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Talks with the Women of Driftwood Sauna

Driftwood sauna


Women are to be celebrated every single day! In the spirit of this month we are highlighting two innovative minds, Ali Hartwig and Whitney Bulterman, that brought bathing out of the spa and on to the road. Residing in the sacred Northern California Costal Mountains, Driftwood Sauna, awaits its next mobile bathing adventure near you. 

Buckle up as we dive into some heated topics: saunas, safe spaces, and how they've made it work during COVID. 

Tell us about bringing the heat!

DW: We have a custom designed and hand-built mobile cedar sauna that we bring wherever our curiosity leads us or wherever the people need us along the California coast. Everyone that doesn’t live in California thinks California is warm and sunny all the time. Wrong. You guys know that there are days where the fog doesn’t lift and that cold water surfing can leave you with a deep-in-the-bones chill that nothing but the core cooking heat of a sauna or hot bath will thaw. 

We host pop-ups and invite folks to book hour long private sessions in whatever wild location inspires us. We also book the sauna for daily, weekend, or weekly private rentals. 

How has being a women-owned sauna impacted your building, in practice and in its development?

DW: For me, this path to create a beautiful space, an oasis, felt really natural. I was thinking of putting savings towards purchasing a home and then realized that the space I wanted to create wasn’t for myself, it was to share and give back to all the amazing folks in my life and those I’ve yet to meet and be inspired by. 

There are quite a few urban bathhouses and spas that are woman-owned that were an inspiration to me during the ideation phase. Citywell in Brooklyn, Asha Urban Bathhouse in Sacramento, and Loyly in Portland. 

I love a good challenge and there was something really exciting about doing something unexpected- building both a structure and business from scratch. It’s such a blast watching the curious faces as I hop out of my giant truck and unhitch the sauna, then the wheels turning and stereotypes dismantling as I easily answer detailed questions about the build. I want to see more women as business owners, builders, and creators. I hope that by taking the plunge and entering these arenas, it’s planting a seed in other women’s minds to go for it and turn their curiosity into a reality as well. 

How do you see mobile saunas as creating a safe-space for women? 

DW: Driftwood certainly creates a mental and energetic safe space for women. The space is pure - crisp cedar interior, soft lighting, deep relaxing heat. The magic is that the vibe in the sauna is whatever you bring in there. It’s a beautiful place where you can just escape with a few of your favorites or drop in solo and sweat out whatever isn’t serving you. 

There’s no equipment needed, no worry about what to wear, no performance anxiety. So many places that we turn to to unwind demand that we do or consume something. The pace of modern society is demanding and stressful and we just wanted to create an accessible space where women can just BE. 

Is there anything you wish to share with other women about Driftwood Sauna or the Sauna community?

DW: Come find us! I love meeting other women, hearing their stories, and offering a space where all women can create their personal oasis. I’ve been so inspired by how guests have used the space - as an alternative location for bookclub, full spa vibes with body scrubs and masks, a new moon night with tarot and tinctures. Basically, it’s like having your own personal clubhouse. 

For those new to baking in dry heat, can you explain a little more about the experience and what it feels like?

DW: Absolutely! The main thing is to listen to your body and drink tons of water. It feels amazing to just be enveloped by this soft heat, feeling yourself start to sweat, then emerge into the cool air. The cold plunge, at least on your final round, is a must. 

The experience should never be uncomfortable (i.e. make you feel dizzy or lightheaded). I think there’s a misconception that one should be sitting in the sauna for a really long time or that there’s some kind of competition for who can stay in the longest. I recommend enjoying the sauna in cycles, spending about 10-20 minutes inside the sauna then taking a break to enjoy the fresh air or a cold plunge. I always tell people to feel totally comfortable popping out at any point as tolerance for the heat varies by person and, for me, even by day.

Where did you find the inspiration to build Driftwood Sauna? 

