The serene shores of Coogee Beach, a popular Sydney suburb, have recently become the backdrop to a contentious dispute between local authorities, ice bath operators, wellness enthusiasts, and residents.
The operators, Somatic Ice and the Happy Human Project, have been organising early morning ice bath and breathwork sessions in Coogee since early 2023 but they have been recently told by Randwick Council that they are no longer welcome.
This abrupt turn of events has left both operators and the community perplexed. The issue highlights the clash between the rising wellness trend of ice baths and its potential risks.
Ice Bath Sessions at Coogee Beach
Somatic Ice has been hosting weekly group sessions, accommodating around 50 participants, every Saturday at 6:30 a.m. since February. The sessions were typically held at the southern end of Coogee Beach.
Meanwhile, resilience coach Nick White, operating under the Happy Human Project, scheduled his ice bath groups every fortnight on Sunday mornings at 8:00 a.m. from the northern end of the beach.
Initially, both Somatic Ice and the Happy Human Project received a degree of support from Randwick Council. They applied for permits, with the Council expressing an interest in creating a special permit category for ice bath groups to facilitate their activities. This development aimed to foster post-COVID community engagement and well-being.
Council’s Sudden Rejection
However, the situation took an unexpected turn. In September, Mr White received an email from a Council staff member, stating that his application was likely to be rejected. The email mentioned that the ice bath activities were not supported by the Council due to complaints and the need to balance the needs of various beachgoers. The decision appeared to surprise Mr White, as he cited no previous issues or incidents during their sessions.
Saoirse McGrath, founder of Somatic Ice, also received similar news. Her permit application was met with rejection, and they were informed that rangers might issue fines if they continued the ice bath sessions. According to Ms McGrath, the objections primarily came from a single resident who frequently reported their activities to the council.
Community Impact and Controversy
The sudden ban on ice bath sessions at Coogee Beach has had ripple effects within the community. Local businesses, especially cafes and shops in the vicinity, benefited significantly from the influx of participants. The gatherings provided a social platform for participants to connect, socialize, and foster a sense of community.
Lucy Bloom, president of the local chamber of commerce, Business Coogee, emphasised the financial advantages brought by these sessions to local businesses, estimating thousands of dollars in revenue. She expressed hope that the Council would reconsider its stance, considering the positive impact on business and community cohesion.
Both Somatic Ice and the Happy Human Project have initiated online petitions urging Randwick Council to reconsider and allow the ice bath sessions to continue at Coogee Beach. The dispute reflects the delicate balance between community wellbeing, business interests, and the regulation of emerging wellness trends.
“Somatic Ice isn’t just icebaths; it’s a community. It’s where we maintain our physical and mental well-being. The amount of us that come together each week, make friends, have fun & do something better for ourselves. We all absolutely love the feeling we get on a Saturday morning and can feel the benefits of it through the week.”Somatic Ice
“The whole purpose of Happy Hour is to provide a space to connect with like-minded humans doing fun, resilience-building activities together on the beach. Its intention has always been to improve people’s mental wellbeing and get them out meeting new people in a friendly, open environment. Because making friends as an adult is hard, right? It’s never just been about the ice baths, it’s about giving you an hour of good that stays with you throughout the whole week.”Happy Human Project
Expert Opinions on Ice Bath Trend’s Safety and Efficacy
While the ice bath trend gains popularity, questions about its safety and effectiveness have been raised by experts. Advocates of ice baths claim numerous physical and mental health benefits, such as relieving post-exercise inflammation and developing mental strength and resilience. However, concerns have been expressed regarding the practice’s potential risks.
Cold water immersion therapy, often referred to as ice baths, has become a favoured recovery method among athletes and wellness enthusiasts. It is inspired by the teachings of Wim Hof, the Dutch wellness expert, and is said to push individuals out of their comfort zones, fostering mental strength and physical endurance.
However, Professor Mike Tipton, a cold water immersion specialist, acknowledged that individuals partaking in ice baths, whether at home or in public, lack proper education about the potential dangers of immersing oneself in freezing water.
The concerns were underscored by a recent tragic incident where a 39-year-old British woman suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia while participating in a cold water immersion session with friends. Although her undiagnosed condition played a significant role in her death, Mr Tipton revealed that such incidents were not uncommon.
Mr Tipton further warned that cold water immersion can induce a high incidence of cardiac arrhythmias, particularly among young and healthy individuals. The risk increases when individuals engage in breath-holding and face immersion. He noted that many of the claimed benefits of ice baths, including improved immune function and increased alertness, are based on anecdotal evidence and may be more of a placebo effect.