It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. Mica Marder, dressed in surfer shorts, a thermal long-sleeved shirt and a winter ski cap, steps barefoot across the homemade wooden platform that leads to a rectangular, white ice chest filled with water. He opens it and peeks at the thermometer bobbing inside. It reads 35 degrees, a tad warmer than he’d prefer, but good enough for the activity about to ensue.
He takes a wooden paddle and begins to break up the ice that’s formed on the bottom while friends who’ve come to plunge on Marder’s farm watch with anticipation.
Then he gets in.
He strips off his hat, sunglasses and shirt. Easing himself down, Marder takes a minute to adjust his body to the cold, breathing deeply. Then, down he goes, submerging completely, head and whole body deep into the near-freezing water. When he comes up for air, his eyes are wide and glittery. He’s smiling broadly.
No, this is not Marder making good on a dare or a redux of the 2014 ice bucket challenge — it’s cold plunging, and you may be surprised at how many of your East End friends and neighbors are already doing it.
Play it cool
Cold plunging isn’t exactly new. Evidence of devotees of cryotherapy can be found as far back as the fourth century B.C., with Hippocrates himself extolling upon the beneficial virtues of cold-water immersion and therapy, writing in his work “On Airs, Water and Places” that “the water can cure everything.” More recently, though, cold-swimming Dutch guru Wim Hof, a 64-year-old motivational speaker who once held the Guinness world record for swimming under ice, earning the nickname “Ice Man,” has won devotees worldwide.
Hof’s methods brought Westhampton Beach-based attorney Ray Dowd into the cold. “Wim Hof first caught my attention, but then I listened to the Huberman podcast [by Dr. Andrew Huberman] and he really validated cold exposure and heat exposure — he went into the science behind it,” says Dowd. It piqued his interest and, two years ago, he began plunging in his already unheated in-ground pool.
For his part, Marder doesn’t need an ancient philosopher to tell him that cold plunging makes his aching muscles feel better, and he has yet to read Hof’s self-help tome, “The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential,” or another popular book on the topic, Dr. Susanna Søberg’s “Winter Swimming: The Nordic Way Towards a Healthier and Happier Life.” He just does it because it feels good.
“It totally reduces pain levels and takes away inflammation and stress, and gives you more energy,” Marder says.
That’s important for him both as a person with a very physical job — he works in the family landscaping and nursery business, Marders, in Bridgehampton — and also as a life-long avid athlete, engaged in weightlifting, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing, among other demanding physical activities.
Years ago, Marder began having hip stress issues, resulting in a couple of surgeries over the last 15 years to reshape and refit the bones and joints. He used some icing and heat therapies, but it wasn’t until about three years ago that he laid eyes on an old unused ice chest once employed to store venison on the family farm that a lightbulb went off: Why not turn it into his very own year-round cold plunge apparatus?
He’s on his second ice chest now, having traded the old deer freezer in for a newer model, and plunges three or four times a week year-round. In the winter, he plunges in Three Mile Harbor every Sunday with a group of friends near his home in Springs who call themselves the Bonac Bathers.
“We just jump in, with no neoprene,” he says. “I warm up in the beginning with a light jog to get blood flowing so it’s not such a shock.”
The Pool Man Iceth
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when second homeowners shifted more time to their weekend dwellings, and people in general were looking for more outdoor activities, there was an uptick in interest in cold plunging.
“What happened was during COVID everyone ended up outside. There was a whole wellness movement in design that began right after COVID,” says Jen Going, owner of her Quogue-based eponymous design firm, Jen Going Interiors. “People came out of the COVID space and brought these activities with them. We did a cold plunge pool in Quogue two summers ago and another this past year, and someone just called about one recently.”
Pool builders like Darrin Binder of Binder Pools on Shelter Island noticed an uptick in cold-plunge interest, too.
“We did build some plunge pools early in the pandemic before they got really popular,” says Binder, who’s been in the business for 39 years. “But since then, portable ones are going to crush the future of building them. You can buy one for $7,000, or I can build you one for $70,000.”
There’s also the option of simply leaving a pool open all winter, like Dowd, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Binder and other local pool companies have had that request as well from customers.
“Sometimes I have some people who close their pool for the season, but they just peel the winter cover off and jump in there,” he says. But as it happens, Binder, too, has gotten into the trend.
“I actually have a galvanized tub that looks like a cow trough from a tractor supply company. I fill it up and throw ice in,” says Binder. “We used to plunge in a pool we had 12 years ago, as a dare with the kids. We’d jump from the hot tub into the frozen pool, but then I started hearing about the benefits.”
Now, Binder plunges about once a week, as much for the relief from physical aches and pains as for the energy he says he gets from it. “The health benefits are phenomenal. We don’t need to talk about cure for hangovers, but if you have the slightest little one, go plunge and you’ll forget about it quick,” he laughs.
