Business in Boardshorts Podcast
EP10 – James Harder


Release Date: January 27, 2021

Location: Portland, ME

Guest Name: James Harder

Business Name(s):

  • Float Harder Relaxation Center
  • Ripple Float and Wellness Center

Business Website(s):

Intro (guest speaking): Inside a float tank, there’s 10 inches of water with about 1000 pounds of medical-grade Epsom salt dissolved into it that makes it to where you float effortlessly on the surface of the water, and the water inside is heated to about 94 degrees so it makes it to where you really start to lose the idea of where your body ends and the water and air begin when you’re floating in there.

Intro (host speaking): Welcome back or welcome to the Business In Boardshorts Podcast. Today’s guest is James Harder. He’s the owner of Float Harder Relaxation Center in Portland, Maine, the state’s first multi tank flotation center. A year later he began operating New England float partners, a company offering floating consultation, installation service and maintenance throughout the Northeast, and most recently, he opened ripple float and wellness in New Haven, Connecticut, offering floating, cryo, sauna, and massage. James, welcome to the show.

Guest: Awesome. Thanks for having me. It’s good to see you, man.

Host: Yeah, you too. So let’s start with your backstory. I know you had a lot going on in the early years before you went into the floatation arena, so can you give our listeners a little taste?

Guest: Yeah. I grew up in a military family, I’ve moved around a lot as a kid. I actually lived in Maine, Colorado, North Carolina, then moved to Germany the summer before my senior year which seemed brutal at the time, but actually ended up being such a great opportunity. After finishing high school there I joined the army, so came back to the States for basic training and AIT and then went right back over to Germany for my use of the military, got out, moved out to Colorado and back to Maine and back to Colorado. In 2013 my then-girlfriend, now wife, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. We were living out in Colorado, saved up some money, and then moved back east, kind of got everything set up. We took a bus down to Georgia and then went back home to Maine and it was during that time that we started thinking about what would be next in life. And, you know, when we were living out in Colorado in 2010, we had tried floating, and at that time, there was just one place in Denver, that had commercial float tanks, and we loved it. And we had some friends go and try it and we always had to kind of in the back of the mind how awesome floating was and when we got home to Maine, there was really no commercial float center in the state. So we did some research and found out what it would take to get one going and, yeah, made it happen.

Host: What is the vibe in Portland, Maine, for those that haven’t visited there?

Guest: Oh, Portland, Maine is a great city. It’s the largest city in Maine and it’s still a really small city. The population of Portland’s about 66,000, but it’s a great 66,000, it has everything you need and then most anything you could want. We have an amazing food scene. The food trucks are outstanding. The breweries, there’s so many great breweries. The live music scene really picked up over the last few years. Who knows what it’ll look like after all this COVID. But, you know, we’re hopeful that it’ll come out on top as well. But yes, it’s a great city, really small-town vibe, but everything you can want.

Host: How long did it take to go from the idea of opening the float center to actually doing it?

Guest: So it took us about two years to from the very first, it was kind of a joke at first, Amy and I were kicking around getting some gifts for some friends and we wanted to send them to afloat. So we’re like, “oh, what if we send them to a place down in Asheville, North Carolina”, where I live just south of there for a while and then I couldn’t find a place in Nashville. So I thought, “Wow, we should move to Asheville and start a float center” and Amy said “we’ll slow down, we’re not gonna just move across the country to start a business”, because we never really started a business. And so what if we did it in Portland? And we kicked the idea around a little bit more, and that was in the late fall of 2013 leading up to Christmas time. And then, yeah, the next year we really started doing some research. We were both working two or three jobs at a time saving up every penny we could. Put together a really thorough business plan working with the score business counselor, found a really awesome lender at Bangor Savings Bank, a local bank, who really helped us through the whole process as well. And yeah, then we secured a loan, then we spent probably seven months finding a location, another four or five months building out the location, and then we opened in April of 2016. So up to a little over two years from conception to opening day.

Host: And then how long was it? Was that an operation before you decided to open another?

Guest: So we were operating float harder for about six months before we started just organically growing what came to be New England Float Partners. People who didn’t really know what they were doing when they purchased float tanks would get in touch with us and say “Hey, could you come over and give me a hand with this?”, “Could you come take a look at our float tank?” and we started doing that. And, you know, we had done a lot of research so we had a good idea. And after six months of working with the equipment we really had a good feel of what we were doing and then just kept learning more and, yes, so that one grew on its own. And we did at about that time want to open a second location, which, you know, we’re trying to find a place that would be far enough away that we wouldn’t cannibalize our current business, but not so far that it was really difficult to operate two locations. You know, the population is pretty sparse in the northeast. So that was kind of a difficult task. But yeah, just earlier this year, we opened ripple float wellness with a friend down in Connecticut. And then COVID hit so that threw us for a loop, but we’ll bounce back from it. It’s gonna be great, beautiful spot.

