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Cold comfort – Snow and ice won’t keep these divers away

For some scuba-diving enthusiasts, a little snow and ice and some freezing temperatures aren’t enough to keep them out of the water.

At noon on New Year’s Day, a group of about 10 of them gathered on the roadside near Holland State Park to decide if there was too much snow and ice to go for a dive.

“What have we got?” one asked.

“Chunks,” another said, as the group looked down at ice floes and slush floating in the channel.

“That’ll make it more exciting to get into,” a third person said.

The scuba divers were the only group to continue with the daring New Year’s Day activities on Thursday, Jan. 1. A group of water-skiers that usually ski on Ottawa County’s Pigeon Lake on New Year’s day called it quits after the lake froze over, and a group of die-hard surfers also decided not to try Lake Michigan due to ice.

And with the water temperature at 32 degrees, and visibility at about 4 inches, what’s the point in diving?

“Because we can,” said Matt Cummins, a Holland resident.

“We first say, ‘What’s your IQ,’ and then if it’s low enough, you can join us,” said Park Township’s Paul Kuiper.

The event was sponsored by Tim Marr of Advance Scuba  & Paintball in Holland Township. Marr said the temperatures aren’t that bad for seasoned divers — on dives more than 300 feet below the surface, temperatures are near freezing even in the summer. All except one of the divers wore dry suits — water-tight rubber suits that zip up over layers of warm clothing.

“Some of these guys, when they get out, they’ll be sweating,” said Greg Johnson, of Norton Shores. Johnson and his wife, Karen, stayed out of the water but came along to cheer on their friends.
“I’m a fair-weather diver,” Karen Johnson said. “We came to give them moral support — and warm hugs.”
Most of the divers’ faces got cold, but Marr had a special mask that covered most of his face. He said he bought the mask to keep oil and gas from getting in his face and hair on salvage dives.
More than half of the divers gave up after their air regulators froze up — making their air tanks empty faster.
Holland resident Fitz Fitzgerald, was among the last to come up to the surface and leave the water.
“You don’t want to come up under a solid chunk (of ice)” Fitzgerald said. “That’s a concern.”

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