Everyone from Kelly Slater to the fabulous Ain’t That Swell podcast’s Jed Smith have been raving about the physical and mental health benefits of the techniques espoused by Wim ‘The Iceman’ Hof.
But who is this oddball Dutchman?
What can he do for your surfing?
Why does he pull the waistline on his shorts up to just below his nipples?
Now before we trace my recent ‘journey’ into matters g-Tummo (Tibetan Buddhism’s mediation inner fire) it’s worth pointing out that I’ve no obvious physical predispositions.
“Wim uses ‘cold water as medicine’ for a variety of ills, as well as a breathing technique that essentially involves ‘making your body alkaline’ by hyperventilating”
I’ve never been particularly associated with impressive feats of lung capacity. While admittedly, my heart rate is famously slow (a primary school teacher once called me ‘the slug’ when everyone in class measured their pulse and mine was in the low 40’s, which if we’d had a more proactive family lawyer, could’ve been a lucrative day in court), and while, yes, I did used to run a highly respectable cross country, my lung capacity hovers around middling to very average on the best of days.
When I first moved to France, at the height of an all day everyday toke-centric worldview, an Austrian snowboarding mate who’d just started surfing that summer challenged me to an underwater swim off the shorey on a flat day.
Push off the beach, take as many underwater strokes as you could. He couldn’t believe how pitiful my effort was, barely getting off the berm before coming up gasping and spluttering, while he could stroke his way three times as far.
“How you do not drown when you do surfing?” he wondered in Teutonic robot puzzlement.
I said I honestly didn’t know.
And while Wim Hof, multiple Guinness World Record holder has been doing the rounds on the surf radar for a few years now, it wasn’t until very recently, when the current Mrs Evans saw The Iceman’s techniques on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab series on Netflix, that suddenly he entered my daily life.
In brief, Wim uses ‘cold water as medicine’ for a variety of ills, as well as a breathing technique that essentially involves ‘making your body alkaline’ by hyperventilating.
A Cold Shower A Day
The cold immersion technique has been long been championed, from sports science health gurus to chubby old folks dipping in the sea daily in winter, with benefits ranging from boosting your immune system to your cardio vascular health.
Whether it does or not, there’s no denying you feel amazing afterwards; your skin feels warm and tingly, the uplift in mood in undeniable.
As luck would have it, you don’t need a crystal clear Norwegian fjord at your disposal, or even a brown English Channel mudflat to follow Wim’s teachings.
Just a regular shower turned to cold will do.
If you happen to have an outdoor douche under a sycamore tree with nesting long tailed tits, like I do at the Capbreton centre of surf journalistic excellence and plant based enlightenment, aka my house, well even better.
Wim recommends going from warm to cold if possible, for the ultimate vasoconstriction workout. Getting in the cold gently by dipping each hand, arm, shoulder, foot then leg progressively, before slipping under, rather than forcing yourself under with stress is the goal.
At first it’s a bit of a shock to the system, but you find if you can hang on and get past the first 90 seconds to 2 minutes, you’re basically sweet.
From around the 4-5 minute mark, as long as your head isn’t directly under the shower, getting ice cream head, it actually starts to feel weirdly warm. Your teeth might start to chatter around 10-12 mins.
Probably an idea to get out, then.
But when you do, you’ll feel like an absolute legend. Wim teaches that it’s not about endurance though; even 30 seconds to 1 minute each day has beneficial effects.
Having your regular shower with a blast of cold for a minute at the end is more than enough to take effect. And while that sounds really unappealing/unachievable, once you actually give it go, it’s strangely addictive.
Follow along via Wim’s free app or the YouTube channel, the breathing technique essentially involves breathing in and out in time with Wim, then holding, and repeating that process 3-5 times, increasing your length of breath hold each time.
What’s really impressive from the get go is that from the very first attempt, you see your improvement. If you do 3 breath holds, you notice yourself go pretty much doubling how long you can hold for by round 3.
Like the cold showering, it’s actually kind of addictive once you get into it. It feels vaguely big wave-ish, certainly meditative. Whatever you do, don’t do it in a pool. Slater once posted how he passed out face down practicing with Wim.
I find in bed, window open for the birdsong bath, before brekkie on an empty stomach is ideal.
I get a weird taste in my mouth, kind of like capers, but only on top of the palette. I also get those urges to swallow, and have to pinch my nose.
Around day three I was like ‘This is easy’ apparently about 3 and half minutes towards a new word record, not really realising I’d been taking tiny breaths accidentally.
I can get up to about 2m45s now, after two weeks of doing this every few days. Not bad at all.
The overall Hof vibe is throughly likeable one. He’s not one of those detestable narcissist guru types, or worse, narcissist guru couples. He’s a million miles from Mike and Mandy McCourt’s ‘Mindfully Unlocking The Gamma Core‘, or equivalent of.
Wim’s journey started with tragedy, when his wife committed suicide jumping out of their apartment building. He used cold water and breathing techniques to get over the grief and get his shit together raising four kids, and went on to set numerous world records, including swimming under ice, time in contact with ice, climbing Everest and Kilimanjaro barefoot, among others.
Plenty of people have tried to debunk Hof’s methods, accusing him of pseudoscience, most notably Scott Carney, who went to Poland to investigating Hof for an exposé, and ended up becoming a convertee.
“Fully in, let it go,” urges The Iceman, “In with peace, out with stress.” His voice itself is booth soothing and authoritative, firm but friendly. His bedside manner is one of his most endearing features.
“If you’re feeling lightheaded etc etc” he reassures you during the guided breathing, “…That’s okay.”
When you’re with Wim, even for a few mere minutes each day, you can help but feel that ultimately, everything really is going to be.