Ari Gootnick isn’t new to ice baths, but he never gets used to the shock of immersing his body into 40- something-degree water. So when the 29-year-old who works in tech plunged into an ice bath on a speed date, “It was a welcome distraction,” he said.
“It was much easier to plunge with someone else,” Gootnick said.
He’s one of more than 100 people who participated in a novel ice bath speed dating experiment at IcePass L.A., a social wellness club in Venice Beach that describes itself as a “community architect,” on an overcast Saturday afternoon. As a certain slice of wellness-focused Angelenos seek new ways of meeting people outside of booze-filled bars, ice bath events, also known as cold water therapy, are emerging as communal experiences.
“We are moving away from the lower-frequency ways people used to meet each other,” said Jamie Daugherty, a working psychic, who credits a less alcohol-centric society and greater health consciousness for events like this one. Alcohol is “obviously not helping us or we wouldn’t be here,” she said, referring to the dating scene in L.A.
Daugherty, 28, felt like she was in good company. “The vibe feels trustworthy and good-spirited, like people are really happy, vibrant, excited and smiling. Ya know, like attracts like,” she said. “I could see myself meeting somebody I would click with at an ice bath.” While she didn’t find a match at this event, she thinks it’s possible at the next one. One of her friends met her now-husband at the ice bath center they both frequented. “I’m all about it.”
Meanwhile, a DJ played upbeat mashups of SoCal house meets funk and hip-hop. Scantily clad partygoers, most of them in bathing suits or shirtless, mixed and mingled outside the cold plunges too. They played flirty games of Twister, danced on the grass and sampled vegan pizza and CBD water.
IcePass L.A. didn’t set out to become a matchmaker, but to expedite long lines at one of its frequent pop-up events, it paired up willing plungers and noticed the duos became fast friends after braving the cold water together. “We’d always see them hug each other when they got out and exchange contact information,” said Aryan Davani, chief executive officer of IcePass L.A., “so we assumed they really connected.”
As for what to talk about during the three-minute speed date plunges, IcePass L.A. chief spirit officer Kyle Cassidy provided icebreaker questions like, “What does love mean to you?” and “When do you feel most alive?”
“They need to be deep questions that help people listen and understand the true light in the person they’re connecting with,” said Cassidy, who met his fiancée at a meditation and breathwork studio in Playa Vista.
While cold plunging has become more popular in recent years in Los Angeles, it’s been a practice in Scandinavian countries for hundreds of years. Athletes have used ice baths to promote faster healing and recovery. Dutch extreme athlete and wellness guru Wim Hof, known as “the Iceman,” evangelized the practice as key to his fitness method. Now the Kardashians plunge too and TikTok videos about ice baths get billions of views.
Participants were given icebreaker questions to ask each other while sitting in cold-water tubs. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Kyle Cassidy, chief spirit officer for IcePass L.A., leans in to kiss his fiancée, community manager Clarissa Aldrete. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
When Arjuna Wedman, a professional fighter who plunges consistently, got the text invite about the ice bath speed dating event, he RSVP’d right away. “I’m open to developing awesome new friendships and potentially meeting the love of my life,” said the 36-year-old. “Who knows? Anything could happen.”
As for cold plunging’s benefits beyond bonding chilly speed daters? There are theories about ice baths reducing stress and increasing dopamine, which can improve one’s mood, but there are also dangers for those with heart issues. A 2022 University of Norway review of 104 studies into the health benefits of cold-water plunging found some suggested a positive impact on weight loss or mental health, but many had a small number of participants of a single gender or inconsistent temperatures. More study is needed, the Norwegian researchers noted. Still, athletes use it to reduce inflammation. And IcePass L.A.’s Davani said cold-water therapy helped him build the mental resilience and inner strength he needed to get through a messy breakup in January.
Cassandra Melstrom, 39, a yoga teacher, said she finds that her daily plunges help her with anxiety and depression. At the speed dating event, she was partnered with Tommy Ashman, 25, an entrepreneur and first-time plunger, and described the ice bath as a bonding experience. Although Melstrom said her date was “too young,” they went for a second plunge anyway.
From Ashman’s perspective, the experience was a win. “There’s an element of community here that you don’t have in a bar where everyone’s drinking and there’s not an element of actual deep connection.”