There Really is No Place Like Home
Having travelled across the United States, I’m reminded of how insular Portland is. We are aggressively fixated on keeping things local. Local beer, ketchup, bikes, pet food, pillows, phone cases… it’s part of our charm. We want to reward people for living here and being a part of the community. It’s so pervasive that, after living here for so long, I kind of forgot that Secret Aardvark hot-sauce isn’t available everywhere, and that most cities don’t even recycle, let alone compost.
This city is a haven for the outcasts, weirdos, and the abnormal. It’s who we are. Even the business professionals downtown are some of the same people that you’ll see out at Blow Pony bound in leather and dancing their asses off. And it’s not like that doesn’t happen in most cities – I’m certain it does but, in Portland no one seems to care. There’s no shame in self-expression. It doesn’t need to be compartmentalized or hidden. We know it’s part of who we are.
Our obsession with community in this city has a direct influence on floating here. Float On first opened in 2010, and prior to that there had never been a commercial float center in town (as far as we know). The Everett House has had a float tank in their business since the 90s, but it has never been their sole focus. So when Float On opened, it was something completely different from what people were used to. Since then, in 6 short years, Portland has become one of the float capitals of the world.
Population: 2.2 million in the surrounding area
Number of float centers: 4
Known for: some of the largest (and smallest) parks within city limits, mindblowing restaurants, beer capital of the universe, most bike friendly city in the U.S., skyrocketing housing prices, and a haven for way too many hipsters
Our Friends at the Shoppe Across Town
Sandra floated for the first time in late 2010 by participating in Float On’s Artist Program. Then, in 2011, when Graham and Ashkahn went to Sweden to attend The Float Summit and learn more about their industry, there were a total of 5 Americans in attendance (including them). Sandra was one of the others. Shortly after her introduction to floating, she and Dylan resolved to open The Float Shoppe and Sandra was soaking up as much information as she could.
Having your floaty friends open their own center is nothing short of amazing, especially since their care for people cannot be replicated. Coming from a healthcare background, Sandra was frustrated to only treat the symptoms her patients experienced and, instead, wanted to offer remedies for the root causes of their issues. With floating, meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, and therapy modalities, Dylan and Sandra feel fully equipped to effectively heal people.
It’s a testament to their diligence, zeal, and general kindness that their center has flourished. Since opening, they have even expanding their wellness practice to take over the building next door to them. As time passes, it seems that they can’t help but take on bigger and more ambitious projects. In addition to running the podcast and offering float center consulting, they also (juuuuust recently) had a new baby girl! It’s great getting to share an industry and a town with the Float Shoppe, and we thank them for providing a soft landing back into Portland.
It’s Been a DeLong Time Coming
Jeremy discovered floating on a whim. He remembers the Simpson’s episode that featured it, but knew of it even before that (though where exactly he first heard of it he can’t recall). Despite being aware of it for a long time, he didn’t get the opportunity to try the briny experience for some time.
He had just returned home from a long stint in Northern California trimming on a farm and needed to do something to treat himself. He figured that Portland, of all places, would have a place to float. He managed to book a spot in Christopher Messer’s apartment two weeks before Float On even opened. After they opened their doors, he was one of Float On’s first customers (he floated, again, in the very same tank that was in Christopher’s apartment).
After that, he made up his mind: he wanted his own tank. The only people he knew that had a float tank was Float On, so he came to them for suggestions. Instead of creating rivalry, it formed a fast friendship. We’ve shared salt, cleaning supplies, and even employees. Jeremy has been on hand to help with the Conference since the first one – you may have seen him helping to construct giant salt pyramids, or getting lights and controllers for the talks. Plus the dude is just a lot of fun to hang out with. Thanks for everything, Jeremy!
We Made it Full Circle!
Number of tanks: 6
Years in operation: 6
Tactical Takeaway: Just because something has never happened before, and you have no idea what you’re doing, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s just going to be a whole lot of work.
Other services: Just floating
I first met Graham and Quinn at a costume party in my apartment in the Hollywood district of Portland. At that party, Graham and Quinn started talking about sensory deprivation and their plans to open a center. For the next five years, while I helped out Float On when I could, I never directly worked for them. They were “my friends who run that crazy float center thing.”
I’ve watched them build their business over the last six years, with slight pangs of jealousy of what they were able to accomplish. It wasn’t until just recently, about two weeks before we started Float Tour, that I was officially hired on. I feel like this affords me a unique perspective on where they’ve been and where they are now.]
