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A Window Into the Floating World

Dive into your deep self with Crash Hoefler, the isolation tank pioneer of Venice Beach

MEL sent photographer Jared Ryder to hang out with Crash Hoefler, founder of Float Lab, at his original flotation center on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Hoefler has spent the last 17 years developing sensory deprivation chamber technology — he made float enthusiast Joe Rogan’s personal chamber — and is leading the charge to regulate the “float” industry as it grows (and he expands to a second location). He is an interesting dude.

Here’s what he told us about his career. You can check out more of Jared’s photos below.

I was always a functional junkie, I’d say.

After 25 years, I kind of left my uh, my world that I was involved in. Music and drugs and things like this, alcohol and girls. I used to own a nightclub, ran other nightclubs, I used to mix audio and stuff.

So I moved to Vegas to restart. I got a ranch and put a recording studio in it, 10 miles south of town, overlooking the city. You could fire a gun out there and no one would look.

And one day, I was out in the back in this property, and there was an old tank thing out there, probably for water for horses at some time. I put my head inside the tank, and was working on recording my voice in there, and it hit me: I’m supposed to build deprivation chambers.

I didn’t even know what that meant. But it hit me so strong I had to sit on a bench out there and think, what just happened? I wasn’t looking for anything new to do; I’d just built a studio. But I was attached to the past still; I would think about how I’d built up different things and destroyed them several times in my life, not on purpose, through my behavior.

But when I pulled my head out of that tank, I didn’t have any of that torment from the past. All that vanished.

So that was like 17 years ago.

The first chamber I built was kind of scary. I angled the tops to avoid condensation, so it kind of had a coffin-on-its-side look to it. I’d never considered that anybody’d be afraid to go into the thing — but nobody would get into it. That’s when I started building the big ones. Finally, I built rooms they could go into, so I could say, “Look, it’s a room. There’s the door. How ridiculous can you be?”

I’m one of those people that goes forever. Whoever picked me out to do this, they knew that I wouldn’t quit. All I stay focused on is developing the technology.

Disinfection, cleaning that water after someone’s gotten out of it, has always been the most important thing to me. You can’t be putting people in a contaminated space. That’s why our rigs cost so much — it’s an expensive thing to build. The chambers start like at $42,000 and go up to $50,000.

That first rig had a little ozone generator on there, just a little puny thing, what you would use in a hot tub. Now we’ve got one 20 times as strong, and UV lights — we were in a laboratory for two and a half years testing our stuff, and we’re NSA 50–certified, Underwriters Lab–certified [the gold standards for water filtration and consumer safety certification, respectively].

Some people set these places up, and the quality isn’t important to them. The overall success of the entire industry is important to me; I don’t want it messed up by opportunist-type people who think they can just do this and collect.

Now I have a patent on some other equipment that’s quite interesting as well, that has to do with cell manipulation. We have the future here, already.

I’m able to turn my mind off pretty fast these days. When I first went in there, I would be beat up bad at the end of an hour. I would hammer myself ferociously, evaluating my position in life. I was not relaxed.

But I was able to restructure my identity, and use this device to identify issues within myself that needed to be dealt with and changed and faced. That ability to look at themselves objectively and then act upon the consideration, I think that’s the most valuable aspect a person can get from floating.

I don’t go in there now and try to redefine myself in any way, because I feel like I’m skilled at proceeding through life with my own inclination. Once I was able to get past myself, that’s when I started doing some stuff that I really…

I was doing stuff in there that was quite, you know… different than what you might expect.

You try to let go of everything, try to zero out, try to blank your mind all the way blank. And if you can do that then you can get somewhere else. It becomes sort of a travel device.

It triggers something in you that’s natural. It somehow affects your… your essence.

I’m not saying that I would be opposed to people doing whatever they’re gonna do in there — this one guy used to drink something he’d mix up with roots, some sort of psychedelic, and vomit before he got in — I don’t care, I think that that has a place, and I wouldn’t want to pooh-pooh that. But the system itself does produce its own effects.

When I first started, I would get out of the chamber and I would just go and sit on this couch by myself without turning on any TV, music, anything. I was a heroin addict for a while, you know. Quite a while. And I used to get that feeling of contentment from heroin, where I wasn’t looking for something else. I might be slobbering or something, but I’m content.

I found the same type of security after floating. It somehow made me acceptable for consumption, my own consumption of myself.

— Crash Hoefler, as told to Sam Dean.