Photographed above by @nungdadon
It was a -20C day in Canada when Ron Batuigas decided to jump into a frozen lake and play a game of chess. Yes, you read that right. Batuigas and his friend stripped down to their bathing suits and lowered themselves into the water to challenge their body and mind in the frigid temperatures. Cold dipping has become part of the zeitgeist but for Batuigas, and so many more, it’s not a health fad with an Instagram opportunity. Ever since his first cold dip on 6 November 2020, Batuigas hasn’t missed a day and the practice has become a central part of his life.
A graphic designer by trade, Batuigas loved and lived for the nightlife. Being paid to party and organize events downtown Toronto, he says it wasn’t just what he loved to do, it was the central part of his social life. But when the pandemic shut down all the bars and clubs, Batuigas found himself questioning his relationship with the nightlife and whether alcohol and fleeting friendships were as fulfilling as he thought they were. The answer to those questions were in the most unexpected place: Lake Ontario.
When his friend Nick McNaught invited him to the beach to try a “cold dip,” Batuigas, who swam growing up, agreed to try just to get out of the house. Like everyone during the pandemic, he was desperate for social interaction but it was winter. In Canada. Not normal beach or swimming weather—but that was the point. Batuigas got into the freezing lake and instantly loved the experience. “I did it and I loved it and I met new people. Ever since then, I haven’t stopped. I’ve done it consecutively up to this point. Either ice bath or going for a swim,” Batuigas says. “The flow of water just calms me down. It’s limitless, I feel limitless. I find it energizing. Even if there is no sun, I feel energized in the water.”
A month after his first dip,Batuigas had the opportunity to take care of a friend’s resort north of the city. With the hotel empty because of the pandemic and winter starting to set in, Batuigas saw it as an opportunity to return a favor. He invited McNaught to cold dip at the resort with him and that’s when the pair decided to play the game of chess that went viral. But it was really the start of so much more.
Out of that trip, Batuigas and Nick Mcnaught, along with two other two friends, Lisa Kricfalusi and filmmaker Zach Ramelan, developed Unbounded: a group that hosts cold camps and guides people through the experience of cold exposure with breath and movement. Eventually, Batuigas also became a co-pilot at Othership, a bathhouse in Toronto for cold and hot therapies with breath work and a social twist. While embracing the cold brought countless new opportunities into Batuigas’s life, it has been the personal change that has kept him loyal to the ritual.
Change, Purpose, and Resilience
Batuigas is a proponent for the health benefits of cold dipping such as enhanced creativity, stress reduction, improved mental health, and increased energy, referencing Wim Hof, the Huberman Lab, and Susanna Søberg as popular resources; but, it comes down to the foundational shift that Batuigas experienced within himself. “It changed my life,” he says. “When I did the cold plunge and challenged myself to do it every day, it gave me purpose. There was something about that— the resilience— that if I can do this, I can do anything,” he explains. That sense of empowerment is why Batuigas keeps coming back and why he sees other people embracing the cold and cold culture taking off into the mainstream. “I think why most people get into the cold, is the resilience. If I can handle this, you’ll handle everything in your life.”
He says cold dipping continuously brings positive change into his life, even prompting him to tackle his fear of public speaking, and that people have taken notice. “People who have watched me from the beginning of my journey actually witness how it helped me and changed my life. Everywhere I go, people say I look different. Also cold water is good for the skin,” he laughs. Sharing his experience and personal growth on social media, Batuigas acts as an invitation into cold culture and that is something he is very proud of.
“The biggest accomplishment is the community. I get a lot of direct messages of how I impacted people’s lives. It’s a big thing for me. I’m doing it for myself but also I’m really helping other people step out of their comfort zone.” He says reading about other people’s stories makes him feel connected to them. That connection is even greater in person and more fulfilling than the fleeting friendships he experienced on the nightlife scene. “I found real people. In the nightlife scene, I met people but there wasn’t a connection. You don’t remember their names the next day, but in cold culture it’s all genuine people leaning toward the same goal of bettering themselves.”
800 Days and Counting
For anyone that is counting, Batuigas is up to around 800 consecutive days of cold exposure. “The benefits for myself are still continuing, so I want to continue,” he says. “It boosts everything.” Now, he is working on another aspect of cold dipping: submersion. Wearing goggles and using straw breathing (literally breathing through a metal straw), Batuigas submerges his head under the freezing water for a limited period of time while controlling his breathing. “It’s my new challenge,” he says.
For anyone who thinks cold therapy is still “out there,” Batuigas just smiles: “you just gotta try it.”
Batuigas chooses THEMAGIC5 Blue Magic Mirror Silver because they “don’t fog up, even with the ice.” He urges any one interested to start slow and small and find an experienced friend, group, or cold coach to guide the first experience.