Back to the North
After Montana, we blazed our way back into Canada. The drive was long, but the scenery was beautiful. We followed the Rockies north, driving up to Edmonton. It’s a bit of a detour but, there are so many float centers in Edmonton, it seemed crazy not to stop by.
The city itself is primarily made up of workers from the oil fields – high risk, high income jobs that fuel the economy. At least until recently. Our visit was right in the middle of the Fort McMurray wildfire which has displaced a lot of the workforce, forcing 100,000 people to leave their homes. Many came to Edmonton, being the nearest metropolitan area to Fort McMurray. Some already split their time between the two cities, living in Edmonton and traveling to Fort McMurray for weeks or months at a time for work.
It’s understood that, in economic hardship, luxury commodities are typically the first thing people cut back on. Surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to be the case for floating. In fact, more people seem to be trying it to help alleviate the stress, many centers even offering free or discounted services to those displaced in an effort to help in a small way.
Number of float centers: 7
Known for: Capital of Alberta, Oil Capital of Canada, and home to the largest mall in North America.
Looking for Wellness…
Number of tanks: 3
Years in operation: 2
Tactical Takeaway: Even when things seem impossible, unexpected events can change seemingly unfixable outcomes.
Other services: Massage, Pandora Star
Laara, from Float Wellness, found floating in her early twenties back in the 90s. She had such terrible rheumatoid arthritis that she couldn’t walk – her doctors told her she’d be bound to a wheelchair by age 30. Desperate for a treatment, she tried everything, including floating. She started floating at The Bhodi Tree in Vancouver and it turned her life around. The arthritis became manageable, and she was able to lead a normal life again. She started volunteering in exchange for floats, sharing her story with newcomers. Floating had done so much for her, she was eager to make sure that others had an opportunity to experience it. She half-joked that she was more passionate about floating than even the owners.
Five years later she walked the Camino trail, a 500-mile pilgrimage road through the heart of Spain. She now makes a trek out to Spain every year, becoming somewhat of a legendary figure. Hape Kerkeling, author of I’m Off, Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago, even featured her as a character in his book on the Trail.
She’s been a Registered Massage Therapist for a long time now, a profession that would’ve previously been unthinkable. It wasn’t until a couple years ago, though, that she decided to merge her two passions and open a float center/massage studio, making her one of the first to open in town.
Drifting Along Again…
Kristen at Drift Float Studio got the itch to open her center after attending the 2015 Float Conference and sitting in on the construction workshop. She joked that it sounded like Graham and Ashkahn were trying to scare people away from floating with all of the warnings of salt damage and late night pump repairs, but she was confident it was a good idea anyways.
She is also officially the only center we’ve visited on Tour that has opened on time and nearly within its budget, with nothing bad to say about her contractors. We don’t know if it was just stellar planning on her part or blind luck, but we actually had to ask her to repeat herself to make sure we’d heard her right. Kristen definitely commended the contractors themselves and said they were very receptive to all her instructions, especially when it came to flooring and the walls, so we’re sure that helped.
She really is the only person we’ve talked to that didn’t have a delay because of some problem with city permits, contractors being delayed, float tanks arriving late, etc. None of that happened to her. If you’re wondering if she somehow cut corners, she didn’t. Drift looks great: it has excellent water and soundproofing, pretty rooms, and an inviting lobby area. The best we can figure is that there has to be a statistical anomaly that proves the rule, right?
Visiting the Floating Boutique
Tara at Flotique opened at almost the exact same time as Float Wellness across town. Prior to the two of them opening, there weren’t any float centers in Edmonton. She and Laara were even looking at the exact same spot to open their centers. Tara ended up getting it first, but it’s a totally bizarre synchronicity that two people, introduced to floating independently, would seek to open a center in a city (without any other float tanks) at the exact same time in the exact same spot.
Tara is another happy attendee of The Float Conference, and she says it’s what motivated her to just do it and open a float center.
Since opening, she says she’s had some unusual supernatural experiences in her center: chairs moving across rooms, doors locking on their own, strange noises coming from empty float rooms. It got so bad, that she had a spiritualist come in and lay a crystal grid above the ceilings to her float rooms. Since then, most of the unusual activity in her center seems to come from her floaters.
Floatique is a genuine family endeavor. As an entrepreneur, Tara was prepared to throw herself into running the business, working long hours for little reward, but having her mom and dad step in to help shoulder the burden has been wonderful. Her dad helped out with construction, and her mom does most of the clerical work.
To Buoyancy and Beyond!
Beyond Buoyancy was started by Wanda Parks, Lyse Hayes, and Alanna Stachniak – an absolutely stellar group of women. Wanda and Alanna came out to the Float Conference in 2014 when they were first thinking about opening their center.
They spent a lot of time researching all the building materials for their center, carefully deciding which ones to go with based on recommendations from other float center owners. They managed to find some amazing installers, too, and the end result looks great!