While I have a general disdain for Californian transplants, I can’t deny that all the ones I know personally are wonderful people who have done nothing but make this city a better place to live. Graham, Ashkahn, Quinn, and Christopher are no exception to that, and I honestly don’t think Float On could’ve started anywhere else. The heart of Portland beats in its chest.
Float On started with Graham and Quinn. Quinn had floated at Float Lab in Venice Beach, having been introduced to the concept by Joe Rogan (yup. Even us). Graham joined in, planning on simply helping Quinn get the business off the ground and then taking a step back (see how that worked out for him?). They managed to find two Ocean Float Rooms in southern Oregon for sale and purchased them so that the owner could go live off of the grid. They partnered up with Christopher Messer (who provided two more float tanks) and, with the addition of Ashkahn Jahromi, opened Portland’s first dedicated float center with four tanks.
They quickly started experimenting with business practices; if they were going to run a business, they were going to do it their way. One of the first things they did was start their Artist Program, which introduced hundreds of people to floating while garnering a fair amount of media attention around town. Portland loves its trends – a hip new alternative therapy that’s catering to the bohemian crowd located in chic Hawthorne Boulevard? You could practically feel the reporters salivating over it.
Then, just as quickly as it had started to take off, Float On was beset with problems. The floors of their float rooms – black rubber – couldn’t stand up to the salt. One of their custom-built tanks had started to deteriorate. Their first summer hit, and they went from being booked up two weeks in advance to only being half-full on most days. They ended up taking the vast majority of their profits from that first year and pouring them into renovations. It was during this rather chaotic time that they found Jake Marty (or he found them, depending on who you talk to) and Float On brought him on as their first employee.
During their first year of business, they wanted to reach out to the community at large and find out what had been working. They attended the Float Summits in San Francisco and Sweden in 2011 to meet some of the other people in the industry. At their first Summit presentation, they released their first industry tool: an open source brochure for floating (which you can totally find here).
It was at this time that they started collaborating with a newly reestablished Float Tank Association to help write up best practices for the industry. They met icons in the industry and became friends with Glenn and Lee Perry, Tom Fine, John Turner, and many others who helped build floatation back in the ’80s. Having stepped into this much larger world, the two of them were even more eager to collaborate to help build awareness of floatation. Even having only been in it for a short time, they already knew, firsthand, how impactful floating can be on people’s lives.
In 2012, Float On hosted the first Float Conference in Portland, Oregon, wanting to bring the industry together to celebrate and share information. This last year was the 5th year of the Float Conference, and was the largest float gathering in our short history at just over 700 people in attendance (including many people who are reading this right now).
We’ve now become a family, and that’s something that I don’t credit to Float On. It’s really the remarkable people that make up this industry that have made it possible. Float On may have helped open the door, but everyone walked through, together, holding hands.
In the meantime, Float On started to develop more and more free and paid resources for float centers, which they released through a new arm of the company, Float Tank Solutions They chose to do this instead of focusing their attention on opening a second location – since the goal was to make sure as many people as possible were floating, helping aspiring center owners to succeed seemed like the best path forward.
They also began working on an alternative to their scheduling software – you know, just for fun. They made friends with an incredibly talented programmer who taught them Ruby-on-Rails and began collaborating on what would eventually become the HelmBot – a cloud-based operation, task management, and scheduling software.
Somewhere in here, a relationship was formed with Dr. John C. Lilly’s estate, and they received the rights to re-publish the out-of-print Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer, which became an Amazon bestseller.
Five years since starting Float On, almost to the day, all the owners were finally able to step back from everyday operations of the shop. They have trained general managers to take over the high level operations and have built in a system of checks and balances so that everyone in the shop has a say in how it’s run and even who’s running it.
This has fundamentally allowed them to focus on many of their other industry related projects. As compulsive project starters, it’s rare for Graham, Ashkahn, or Jake to not work (even when they’re on a massive cross country road trip). Everywhere we went on this Tour, they were taking conference calls, responding to correspondence via e-mail and even flying back out to Portland to handle monthly apprenticeships and help with construction.
Now we’re here. Float On has now functionally grown to five different branches: Float Tank Solutions, the Float Conference, HelmBot, Coincidence Control Publishing, and, of course, Float On (the shop).
The goal, with all of these endeavors, simply put, is to be a force for good in the world through floating. I’m glad to be a part of it, and thank you all for sharing in the adventure.
The Blog Finally Comes to a Close
That’s it for our Float Tour. Thank you for following along. We hope that it was informative and entertaining. We really wish we could’ve had all these posts out while we were on the road, but thank you for being patient with the process. It’s been a wonderful journey and I’m proud to have been able to chronicle this adventure along the way.
Until next time…