Plunging goes pro
There is a lot of studying going on currently about the benefits of using both cold and hot therapy in conjunction. Dennis Remski opened his Bridgehampton-based hot sauna and cold-plunge therapy business, The Recovery Lounge, this past July. The Lounge sits at the very end of a former potato processing plant in Bridgehampton where his girlfriend, Meredith Shumway, owns the dance school, Studio 3, next door. Shumway is a life-long dancer, and Remski a super-fit sometime athlete. The two are working to bring cold therapy combined with sauna intervals to sore-muscled dancers, athletes (both the avid and weekend ilk) and average ache-suffering adults of all kinds in the Hamptons.
For Remski, the idea was born of an a-ha moment he had while he and Shumway were on vacation skiing in Utah. “We were vacationing in Park City for my birthday and we went to a really awesome spa. There was a sauna, a hot tub, and a cold plunge. One of the attendants had to come get me because I was so into doing all the therapies. She was like, ‘Your girlfriend’s in the lobby waiting,” he laughs. “But I was like, wow, there’s something here.”
Once back in the Hamptons, Remski began cold plunging almost daily, filling up the tub in his apartment with bags of ice and water. He also began to read more about the Nordic method of hot and cold in conjunction, learning more about the science of it and how to safely apply it.
“I started doing a lot of research on the Nordic method. Traditionally, it would guide somebody into a 20- to 25-minute hot state of full dilation of the blood vessels and with that creating the contrast of going right into the cold, almost shocking your system,” he says. “In terms of the cardiovascular benefits, when you’re dilating and then constricting the blood flow, you’re getting more oxygenated blood to areas of the body that may need it, like a knee or ankle injury, for example.”
Remski’s sleek, serene spa-like business currently has two saunas and two cold-plunge tubs for clients, who can book either 30- or 60-minute sessions, and he normally instructs them to do at least 15 to 20 minutes of a sauna first, followed by a dip in a cold-plunge tub.
“We have kind of an entry-level plan, setting the temperature somewhere in the mid 50s to start for somebody who hasn’t plunged before,” he says. “Then as people keep coming back, I can direct them or guide them to a lower temperature. Our chillers can go as low as 37 degrees Fahrenheit.” For Remski personally, the sweet spot is somewhere around the mid-40 degree point with a five- to seven-minute total plunge; his goal is to get up to 10 minutes. For clients, he cuts off their time at 15 for safety reasons.
“It kind of changes the chemistry of your body a little bit, and you start to create brown adipose tissue, or fats, and that increases your tolerance for the cold water,” he says. “Brown adipose tissue is a healthy lipid and the process that your body does create that fat is a very energetic process. So it actually increases your metabolism.”
There are studies looking into this aspect of plunging and other possible benefits, among them wrangling blood sugar and insulin levels into a healthier state, weight loss and an increase in dopamine levels — the feel-good hormone — but there is no conclusive evidence as of yet to tout these extras. And anyone wanting to attempt cold plunging would be wise to check with their personal physician first, especially those with existing heart issues.
Still, its increase in popularity, both here and globally, be it dips in the bay or the ocean or into ice-cold water in a tub, demonstrate that there is something to it.
Get it while it’s cold
Albert Vigneau, owner of the Southampton-based company Hampton Ice, which launched in the summer of 2022, found he wasn’t just selling his beautiful, crystal-clear cubes for cocktails at Hamptons parties; he was also getting ice plunge-chilling orders, too.
“When the business first started, I got a couple of calls from people with their own ice barrels who needed my ice for and ice baths,” says Vigneau, who now teams up on occasion with the company Ice Barrel, who make two sizes of cold plunge containers out of Sugarcreek, Ohio.
“I probably now have 10 or 15 regular clients who order ice for plunging. Some are once a week, some every other week. You can feel the popularity of it bubbling; we’re in the infancy of this. But it makes sense. What happens when you bruise your knee or ankle? You ice it down. It relieves inflammation and wakes you up better than any cup of coffee or drug out there.”
The first year Dowd tried it, using his unheated in-ground pool, he employed the know-how of local pool builder Nick Hanyo of Hanyo pools. “The first year, the pool turned green, and we figured out it needed to be shocked at a certain point, and monitored over the months. If you do those things, it stays bright blue.”
But once he got the hang of it, Dowd became another cold-plunge devotee. His job isn’t physically taxing, but as a litigator, one that has taken its toll with high-stress levels over the three decades since he became an attorney. As the years went on and work pressure didn’t let up, he began to see that balance in life wasn’t going to just happen. He added a steady, committed self-prescription of yoga, and, after his Wim Hof epiphany, bought a sauna that sits in his yard next to the pool. Almost daily, Dowd goes from a good sweat to a cold shock.
“I immediately felt the health benefits,” he says. “It reduced inflammation, elevated my mood and just was a great boost to my entire immune system and metabolism.”
The jury may still be out on the unequivocal, scientifically proven, data-backed benefits, but for Dowd and others like him, the proof of cold-plunging is in the way he knows it makes him feel. And that’s enough.