The Iceman Wim Hof

Image: Innerfire

By now, the name Wim Hof is synonymous with extremity. After first taking a spontaneous plunge into freezing water at 17, the now 61-year-old Dutchman known as ‘The Iceman’ around the world came to embrace and even advocate taking a daily, icy dip; since then, he’s dedicated himself to wellness via extreme methods, along the way breaking records for the furthest swim under ice, the longest full-body contact with ice, and the fastest barefoot half-marathon over ice and snow. He summited Mount Kilimanjaro in two days, wearing only shorts and shoe, and made it three-quarters of the way up Mount Everest wearing the same.

What book, I wanted to know, do you read once you’ve done that? What music could possibly inspire you? What film could keep you entertained? So, I rang up Wim Hof to find out.

His answers, delivered enthusiastically over a Zoom call from his home, mostly centre on films, TV and books that reflect his worldly, adventurous nature. But did they inspire Hof’s extreme life, or was he interested in them because he was already innately drawn to adventure?

“I think the last one came first. It was already destined within me. I always wanted to rescue the animals in the world, from when I was very young, when I had no perceptions of film, literature, anything. I love adventure, being one of the good guys. When I was 12, I was already into psychology, and Hinduism, and I decided: there is war, there is cruelty to animals, there is abuse, bad behaviour all over, people are unhappy. And I swore, right there, I’m going to turn the tables! I was genetically being that way.

“But then,” he says, “my role models became anything that inspired me. Musicians, literature.”

So enthralled by the media and culture he loves, Hof is practically shouting for most of our call, often about humanity’s potential, both when it comes to art (“We are stars in our own film, the film of life!”) and in reality. He connects both his practice of deep breathing – as explained in his new book The Wim Hof Method – and his forays into cold water with his ability to relate deeply to the art he loves.

“Cold water is able to make you feel deeply within, because you have to. You have to awaken control deeply within to withstand cold water. That makes you able to connect with that depth within.”

And with that, we got talking about Hof’s favourites: the original, black-and-white King Kong; “beautiful” arena rock megastars Coldplay; and the Scottish comedian whose over-the-top yelling reminds Hof of himself.

Film: King Kong

You know, because I’m 61 now, when I first saw King Kong, black and white. That was amazing! That struck me. Any film that strikes you, that’s your film. That was King Kong. And then Tarzan! Johnny Weissmuller, he was playing it! He was starring in that film: [Hof issues a speaker-crackling Tarzan call] we were all the time doing that in the forest, as youngsters, you know?

I just came back yesterday from the Costa Brava, to check out a location, and I drove past Johnny Weissmuller’s house! Because next year, they are going to make a Hollywood movie about my life! I’ve been climbing without gear; I lost my way under the ice in just shorts, not knowing where is the hole, because my cornea froze; I lost my way on Mount Everest in a whiteout, in shorts, man!! In shorts!! And then I had this emotional disaster in my life, the suicide of my wife [in 1995]! Creating a nest of warmth for my children! Bringing up four kids with no money! It’s all gonna be shown in the film. I’m very happy that Joseph Fiennes came to me, and wants to star in this film – he’s going to play me! He goes into the depth. He’s training right now. 

But it began with King Kong and Tarzan. And then, when I saw Gladiator, I had to cry. I recognised so much of my own life, because I lost my wife in 1995. I was broken-hearted, but I came bake therefrom. Oh and E.T., man – I cried five times. Steven Spielberg! That mother****er is beautiful. He makes amazing films, and touches millions of people.

TV: Thunderbirds

Thunderbirds! The puppets! Virgil, Scott, Tracy, Penelope! Thunderbird 1 going to the satellite, that’s number 5! And then number 2, the green one, always going on missions and dropping Thunderbird 4 out! And number 3 going to space, the beautiful orange rocket – all these flashy colours! [He sings the show’s theme song with gusto.] Mesmerising! It was a whole series for years and years. I had all the collector figures. I tell everyone, look to your favourite TV shows, look at the stars, but also: look at yourself! You are starring, and you should radiate like a star!

Art: Salvador Dalí and Johannes Vermeer

Salvador Dalí! But also, Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch painter. He works with blues, the colour blue. So intrinsically you almost need sunglasses to see his paintings. It’s some kind of magic. Magic is making art; magic is life! But if you know how to capture it, you make it really alive for yourself and others. And Vermeer did this, Dalí did this. And Gaudi, the buildings; yesterday I was driving through Barcelona and I saw the Sagrada Familia, the towers and all. The way he made a whole village in this style. It all comes back to the self, expressing the self. What is your story? What is your self? As long as we feel this, we can make it. I love life; I paint, I love sculpting, I love my garden.

Music: Coldplay, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan

You know Coldplay? Beautiful! Pink Floyd, amazing, Bob Dylan, and the whole thing of Woodstock: that kind of music. The revolution was on then! Flamenco inspires me a lot; I love to play the guitar like a Flamenco player. I’m inspired by the philosophical part of Pink Floyd, and the revolutionary songs of Bob Dylan. They’re all role models.

Fiction: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

The part that really resonated with me, this was like 40, 50 years ago. I was a lot into yoga, when it was really not known. I was strange, I was a stranger. Then I found this book, and he talked as a yogi. And then he came across himself later in life, and saw, ‘But that’s me.’ But his knowledge is deeper. I loved that book, because I felt alone. I was into the Eastern traditions. And when you find a book that talks about all that, and how to liberate the mind, it resonates. It left a deep imprint on my heart, and mind.

Non-Fiction: The Drama of Being a Child

My wife is really into this book about drama and trauma. I think it’s time we learned to release the trauma of all our hereditary past. It is time for change anyway, and we need to wake up – otherwise we’re going to destroy this world and make it uninhabitable. The title is The Drama of Being a Child [by Alice Miller]. She keeps talking to me about it, the trauma we all have that holds us back. The world causes it! What is this system that makes some people earn 2000 times more than somebody else? It creates an enormous discrepancy, it creates tension. And in one way or another, it creates trauma. All of what is going on in the world, children dying of hunger, and a couple of people earning so much money! We are serving a system, and not necessarily ourselves, our happiness, our health.

Comedy: Billy Connolly

I like this Scotsman, Billy Connolly. He is really hilarious. The way he talks about all [adopting a Scottish accent] ‘these people in power! It’s a club, and you! are! not! in it!!!’ That’s the way he talks, and I love it. He is really pinpointing with his deep voice, and he yells onstage. And I do that too onstage, at certain moments! I will show my ass onstage ­– I don’t care [building to shouting], because life is beautiful! ‘Look at my ass!! Beautifuuulll!’ We should shed the inhibition that’s laid upon us. You should feel free in the moment! How do you feel? Make it happen!

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