Tennessee – North Carolina – Virginia
We travel north through Dixieland, the land of bluegrass and fried chicken. The old colonial style homes and the cool summer breeze instill a sense of timeless serenity. On the West Coast, it’s rare to see a building more than 100 years old; seeing so many here (and several even older) was a perfect metaphor for the subtle differences in culture from the West Coast, where everything tends towards being the newest freshest thing. Here, people place a different value on more traditional aspects of life.
It’s fascinating to see how floating has grown over here, and how awareness is gradually shifting. The majority of float centers exist in densely urban areas – and those seem to be thriving, but there are even a few burgeoning rural float centers as well.
Superior Float tanks are manufactured in southern Virginia, and we definitely saw quite a few around. This is something that we noticed in Texas, and it also holds true here: every float tank manufacturer seems to have a presence in the region around them with a higher concentration of float centers using their tanks. This makes sense, as there are some obvious benefits. Aside from local pride, it saves a lot of money on shipping to get tanks locally, and it’s good to have the manufacturer close if you need help with setting up, maintenance, or spare parts.
Population: ~1.7 million in the surrounding area
Float Centers: 1
Known for: Happening music scene, decent beer, and killer hot chicken
A long time friend to us, and familiar voice to others
Number of Tanks: 3
Years in Operation: 3
Tactical takeaways: This industry is insulated from some of the things that make the rest of the world so difficult. Let’s all do our best to keep it that way.
Other Services: Just Floating
If you’ve ever listened to The Art of the Float Podcast, you’ve probably heard Amy from Float Nashville doling out wisdom on topics ranging from waterproofing to vibration control to the joy of introducing people to the tanks.
She’s had her space with her business partner Mark for 3 years now. They’ve even installed a custom-built open room tank, lovingly crafted by Mark himself. One of their tanks is also an important piece of float history: the Escape Pod that graced the showroom floor at the very first Float Conference! They were actually expecting a float tank from a completely different manufacturer who had delayed their order for months, up until two weeks before their opening date when they confirmed it wouldn’t be arriving due to a shipping catastrophe. They contacted Jeremy Warner of Escape Pod, who came to their rescue and sent them the Conference tank so that they could open on time.
Float Nashville has had to overcome some interesting hurdles simply by being a float center in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health is very resistant to treating float centers any differently than commercial pools, forcing them to comply to sometimes absurd requirements. All of their staff are required to go through lifeguard training and CPR certification. Additionally, the first few months they were open they were required to have their concrete floors covered over with paint. Because of the salt water, the paint chipped away pretty much instantly and the health department then cited them for having chipped paint on their floors. They were painting them pretty much daily, and it was impossible to maintain. Eventually the health department conceded, and now their floors are in much better shape.
Mark and Amy came into each other’s lives by sheer coincidence. Mark was touring with a Christian rock group and Amy was a sound technician who helped them with a recording. Some years later, Mark needed to see a massage therapist for some of his chronic pain issues, ended up booking with Amy. They’ve been friends ever since. When Mark became curious about floating, Amy was the obvious choice for a business partner. She had started several businesses in the past and worked in wellness for a long time. Mark himself has worked in music and built sound studios, worked in pool maintenance, and even has family that manufacturers fiberglass boats, giving him arguably some of the best pre-qualifications of any person to ever build out a float center.
Mark and Amy also have some of the most inspiring stories about the industry. Not too long ago, Mark was in the hospital having emergency surgery, and Amy was having a hard time doing maintenance on the shop by herself, especially while worrying about Mark. Another float center owner out of Virginia, Brooks Brinson (who we’ll meet later), came down and volunteered to watch their shop for a week while he recovered. He refused all payment and just insisted that they take care of themselves.
Stories like that are what make this industry what it is.
From Nashville to Asheville…
Asheville, North Carolina
Population: ~420,000 in the surrounding area, ~83,000 in Asheville proper
Float Centers: 1
Known for: A New Age Mecca, Great Beer, and a massive weather monitoring system
Number of Tanks: 1
Years in Operation: 2
Tactical takeaways: Doing the right thing and following a passion can pay off, and when that passion is floating, it’s amazing the far reaching rewards that it can bring.
Other Services: Massage, somatic psychology, yoga
Still Point Wellness is located in the mountains of North Carolina, sheltered from much of the South in this little New Age Paradise where vegan restaurants and craft beer abound. We felt right at home pulling in from Portland. Corey, the owner of Still Point Wellness, started out in psychology, and he discovered floating at the Esalen Institute (the same place he discovered his wife).