Their hallway has an interesting diamond shape design to it, where four of the rooms open at an angle, creating a wider entryway for moving in float tanks without requiring an absurdly large hallway. It’s a clever, practical solution that we haven’t seen anywhere else.
Each of them has their own specialization in the center: Wanda handles the tank maintenance and sanitation, Alanna handles customer service, and Lyse takes care of marketing, social media, and reading all the float industry blogs as they come out (Hello Lyse!).
The Guys Who Started it All…
Matt and J.P. started Modern Gravity in their basement. They’ve floated thousands of people, including an Alberta Health Inspector. When the inspector first arrived, they were convinced they were going to get shut down, but the inspector got out of the tank, gave them the thumbs up and told them they had a “really nice operation going”. Having that seal of approval went a long way to helping them get the confidence to fully open up.
Matt and J.P. have built a gorgeous float haven in the middle of town. Their center is a reflection of their whimsical personalities. Many of the elements in their center – from their absurdly large mural to their reshapable bean bag chairs – contrast the otherwise starkly minimalist design they’ve gone with. That seems par for the course for Matt and J.P., as you can see from the interview they gave to the local news for their grand opening.
It may have taken them a few years to open, but they didn’t want to rush excellence. They took great care to create their center according to the highest standards possible. The walls in their float rooms are 2 feet thick due to the massive air gaps for soundproofing. It’s so good that they can run their magnetic drive pumps in one room and have people float in total silence the next room over.
They also take an active interest in how floatation is being developed and regulated in Canada. J.P. and Matt are two of the founding members of The Canadian Float Collective, a non-profit organization intent on helping to define regulations on floating and get it covered by insurance.
An Oasis in the Oil Field…
Number of tanks: 4
Years in operation: 1
Tactical Takeaway: You can still introduce skeptics to float tanks. Sometimes it just takes longer, is all.
Other services: Sweet massage chairs
Tyson and Taylor opened Floating Oasis in August 2015. They’ve both always had entrepreneurial spirits and were deeply interested in alternative wellness, martial arts, meditation, and hot yoga. Before opening the center, Tyson was a foreman on an electrical rigging site, and Taylor was a full time student getting her Bachelor’s in Commerce at the University of Alberta.
Tyson was eager to get a business off the ground, but wanted to do something that helped people. He first heard about floating from the Joe Rogan Podcast (seriously, float centers should pay him royalties).
They floated for the first time at Modern Gravity back when it was still in an apartment. That first float was a huge inspiration for them. Matt and J.P. offered a professional experience without breaking the bank, and Taylor was confident that, with her and Tyler’s combined experience, they could make it work too. Using that expertise, they had a relatively easy time securing a location and finding funding. They’ve been open for a few months now, and they love that they finally get to introduce new people to the wonderful salty world of floating.
When we realized we were making it out to the hometown of one of our favorite health inspectors, we had to stop by (yes, we’ve become big enough sanitation nerds that we now have ‘favorite’ health inspectors). Jason Macdonald has been a strong advocate of sensible regulation for float tanks. It all began when he went to Modern Gravity back when they were just starting out. He was curious about floating so, after spending a few weeks learning about the process and performing some water testing, he gave it a try.
Soon afterwards, he began research on the current state of regulation. Surprisingly, Alberta did have regulations on the books for sensory deprivation tanks, but they were outdated and didn’t bear much resemblance to how centers were actually being run. He wanted to understand more about it, so he contacted Modern Gravity and asked them who the “experts” were on filtration and sanitation standards for float tanks. Unfortunately, the best Matt and J.P. could come up with was Float On.
It started a fast professional friendship between Jason and Ashkahn. Since then, Jason has helped Alberta take actions to consciously de-regulate floatation, instead preferring an internal guideline intended to let inspectors make an informed, site-specific risk-assessment. This internal document has gained a lot of traction for its innovation, even garnering the national Environmental Health Review Award by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors last year for excellence in creating tools that benefit public health inspectors.
Jason has spent years being a health inspector for pools as well as personal services, so he intrinsically understood some of the challenges of floatation and why it would be difficult to regulate. He has given presentations on his experiences to fellow health inspectors across Canada and has even hosted an industry workshop at last year’s Float Conference in Portland that was aimed at improving the relationship between the industry and public health. He does this because he believes in floating and how helpful it can be. As he likes to tell health inspectors, “health is good for business”.
Issue #24 is coming…
That’s it for Edmonton. It’s remarkable that this relatively small city – known for cattle ranching, its huge energy sector, and good shopping – could become the home to such a vibrant float community. During the first wave in the 80s, this would’ve been unthinkable. It really is a milestone for the industry and shows how much broader the appeal has become.
Before we get into Calgary, we’ll stop by Red Deer. It’s a small town right between Edmonton and Calgary, and home to a certain podcasting, chuck wagon racing, float celebrity that we want to stop by and visit. We’ve heard good things about Red Deer, especially the food.
Until next time…