DW: A million different places but the wheels really started turning for me on a ladies surf retreat in Pavones, Costa Rica. I had a stressful job in tech, spending my days in front of the computer, and just burned out. My reset button has always been getting myself somewhere warm as quickly as possible, so I quit my job and booked this February retreat. The retreat - being warm, feeling at peace, and taken care of - left me feeling so fulfilled and rejuvenated. I was inspired to create the feeling of going on a retreat, but that didn’t require a week’s vacation time (or a week’s salary!) to feel the benefits of a beautiful self-care experience. I wanted to meet people where they were and bring the experience to them. A travel sauna became my solution.

The Driftwood Sauna has a super unique shape. How did you come up with the design? And it's all hand built, right? 

DW: The shape and design is centered around the 15 degree angled interior backrests. The major complaint about every sauna we’d ever been in is the rigid, straight benches. This design makes the sauna feel super spacious and comfortable. I lived in Colorado for 10 years before moving to California so I was drawn back to CO to work with my friend Luke on the design and build. The design and style is definitely a nod to the rustic mountain cabins of the Rocky Mountains and NorCal coast. I love that it embodies both chapters of my life and feels right at home to enjoy post surf or apres ski. 

Driftwood Sauna is nuanced in that you can drive a sauna anywhere with a road. How has this changed the way you approach communal bathing and accessibility? 

DW: Firstly, I love pop-up culture and the idea of building, breaking, moving, and shaking. Having a mobile sauna has really opened up the places in which we can take up space, temporarily, to create beautiful and impactful experiences. Everywhere I look, I’m now thinking, “Can I put a sauna there?” 

In a lot of cases, the gorgeous location that you want to enjoy for a few hours is prime real estate, making it physically or financially inaccessible. Being low impact, temporary, and mobile, we can set up in locations that give the most exclusive spas and retreats a run for their money :) 

How has COVID impacted Driftwood Sauna? I hear that saunas kill covid, is this true? 

DW: The original pop-ups for Driftwood were open and communal and fabulous. You would book a seat in the sauna or stumble off the trailhead or beach and hop in. Obviously, this wouldn’t fly for COVID safety and I struggled initially with how to shift our model. Luckily, our operation was really well suited for a change without the overhead and volume demands of a brick and mortar. 

We currently book each session as a private one or two hour experience for individuals in the same pod. This allows people to share the sauna with their trusted circle and we hold 30 minutes of downtime, allowing ample time to sanitize and for each group to have space to arrive and leave between sessions. 

There was a WHO study noting that coronaviruses can’t survive in temps over 150 (ours runs 150 - 185) and we certainly love that evidence! While we don’t know definitively if sauna kills Covid, we do know that there are incredible physical and mental benefits to regular sauna use and anything that bolsters your health during this time is a yes for us. 

How can folks sauna right now? 

DW: Head over to our website (driftwoodsauna.com) and jump on our list to be the first to know about monthly pop-ups and events. We’ll be in the Santa Cruz / Bay Area for a bit so definitely make sure you sign up if you’re in this area. 

If a private daily, weekend, or weekly rental is your jam, shoot us an inquiry at driftwoodsauna.com/bookus

Our last question is what's been super interesting and keeping you curious in the world of bathing right now? 

DW: Oh man, what isn’t keeping me curious? 

I’m excited to see a rise in soak + sweat culture in the U.S. I think we’re finally slowing down enough to tap into the healing power of a good soak or sweat and see the transformative impact of what many other cultures have incorporated as part of their daily ritual for years. 

I’m also excited to explore low impact and sustainable soak + sweat experiences. I love the idea of doing something that makes me feel good that also does no harm. It’s hard to use resources without thinking about the impact and I feel like there’s a ton of opportunity to get creative in this way. Hackathon for a fully solar powered sauna??

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Pay Driftwood Sauna a visit and experience the magic of restoration for yourself. Check their calendar availability or rent their facility for a private event!

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