Ice hole diving in Wall Lake draws people from across North America

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The Midwest is known for making the most out of our cold, snowy months, but this winter activity takes it to the next level.

Sunday morning on Wall Lake in Hartford a group of people gathered for some winter fun.

At first, you might think they're here to ice fish, but they're doing something much more unique; it's called ice hole diving.

Scuba Instructor Richard Thomas says, "People think scuba diving is just going to the Caribbean to dive. And there's a lot more to it, especially up here you guys have spearfishing, you can dive in the rivers.”

And today they're ice hole diving; where they cut a sizeable hole in the ice-covered lake and go scuba diving.

But this isn't their first time meeting up on Wall Lake to do this.

Three years ago, Richard Thomas and the Owner of Landshark Scuba in Sioux Falls, Colonel Echols first tried ice hole diving.

Thomas says, "We had so much fun and some of the locals came out to laugh and see, they said, 'Hey this looks pretty fun' so we decided to start making it an annual thing,” making this weekend the 3rd Annual Ice Hole Festival.

It’s bringing in people from not only all over the country but also from Canada and Mexico.

LeRoy Wickham is the regional manager for the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.

He says, "the idea is to get people involved in diving during the winter, something kind of exciting to do. And so, we come up here to South Dakota because you guys got some nice cold weather."

The cold is usually abundant, but divers say that it doesn't sway them away from diving into chilly waters.

"It's actually more comfortable underwater because it's 38 degrees, 37 degrees, so it's quite a bit warmer if you have the right exposure protection," Says Thomas.

"You've seen the lines that we've got all the divers tethered to, that's because when you go under the ice, there's no way to get back to the surface unless you come back to the original hole,” says Wickham.

Because ice hole diving is so rare, "It's the most unique certification you can get,” says Thomas, one of the main goals in this year's festival was to get more people certified, in hopes that next year will be even bigger and better.

"We just certified three more instructors. In the past before this weekend there were only two instructors in my whole 9-state-region,” says Wickham.

Thomas says, "I would love to make it a community thing where people came out and watched what we're doin'."

This festival is open to the public and organizers said they hope more and more people from the community come out next year to experience this.

They've already picked out the date for next year's event to be on the second weekend in February.