The ice bath trend is taking over the planet.
There is a new type of Guy.
There's always a new genre of Guy. Historically, but especially in the past five years, men have begun to coagulate — merge, if you will — around singular, unified identities that bond them in spaces both real and virtual.
We have Video Game Guys. Craft Beer Guys. Reddit Guys and Jiujitsu Guys. We even have [shudder] Hat Guys. An endless procession of… Guys. In 2022, we were introduced to Wife Guys.
Now I'd like to introduce you to the final boss of Guys: Ice Bath Guys.
If you've spent any time on social media, particularly Instagram or TikTok, you will have seen this Guy in his natural habitat. At 4 a.m., he emerges from his cave. He stands — usually semi-naked — next to a tub, or a bucket, or an overpriced barrel packed full with ice and water. He sets up his camera, because they always have a camera. He makes communion with this camera, in platitudes, about the grind, about winning the day, about fighting his base instincts to not wake up early and partake in unhinged behaviors.
Then he plunges — fully submerged in the ice water, shivering as he vomits out more platitudes. "Comfort is your enemy" or "callus your mind." That sort of thing.
The Ice Bath Guy has overcome his demons, he has become stronger, he is better, he is recovering faster, he is feeling good, he is the master of his domain and his mind because he has — at this ungodly hour — clambered clumsily into this cold body of water and remained still for a specific period of time.
He has become the Ultimate Guy. The Ice Bath Guy.
For one bizarre, unforgettable day, I became an Ice Bath Guy too.
Please allow me to explain.
It all started with cold showers. A cold shower challenge was my gateway drug. For the entirety of 2022, I was a Cold Shower Guy. For 12 straight months, I abandoned warm water and took nothing but cold showers. Why? I'm still not entirely sure. It was an impulse thing, a temporary brain disease from which I have since recovered. My internal monologue suggested cold showers were a good idea and I went with it. Months later, I'm still not sure it was worthwhile.
My friends started jokingly calling me Wim Hof — after the Dutch motivational speaker, famous the world over for his intense, ice-related endurance challenges.
So in March this year, when Hof — aka The Iceman — arrived in my home city of Sydney to deliver a series of clinics, those same friends thought it would be funny (and thoughtful) to buy me a ticket. A pass to an ice bath seminar, hosted by Hof himself.
Like a shivering, confused Pokemon, I was about to evolve from an itty-bitty Cold Shower Guy… to a full-blown Ice Bath Guy.
Based in Sydney, within walking distance of the Harbour Bridge, Luna Park is like a Six Flags stripped back by a factor of 10.
It's a low-rent theme park, a grotesque collection of attractions and warped tests of skill. An institution that holds a fair amount of nostalgia for Australians above a certain age. But in 2023, it's a warped anachronism for a different place and time, where hucksters and carnies reigned supreme. It also — bizarrely — regularly plays host to business conventions and motivational speakers.
Here, on a boiling Friday afternoon, Hof is in the process of delivering a "safety briefing," pacing frantically back and forth in front of a crowd of hundreds, making fart jokes, screaming things like "we can change the world."
Hof is 63 years old. He's a little more normal than I expected. Well, he is, and he isn't.
Unlike the TikTok influencers who climb into ice baths at 4 a.m, Hof isn't ripped or shredded. He's short and stumpy, with scraggly hair and an unkempt beard. Bearing an ill-fitting T-shirt and flip-flops, he doesn't look like a motivational speaker — he looks like an Aussie bloke grabbing a sausage roll at his local gas station.
He's also bonkers. In a good way, I think.
"The ice is your mirror," he says, mysteriously.
The ice is your mirror… damn.
I found myself swept away with the crowd. "Yeah!" I began thinking to myself. "Ice is sorta reflective. Maybe it could be a mirror, right guys? Maybe we can change the world by climbing into an extremely cold body of water."
Hof just has that vibe.
"See you at the Ice Baths," he shouted. He'd been onstage for two minutes. That was our safety briefing. That's all it took for Hof to convince me and everyone in attendance that ice was a mirror and we could change the world by jumping in.
Almost immediately, everyone poured out of the conference hall into Luna Park.
Surrounded by ferris wheels, fairy floss and the faint aroma of popcorn, I was about to partake in my very first ice bath.
Of all the queues at Luna Park that day, the ice bath with Hof was by far the longest.
The irony didn't escape me. It had the same energy as waiting for a roller coaster. That vague feeling of fear. A collective, vibrant excitement. A long-ass wait for an extremely temporary experience. Caked in sunscreen in my little swim shorts, I baked in the hot Australian sun, inching closer to Hof and a number of makeshift, inflatable pools — full to the brim with cold water and copious amounts of ice.
The biggest surprise was the crowd itself. I expected a potent mix of fitness-pilled Ice Bath Guys and barefoot hippies clad in canvas. What I got was different. There were women here — a lot of women. It might have been a 50-50 split.