When he came back to Asheville, it was with a renewed sense of purpose: he found out that a colleague was opening a wellness center in town and incorporating a float tank. Corey was eager to help, and together they got the center up and running with a single Float Lab tank. Corey quickly realized that floating could be integrated into his psychology practice and now offers joint sessions with his patients inside the float tank. A little while after opening, the original owner sold his percentage to Corey, entrusting the majority of the business to him. That was about 2 years ago, and since then he’s cultivated a community passionate about floating, meditation, and mindfulness.
Our fortuitous travel through Asheville landed us here during Corey’s birthday. It was our first time meeting him, but he invited us out to his party that evening. It was such a beautiful coincidence that we couldn’t decline, and we poured each other drinks by a bonfire while sharing stories of salty disasters and floaty miracles. Hopefully Corey can make it out to Portland this year for Ashkahn’s birthday so we can return the favor.
Virginia is for Floaters…
Float Centers: 2
Known for: Home to the world’s largest naval base and North America’s NATO office.
Number of Tanks: 1
Years in Operation: 5
Tactical takeaways: Taking on huge undertakings like manufacturing is time-intensive. That can mean sacrificing other projects to allow for focusing on the bigger picture.
Other Services: Manufacturing
Do you remember the earlier blog post where we toured ACE Composites? Superior is the other half of that manufacturing team (they actually met at the Float Conference!). ACE handles the fiberglassing of the tanks, while James Ramsey manufactures the mechanical components. They both ship directly separately to their customers from either coast to help cut down on delivery time. Currently, they are receiving orders for float tanks almost faster than they can build them.
James Ramsey got started in the industry by opening up a float center called “Float First”. He ran his center for several years, constantly making modifications to his tanks: changing the heating systems, the filtration systems, and even some of the internal wiring. He became so familiar with the tanks that he decided to start manufacturing his own. Thus, Superior Float Tanks was born.
Soon after diving into manufacturing, Float First ran into difficulties with their location. Manufacturing required so much time and focus, Ramsey and his team decided to temporarily close it down while they dedicate themselves to the manufacturing process.
Superior is handling their growth well, though. They are preparing a massive expansion to build out a showroom/float center next to their manufacturing floor. For a project like this, they know their soundproofing is going to need to be so thorough that they’ll have no trouble operating fully functional float tanks while isolating the thunderous noise from the plant. Not a small undertaking, but the team at Superior are used to ambitious projects.
After our visit, James Ramsey asked a favor of us: he owed one of his customers about 500 pounds of salt, and, if we were going by there anyway, he wondered if we could deliver it. We happily obliged and loaded up 10 fifty-pound bags of Epsom salt into The Minister Winchester – all we needed was 100 gallons of water and she’d be halfway to being a mobile float tank.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Float Centers: 2
Known for: Tourism, military bases, where history landed
Number of Tanks: 2
Years in Operation: 3
Tactical takeaways: It’s nice to have people you can trust to run your float center, especially when you live in another state.
Other Services: Just floating
Dream was the first center to open in Virginia Beach, having opened 3 years ago with two tanks. They’re happy with how the community has responded to floating, but aren’t actively pursuing any steps towards expansion.
The owners run the center remotely, so the everyday business operation goes to the managers and employees. This is an important step for any small business, and it’s fantastic to see that they’ve been able to get to a point in the business where they can comfortably take a step back. The unfortunate side effect of this (for us) is that they live in Texas now and we didn’t get a chance to meet with them.
We did get to meet with one employee, Justin, who floats regularly and is active in local MMA and paintball groups. He has a much more adventurous lifestyle than most of the people we’ve met on this trip: on top of his hobbies, his other job involves clearing a playing field of poisonous snakes before practices and matches for big games.
He’s really enjoyed sharing floating with his friends, and anecdotally, this combination of floating and extreme sports has worked out really well. He plays pretty rough, averaging a dislocated shoulder several times a month. Floating allows him to keep up his strenuous lifestyle, healing up in time to go out again on the weekends.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Float Centers: 1
Known for: Thomas Jefferson, where much of the government was formed for the Colony of Virginia, home to the largest population of time-travelling tour guides in the world.
Number of Tanks: 2
Years in Operation: 2
Tactical takeaways: Adaptability is crucial to success. Embrace it, and you shall never fear change.
Other Services: Halotherapy, massage
The Salt Spa in Colonial Williamsburg has been open since 2008 as a wellness center, but they just installed two Superior float tanks a couple years ago to add to their other services. They actually have a large subterranean salt cave for people to relax in and breath in the salty air. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open during our visit (but there are some amazing pictures of it on their website).
When we stopped by, they were in the middle of some major renovations to bridge two parts of their building together. Their main lobby and their float rooms were completely separated, and this remodel will eliminate the gap between them, turning the space into a nice hallway that they plan on using as a float lounge.
