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By Breeana Greenberg
Every year on New Year’s Eve growing up, Austin Keen would take the Polar Bear Plunge with his family. In the middle of winter, Keen and his family would head to the beach to submerge themselves in the frigid ocean water.
“You come out every time feeling so energized, just like a brand-new person,” Keen said. “I always remembered as a kid, when I come out, I’m like, ‘Why can’t we do that? Why do we have to wait a whole ’nother year to do that?’ ”
Keen, now a world champion skimboarder, must no longer wait until the winter. As cofounder of the new Cold Plunge Therapy Lounge in Dana Point, he can relive the once-yearly, rejuvenating experience regularly after creating a space to more easily take the plunge.
“That’s kind of like getting that feeling, to me now,” Keen said. “It’s like getting that feeling when I was a kid, doing that Polar Bear Plunge, but now I get to have the convenience of doing that whenever I want.”
Keen learned about cold immersion therapy at a breathing workshop, where he took his first ice bath. Attendees of the workshop submerged themselves in garden troughs full of ice, Keen said.
“Never been so afraid of ice in my whole life,” Keen said. “There was something weird about it; it’s like a self-inflicted torture that you crave right after you get out, because the endorphins stick with you throughout the day, even days after that.”
A year after the workshop, in Bali, Keen experienced heat contrast therapy, in which he experienced the heat of a sauna and the cold of an ice bath.
“I thought that was super cool, especially after a long day of traveling,” Keen said.
When he got back home, Keen wanted to try drawing an ice bath for himself.
“I got more into ice baths at home, and I wanted to regularly do it,” Keen said. “But I realized how difficult it was to do it.”
After spending the day skimboarding, he said, “All I wanted to do is just ice my legs and submerge them in cold water and just get the therapeutic benefits of an ice bath.”
The process of going to the grocery store, buying and lugging 80 pounds of ice from his car to his bathtub and waiting for the water to get to the correct, cold immersion temperature, just to dunk in the tub for two minutes was frustrating, Keen said.
“Then my bathtub overflowed, and I was like, ‘Dude, this is a nightmare,’ ” Keen said. “All for two minutes to torture myself.”
“It’s hard enough to get yourself to get into super cold water, let alone have to do all that prep each time,” Keen continued.
After going through this process a few times, Keen wanted to find somewhere that would offer cold plunges locally. When he couldn’t find any business that offered cold immersion therapy, he began looking for a business partner to start one himself.
To pitch his idea of starting a local cold plunge business, Keen met with Dana Point resident Todd Wallin. Unbeknownst to Keen, Wallin had used cold immersion therapy to heal from a severe mountain biking accident that had left him with broken ribs and a cracked chest plate, and required his thoracic spine to be fused.
“With all that said, I’ve been an advocate from the very beginning,” Wallin said. “The benefits I get out of it, there’s a mental clarity that I get, there’s a lot of mental toughness to be able to get in there and face your fears and be able to at the same time bring relief to my body.”
“Since I’ve been cold plunging, I sleep better, I recover faster from all the things that I do; my overall health has increased tremendously since I’ve started doing this,” Wallin continued.
Following the accident, Wallin wasn’t certain he’d ever walk again. In looking for something new to try to help with the healing process, Wallin looked to famous athletes with similar injuries to see what they had used to heal themselves.
“I jumped in with both feet and cold plunge is the No. 1 thing that I found to bring me the level of comfort and get the inflammation out of my body,” Wallin said.
Keen noted that the cold immersion therapy has helped him with muscle recovery and decreasing inflammation.
“That stuff is crucial for somebody like me who is sprinting my ass off in soft sand, up and down a sandy slope, whether it be skimboarding, surfing, wake surfing—all the high impact action sports that I’m doing; it’s very beneficial in inflammation and muscle recovery,” Keen said.
In addition to the physical benefits, Keen added that he has noticed psychological benefits as well.
“It’s an opportunity to bio-hack your system by releasing—in a controlled, safe environment—little, small amounts of a chemical called norepinephrine, and that’s your fight-or-flight stress hormone,” Keen said.
According to Keen, “That stress hormone has recently been discovered to create all kinds of different health benefits as far as recovery and hormone regulation; anything from physical to mental benefits, it helps.”
Recognizing the health benefits, Keen and Wallin hit the ground running to make their business concept a reality by opening Cold Plunge Therapy Lounge, located at 24470 Del Prado Ave.
The lounge, which will hold its grand opening on Friday, Sept. 23, offers both cold immersion therapy in two Edge Theory Labs tubs and a steam sauna that can reach temperatures as high as 190 degrees.
Throughout the process, Cold Plunge staff offers their support and encouragement as customers take the plunge.
“Getting in cold water can be scary, especially for a first-timer,” Keen said, noting the importance of “just having community support, having people who work here at the studio that will support you through and walk you through, really encourage you, remind you to take a breath.”
Keen and Wallin noted that many people find the hardest hurdle to overcome is just getting into the cold water in the first place.
“A lot of people do have fear about getting into cold water, but once they get in and they really start seeing the benefits of it, it’s addicting, because you feel so good afterwards that people want to just keep coming in,” Wallin said.
Once someone has taken the plunge, Keen added, the next-hardest part is taking in deep, controlled breaths.
“Focus on your breath,” Keen said. “If you can take that first deep breath, you now have just broken that first mental barrier of getting past you may not have thought you could do,” Keen said.
The steam sauna is also available before or after a plunge.
“It’s great for people to get in the sauna after they’ve been in the cold plunge, get warmed back up,” Wallin said. “That contrast therapy has a lot of unique benefits in and of itself.”
“None of this is new, by the way,” Wallin said. “They’ve been doing cold plunge therapy and hot sauna in Sweden, in Norway, for hundreds and hundreds of years. We’re just now taking it; we’ve made it easy for people to come experience this and get the benefits of both the cold plunge and the sauna, all in one place.”
Cold Plunge Therapy Lounge
24470 Del Prado Ave., Dana Point
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org