I got to chatting. May, a personal trainer, became a fan of Hof after watching videos on YouTube and cycled down to Luna Park between client meetings to try an ice bath for the first time. Another woman — middle-aged, cracking jokes the whole way — was here on a dare. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her and I suspect many carried the same vibe. Weirdly, the Ice Bath Guys mostly stayed home.
In fact, after making it to the front of the queue and giving Hof a big hug (everyone did — part of the package, I assume), I noticed that all 10 people in my ice bath group represented a diverse cross section of the Australian population. Men, women, young, old, different races and backgrounds. We all gave each other a quick look, the sort of eye contact you share when you're about to embark on something utterly stupid.
And then, together, we climbed into the ice bath.
It was… cold. Obviously. But a different type of cold. The type of cold that makes your body feel like it's on fucking fire. Hof's primary area of expertise is helping his students breathe, and, climbing into this ice bath, I immediately understood why. It was incredibly hard to inhale and exhale normally in this state. Instinctually, I thought taking long deep breaths would make it easier for me to acclimatize, but it didn't help at all.
The only thing that really made things more bearable was breathing out. I picked a point in the horizon to gawk at and stared into the void, waiting for the two minutes to end, so I could clamber out of this frozen hellhole and live the rest of my normal life in peace.
But then, in the final 30 seconds, a fever dream. Hof grabs a microphone, or a megaphone. Maybe it was the raw power of his own voice pushed to its limits. He began chanting, screaming at full blast like a call-and-response preacher:
"WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?"
Everyone, in unison:
"OOH OOH OOH OOH!"
"WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?"
"OOH OOH OOH OOH!"
We chanted like men. Baha Men. And then it was all over. We climbed out of the ice bath, wrapped ourselves in towels. I felt… OK? Relieved. Proud? Maybe. I found myself laughing. This was hysterical. Every single part of this was hysterical. For now, the roller coaster was over.
History is littered with examples of human beings forcing themselves through unimaginable, torturous rituals. In Papua New Guinea, men cut elaborate elongated patterns into their back, chest and buttocks to signify their coming of age. Some tribes, including Indigenous tribes here in Australia, practiced unspeakably brutal circumcisions. Many of these traditions were designed to ingrain an intense bond of trust in members of the tribe. If they could bear the pain of fingernail removal or tattoos or penis mutilation, they could be trusted with the secrets of the clan.
Maybe ice baths are an extremely tame version of that same impulse. That, or a warped mix of junk science, placebo effects and toxic masculinity.
I have two sons, ages 10 and 7. During my year of cold showers, both thought it was funny to also take cold showers, to see who could stay in the longest, trying to outdo each other. My 7-year-old once stayed in for 15 minutes and — hilariously — started calling himself "The King of Ice."
But when I got home that night, it was my 10-year-old who was most excited when I told him about the ice baths. He wanted to see if he could last two minutes like I did. That weekend, temps in Sydney hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Driving home from a friend's birthday party with my son, I stopped to get petrol and had a sudden brain wave.
"Should we buy some bags of ice and make an ice bath at home?"
My son's eyes lit up. It was on.
We got home and made a makeshift plunge pool in our bathtub and took turns going in, screaming and giggling hysterically. It wasn't as cold as the Hof bath, but it was still bloody freezing. A wholesome, harmless sort of torture that (I think) breeds a bit of resilience in kids. He climbed into the cold bath and sat there for two minutes even though it was incredibly difficult. He still, however, refuses to eat broccoli.
But I did ask myself: Why are we doing this? Why am I sort of encouraging it? A quick "are ice baths okay for kids" search on Google allayed initial fears, but larger questions began to haunt me. Am I breeding the next generation of Guys? A new wave of boys engaging in pointless (often painful) activities to fill a gaping black void of validation?
My younger kid — the so-called King of Ice — was at the shops with my wife. I called them on Facetime and told them about the ice bath. My wife agreed to grab a few more bags of ice on the way home so we could put son No. 2 through the new family ritual.
"Alright," I told my 7-year-old on the phone. "Let's see who the real King of Ice is."
He was fired up.
But later, when he got home, he seemed less enthusiastic. He dipped his finger in cautiously, trying to get a sense of what he might be in for. He was extremely reluctant.
"You go first, Dad," he said.
"I've already gone in," I replied.
"If you go in, Dad, I'll go in. Pinky promise."
I felt as though I had no choice. I had to lead by example. To prove that you could (and sometimes should) do difficult things. We pinky swore on it. Then, like a complete idiot, I went back into the bath.
This time round it was cold. Properly cold. Easily as cold as the ice bath at Luna Park. My limbs seized up; every ligament and bone ached. I made noises, ungodly noises. I was in hell. My son, cackling like an unhinged Demogorgon, found this extremely funny.
Finally, my two minutes were up. I clumsily scrambled out of the bath, still in physical pain.
"Your turn," I said, my body still shivering.
"Nah," he replied. "I don't want to.
He left the bathroom and fired up Roblox on his Nintendo Switch.
"What do you mean?" I cried, chasing after him, a crumpled, broken old man.
"I'm good," he said finally. This boy needed no validation. He had no void to fill.
"You can be the King of Ice."