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Business offers escape in a dark tank

Joel Royman relaxes at Stillwater Float Center. Forty percent of customers return, the owners say. Users shower first, filters clean the water between customers and overnight, and the high salinity of the water prevents bacteria from forming.
Joel Royman relaxes at Stillwater Float Center. Forty percent of customers return, the owners say. Users shower first, filters clean the water between customers and overnight, and the high salinity of the water prevents bacteria from forming. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

There’s a long answer to the question why customers pay to float in alien-looking pods at businesses like Stillwater Float Center at 213 N. 10th St. in Boise.

That answer, say Stillwater co-founders Tyler Crow and Jerrod Friesen, uses science to explain that floating in salt-saturated water in darkness promotes a laundry list of physical and mental health benefits.

There’s a shorter answer, too: We are overworked, overstimulated and overstressed. Getting away from that must be therapeutic.

Crow and Friesen say the sessions — to be had for $65 per hourlong float session, or by buying one of various membership plans — won’t appeal to everybody. But sales increased 40 percent last year and 58 percent so far in 2015, and the business is already successful, they say.

Q: What’s your origin story?

Tyler Crow: After working in the crisis mental health industry for a number of years, Jerrod began hearing of studies being done on sensory deprivation and its effect on chronic pain and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. At the same time he heard Joe Rogan [a comedian and actor] speaking about the physical and mental effects he has experienced on a podcast that he hosts. Jerrod found a place to float and instantly fell in love with it, and from that point on we began to work towards opening a float center in Boise.

Q: How does the saltwater work?

A: The pods are filled with 10 inches of water (150 gallons). A total of 1,000 pounds of medical-grade Epsom salt is dissolved into that water, creating an effect similar to the Dead Sea.

Q: What kind of sensation do floaters feel?

A: The goal is for floaters to literally feel nothing. With skin-temperature water, and the absence of light and sound, there is very little sensory input left for the brain to process.

Q: What are your backgrounds?

A: Jerrod has a degree in psychology and has 10 years of experience in the crisis mental health industry. I have a business degree and have been involved in the creation of several companies, as well as seven years of experience in the crisis mental health industry.

Q: What’s your setup there in terms of equipment and space?

A: We operate an 1,800-square-foot space Downtown. We currently have two float pods and one massage table. We have space to add a third pod for future expansion.

Q: What types of physical ailments does floating help?

A: We have many people who use our facility to find relief from arthritis, fibromyalgia, back pain and athletic recovery. An hour of weightlessness helps to decompress the body, allowing increased blood flow that will help to detoxify and wash out lactic acid. We have a significant number of floaters who are willing to share their story on how floating has allowed them to significantly decrease the number of narcotic medications they take due to the relief that they get from floating.

Q: What can you offer to athletes?

A: We have had Idaho Steelheads, professional UFC fighters, professional CrossFit athletes and professional climbers regularly float. They use our facility for help with recovery from soreness and bruising, for help with visualization and post-competition letdown.

Q: You also claim floating has mental benefits. What are those?

A: Instead of turning off our stress reaction, we often wallow in a corrosive bath of stress hormones that have proven to do things as subtle as adding unwanted fat to our bodies and as grotesque as killing brain cells. Floating has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone released during a stressful situation. Many floaters use the lack of sensory input to practice meditation or to just unplug from the world for an hour.

Q: I’m sure you face skeptics. How do you convince people this is a legit form of therapy?

A: There is definitely a segment of the population that will never try floating. Coincidentally, it is probably the people who would benefit the most. We offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. If a person gets out early or is otherwise unhappy with the float, we will refund the money.

We also refer people to our website (www.stillwaterboise.com) for more information. There are videos explaining floating and psychologists discussing how floating affects the body and mind.

Q: You don’t diagnose patients. How do you solicit business?

A: Our main source of business is word-of-mouth referrals. We do have chiropractors, physical therapists and holistic doctors that refer clients to us. Social media is a tool that we utilize as well.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about floating?

A: For many the first and only exposure they have had to sensory deprivation is from a movie from the ’80s, “Altered States.” In the movie, a man takes various hallucinogenic substances and embarks on a journey where he hallucinates and begins to devolve. Hallucinations of any kind are rare, especially devoid of any external substances.

Q: Can you quantify how much business you have in terms of customer visits?

A: We have had approximately 3,000 floats to date. Our goal is to have 3,000 floats in the next calendar year.

Q: Is the business yet sustainably profitable? If not, what has to happen for the business to succeed?

A: The business has paid for itself since the third month of operation. At this point, with an annual growth rate upwards of 40 percent per year, all signs are pointing to sustainability. We also understand that this is a luxury that people are able to live without, so our continued growth will be closely linked to the economy.

Q: Do you float? If so, how often, and what do you get out of it?

A: We try to float every other week. It really helps to de-stress and keep everything in perspective. Life moves pretty fast, and we feel that it is important to purposefully slow down every once in a while. Plus, you will have the best night of sleep following your float.

Responses edited for length and clarity.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464;

Twitter: @IDS_ZachKyle

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