To take part in this unique event, 15 divers from all over Siberia had to make the most of limited daylight hours and brave subzero temperatures both above and below the water. The competition lasted for three days, and saw teams of two or three people take to the frigid water with their hockey sticks, entering the ice through triangular holes set 50 feet (15 m) apart and cut specifically for the matches. These holes also served as the goals for the game; the conventional ice-hockey puck was replaced with one that would float on the underside of the ice rather than sinking into the depths below. In visibility ranging between 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 m), each of the two teams battled to be the first to score a goal, at which point the game ended and the next match began.
For some of us, perfect buoyancy control is a difficult feat even under normal circumstances. The divers that took part in Termirtau’s underwater ice hockey competition not only had to overcome the added challenge of cumbersome drysuits and frigid temperatures, they also had to hover upside down in order to play hockey on the underside of the ice. The divers apparently relished this test of their abilities. “Initially, there is a slight disorientation, but we got used to it very quickly,” said the head of Nayada Dive Club, Roman Vytovtov. “We really liked this game and we plan to gather teams from different regions of Siberia and host a full tournament next year.” The club is wasting no time in hosting another competition, either, with the next series of matches due to take place from March 20th to 22nd.
Although this is the first time that scuba divers have ever attempted to play underwater ice hockey, the recent Siberian competition was not an original concept. Underwater ice hockey is a globally recognized sport — there’s even a World Cup, the first of which was held in Weissensee, Austria in February 2007. Conventionally, this sport is played not by scuba divers, but by breath-hold divers, who must return to the surface every 30 seconds or so for air, making its original incarnation even more extreme than the version played in Siberia. Currently, Austria leads the world in underwater ice hockey, having won the most recent World Cup in 2013. Other countries that take part in this minor extreme sport include Finland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.