 35 minutes, the maximum amount of time humans are allowed to stay under icy water.

Dr. Mariam Fardous, a pediatrician with a passion for scuba diving as a hobby, is the third woman internationally to ice dive but the first Arab woman to do so. “Our mission was to test our own limits in how far we can endure and how much we can adapt to a completely different environment,” she said addressing journalists at a press conference in Jeddah upon their return.

“The whole world thinks Saudi women are stuck at home because they can’t drive or move around,” she said. “However, scuba diving is a sport that is actively pursued by women.”

Capt. Hussam Shukri said, “We wanted to achieve something unprecedented. In our society, there’s often a negative perception about Saudi youth that they’re irresponsible and purposeless. I will keep telling my story because I want to represent the Saudi youth in the best way possible in this achievement.”

Throughout the journey, followers from various parts of the world watched the latest documented pictures and videos on social media, sending positive and encouraging messages to the Saudi team.

Scuba diving is dangerous enough, but the Domino Divers wanted to push their boundaries beyond the warmth of the Red Sea to the edge of the world. They first set out to the Arctic Circle in Russia in 2015 as a stepping stone to their next journey to the North Pole the following year.

Ice diving requires a 10-day course that is taught in one center in the world called Vicaar in northern Russia. The other requirement is wearing a special diving suit that the Saudis weren’t used to at first but had to train in.

Other preparations include financial costs of the trip, approximately half a million riyals per person, and paper work, medical insurance and safety measures.

In addition, maintaining physical fitness was a must for the divers before the excursion in which they stuck to a certain diet for three months, took vitamins and vaccinations to be in full health.

Accompanied by only two foreign trainers, the team of four persevered to dive in dangerous waters and camp out in a land vulnerable to polar bears, risks they were willing to endure. “It was all worth it so we can break a record for our country,” said Shukri.

Ice diving was first introduced in the mid-1990’s and is pursued in different parts of the world. Only about 30 individuals have gone to the North Pole so far, said Dr. Mariam. Unlike the South Pole that is a continent, the North Pole is a frozen ocean that is expected to melt in the next 70 years due to global warming.

Achieving their goal at the end of the four-day trip had the divers celebrating with a Saudi flag, dress in traditional attire and even have a cup of a semi-frozen Arabic coffee and dates. 

Hussam further said, “We want to send the message that we can. People’s doubt at first fueled us to continue our journey. After we achieved our goal, society’s perception changed. If a Saudi has a dream, he can achieve it.”

When asked what their next goal is, he said, “More adventures.”