It was here that we delivered the Epsom salt from Superior Float Tanks. Having years of experience, Graham and Ashkahn deftly piled the bags of salt in their storage room, making short work of the task. Watching us cheerfully stack away, it was clear that the staff at The Salt Spa had one thing on their mind: “Who delivers salt in a Winnebago, and why are they filming everything?”
Population: ~ 1.25 million in the surrounding area
Float Centers: 1
Known for: The site of Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or give me death!” speech, it was the home to “The White House of the Confederacy” during the Civil War, and is currently home to CarMax, the largest used car retailer in the country. It’s funny how history is kinda cyclical, isn’t it?
Dr. David Berv and Christopher “Woody” Cheuk showed us around their center, including a massive shipping and storage area that looked to be about the size of our entire float center back home.
Both Dave and Woody have long histories in health and wellness: Dr. Berv and his wife Stephanie ran The Mind Body Network – the largest wellness center in Richmond – for years. They offered chiropractic services along with a host of holistic therapies all designed to create better lifestyles for their patients.
The Float Zone was in the middle of a soft opening during our visit, bringing in some of their friends and previous clients to see how they liked it. We managed to get in 3 days before they officially opened their doors (gotta love that new float center smell)!
Dave had a pretty serious back injury a few years back and opted out of getting surgery, going against his doctor’s recommendation. Instead he looked into floating as an alternative form of healing. It was overwhelmingly successful. After years of chronic pain, he was finally able to stand and walk comfortably again: almost immediately, he put a float tank in his house. He and his wife saw how floating was growing in popularity all across the world, and they decided to open their own center.
Thanks for the hospitality guys! The Float Zone is going to do great!
Float Centers: 1
Known for: The University of Virginia, Home to Edgar Allan Poe and the Dave Matthew’s Band, birthplace of Thomas Jefferson
Number of Tanks: 4
Years in Operation: 1
Tactical takeaways: It’s amazing being able to see the tangible difference you’re making in people’s lives. You can’t put a price tag on that.
Other Services: Infrared Sauna
AquaFloat is run by one of our long time Float Tank Solutions friends, Ted, who just celebrated his one year anniversary in March! His center has the largest lobby we’ve ever seen, and it is completely mind blowing. It looks more like an art gallery than a float center; there are several finely crafted sculptures and paintings on display, all donated by local artists. Each of these pieces are absolutely breathtaking and give the center a rich and living personality all its own.
They managed to procure some vintage float tanks that were built in the 1980s: two old Floatarium tanks that he and his staff found online and have refurbished themselves. One of them was even a flower bed when they found it! Jordan and Kyle, his key partners, knew nothing about fixing up float tanks before taking on this project, but now they’re confident that they could start up a float tank repair service (a service that, for now, float center owners can only dream of). The Floatariums have a retro-futuristic look to them, adding to their vintage appeal. It’s really cool that they undertook that kind of project. It’s kind of like an old hot rod that your dad fixed up, but… without wheels… and no windows… and full of saltwater…… maybe it’s not like a hot rod at all.
Editor’s Note: Graham and Ashkahn actually had an old Floatarium in their basement for a long time, much like that old hot rod that your dad used to have. It sat there unfinished for years, both of them looking over at it wistfully when they went downstairs to do laundry, always wishing they had the time to get it up and running. Seeing Aquafloat’s Floatariums filled them with nostalgia; a pang of “what if” – thinking back to that tank that they abandoned, as their autumn years approach them and they realize that their best days are behind them.
Ted got into floating a couple years ago and quickly decided he had to go to the Conference. He was so inspired by Graham and Ashkahn that he quit his stable and well-paying job as a pharmacist to open his own center. From the outside, it seems like a drastic shift, but it was a very logical step for Ted; he’s always been passionate about helping improve people’s lives. He talks about his transition away from pharmacopeia by explaining, “the pay isn’t as good, the hours are longer, and I’ve never been happier!”
Lucky #13 is coming up…
And that wraps up the Southern United States on Float Tour. As always, we were really glad to get to meet everyone on this trip, and it’s great to see so many 3 or 4 tank centers opening up even this far east.
From here, we get into Washington D.C. and start going North through New England. Then, it’s through Maryland with a brief stop in Philadelphia. The float centers out here (especially the smaller ones) are some that we are the least familiar with, which makes sense given the geographical distance. One of the joys of Float Tour comes from the opportunity to meet other people who found floating on their own and perhaps haven’t been introduced to the larger community. Having been welcomed into the float world ourselves so many years ago, it’s wonderful getting to pay that forward and be the ones to bring others into our big salty family.
See you again in issue #13…