Saunatimes interview series continues. I am pleased to welcome and introduce Sauna Jack, a kindred spirit from one continent and many thousands of miles away:
When and how did you first get exposed to sauna?
The first time I had a sauna was with my dad when I was maybe 9 years old. We were on holiday for a week at some resort 8 hours north of Sydney. I don’t remember it very well, and I definitely wasn’t hooked…. But nor did I dislike it. It actually laid important early ground.
Because the next time I had a sauna was in Finland about 12 years later, near the end of a year travelling Europe. I’d studied in Hamburg for 6 months and met a Finnish guy. I was travelling through Helsinki for a few days on the way home because it was a Finnair flight, and I figured I’d see the north. Riku invited me to his family’s summer house for a few days, somewhere outside of Tampere. It was a properly lake-side situation in the Finnish summer, so it was totally glorious. I hadn’t even thought about sauna, but sure enough they had one. And I was excited. That childhood experience rolled through my mind and made me want it.
And it was wonderful. Watching Riku’s dad in the sauna was especially impactful. It’s weird … I think I admired how casually he orchestrated this quite complex routine, and how casually he held himself in the box. We had a beer in the sauna, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was happy to sit naked, without worry, even though it’s not something I’d done before. He was naked, so why not.
They had a wharf jutting out into the lake, I jumped off it many times. Then I had lunch and more beer. Wow what a day. That was 2007.
Did you build your sauna?
Eventually my friends and I bought our own sauna off eBay. So no, I didn’t build it – and I’m sad to say I’ve never built a sauna. But I’ve only lived in inner-city rental properties, there’s been no chance. Happily, however, I just acquired a 26 acre rural property 3 hours from Sydney. So there’ll be a sauna built soon.
But the one I have is outstanding! A true champion of a box. Runs a 4.5kw Helo heater and takes 45 minutes to reach 230ºF. Fits up to 4 people sitting. So it’s pretty small – which means it’s a beast! It would be finer with 3kw, but the 4.5kw gives it real grunt.
I think it was built by the people we bought it off. My friend and I had to drive 14 hours north of Sydney in a hired truck, so it was about 1500 miles return in 40 hours. We stayed over night with the people we bought it from. An old German couple who invited us to stay the night, and even fed us breakfast and packed us lunch. It was hilarious. He had built the house and I’m pretty sure also the sauna.
The box packed down into walls, roof, door, heater, rocks. It just needed a few screws to erect. The roof fits on the frame perfectly without screws. We got it home, but man what a crazy drive back.
The hardest part was getting power to it. We hadn’t thought about that, and it needed to be right down the back of the property, a mile from the front power box. It took our friend 2 full afternoons to run a cable down from the front, under the house. The landlord never realized it was there for the next 4 years.
So between 5 guys it was AU$2500 – $500 each for the sauna, truck hire, and wiring. But it was the best investment we ever made. It was the start of the Saunatarian movement.
Tell us a little about your sauna routine
You can see I’m into detail, so I’ve written a post about my routine here. In brief, I’d say that I like a first set of 10-15 mins, only pouring water on the rocks after I’m soaked in sweat. Then I have a few more sets of 5-10 minutes. Often several short sets if I’m on my own – blasting intense heat for 5 mins, taking a breather and a cold shower, then back for more.
When I’m with friends it’s usually 2 longer sets because we talk the time away. Sometimes a third and fourth set with my fellow saunatarian friends (and the odd enthusiastic newbie).
I REALLY like to hammer the heat. I love warming up slowly, then getting super hot. The small box is great for that. It’s perfect actually – turns into a steam room with a few scoops, but you’ve had clear dry heat up till then. And moist on dry is not the same as full moist. Pretty great option. I’ve got a nice small ladle, and also one that’s 3x bigger which I call The Firebomb. Named for the carnage it creates.
I’d say I have a sauna around 340 days of the year. So not every single day, but pretty much.
Regarding sauna in Australia, are you pretty much a Robinson Crusoe? (On your own island)?
Not quite, but almost. Australia is strange. Most people know what sauna is, and saunas aren’t uncommon in gyms, hotels, and resorts. But they also haven’t penetrated into the cultural consciousness. There are virtually ZERO public bathhouses in Australia exclusively focused on sauna and steam. We have swimming pools in every neighbourhood (and a great beach culture), but zero sauna culture.
One of the few exceptions is the world-famous Bondi Beach. It has a surf club with a well-known ocean swimming pool, but a few years back my friends and I discovered that they also have an amazing sauna!! It has full panel glass windows on the front, so you look out to the ocean. It’s pretty special. I even saw a whale from there once! My friend watched dolphins one day. Super sauna tip for Sydney! It only costs a few bucks to get in as well.
There are some other nice saunas around, and I can’t claim that I’ve travelled the breadth of the nation seeking them out.
And in a way, there are sauna people in Australia – at least if you aren’t looking for many. They aren’t common, but they are around. Plenty of the Bondi people are regulars in that sauna, for example. Plus me and my friends. And I’m always meeting new Saunatarians – people who totally get it and come round for a sauna with great excitement.
But overall sauna is desperately under-appreciated in Australia. Even the US has much more grassroots sauna culture, for comparison. I’m trying to change that.
What are your sauna plans?
Wow Glenn, you couldn’t have asked a bigger question! Basically my plans are to start a global sauna revolution.
The world is like Australia – people know what sauna is, but it’s not properly widespread (outside a few places). Which is ridiculous, given how amazing it feels, and given how much EVERYONE is looking for an escape in this crazy fast-paced world.
I’m buoyed by how many friends we’ve converted in the home sauna. So many people have come around with no real idea and left with a completely new appreciation of the glory and power of sauna. I want to replicate this on a world scale.
I even started the hashtag #saunamakespeoplehappy to capture everything that’s good about the box. People should use it on Instagram!
After many years, I started thesaunatarian.org. That was only 3 weeks ago. My plan to is spread the good heat all over the world, one sauna (and one conversation) at a time.
I call it THERMOVENAGELISM. This is the hallmark of anyone who truly loves sauna – you don’t just want it for yourself, you want it for others.
But I can’t do it on my own. We need armies of thermovangelists preaching the gospel of heat all over the world. I am convinced the world population will be interested. Sauna doesn’t require any sacrifice of your existing worldview or identity, it just makes you feel amazing. Truth is in the body.
In saunam perpetuam.
Thanks for having me!