Host: Are you able to have that in operation hours? It’s so close down.

Guest: Yeah, we just reopened ripple a few weeks ago. Yeah, we just can’t wait to show the people of New Haven what a great facility we have. It’s four float tanks, two infrared saunas, three massage rooms, and a cryotherapy chamber. So it’s gonna be red.
Host: Can you explain, I should ask this earlier. We’re on the same wavelength, we both love floating. Can you explain to the listeners what floating actually is? What is a float tank?

Guest: Yeah, for sure. So, float is a great tool for stress relief, pain relief, anxiety, depression, just a great tool for exploring your consciousness. It’s a small chamber. Inside a float tank, there’s 10 inches of water with about 1000 pounds of medical-grade Epsom salt dissolved into it that makes it to where you float effortlessly on the surface of the water, and the water inside is heated to about 94 degrees so it makes it to where you really start to lose the idea of where your body ends and the water and air begin when you’re floating in there. A lot of flow tanks have lights and speakers built into them so you can have a nice light on some music playing, or if you choose to, and you turn it all off it’s completely dark, completely silent and so your brain doesn’t have to process sight sound, gravity, temperature, and just a really unique environment for your brain to just turn off and relax.

Host: And there’s some float tanks that are open and then some of that are in closed, right?

Guest: Yep, yeah, so float tanks come in a few different styles. Some of them are sort of pod-shaped and then others are what is called a float room. So like at Flow Harder, our biggest float room is eight feet long, six and a half feet wide, and seven feet tall. So, you know, a lot of people worry about being in a small space, but it’s really not small. It’s a good-sized space. I mean, if you aren’t afraid to get into a car or hotel bathroom, then, you know, flow tanks bigger than that.

Host: What I love about the industry is every single float center that I’ve been to, it’s always different. The float pods may be a little different. The float rooms may be a little different, like the experience of floating is technically the same, but the experience with everything around it is so different and unique. I just think that’s it’s a really, really cool thing.

Guest: Yeah, absolutely and I think that that just comes down to floating so different for so many people and it’s so good for so many things. You know, at our place in Portland, we appeal to such a diverse group of people because like I said, people use it for everything from muscle recovery to pain relief. So, you know, we’ve got young tattoo-covered Jiu-Jitsu fighter athletes that come in and float for the muscle recovery. And then we’ve got, you know, 80-year-old women who come in for arthritis pain and just to relax. And then everything in between from pregnant women to, you know, weekend warrior athletes that just go hard on the weekend. So, yeah, just everything, everything in between.

Host: And how about cryotherapy? It’s nothing that I have done today. Can you explain what that is?

Guest: Yes. So cryotherapy, it happens inside of a Cryo Chamber where you stand in there and you’re wearing nothing but your underpants. And the air around you gets cooled with liquid nitrogen to about 230 degrees below zero and this causes your body to go into a real fight or flight mode, sends all your blood back to your core, and then when it goes back to your extremities brings with it a lot of important nutrients. It’s really good for reducing inflammation, it’s good for skin elasticity, it’s got a lot of benefits, again, widely used by a lot of athletes. At our place there in Connecticut, the day before we had to close down for COVID, we had 16 of the Yale’s men basketball players come and do a session before they were starting a basketball competition. So it’s a great tool, and it’s just invigorating as hell, man, when you get out of that thing, even if you go in kind of drowsy when you come out you’re ready to go. So it’s a lot of fun.

Host: You can not be alert and awakened. Once you get out of that is what you’re saying.

Guest: Absolutely. Yeah, I haven’t seen it happen.

Host: What would you say you’ve learned the most about business since you started the different these different businesses?

Guest: Jeez, just a little bit of everything. You know, I don’t come from a business background. Nobody in my family really comes from a business background. So, started from scratch and that’s really been the fun of it, you know when Amy and I first got the idea, we went to Barnes and Noble in Augusta, Maine and got those “Small Business For Dummies” book, and just started going through that page by page and chapter by chapter, just kind of figuring it out as we went. And that’s been a lot of fun. You know, before starting the business, I didn’t know what a triple net lease was. But you know, you have to learn about lease negotiations and then you have to learn about marketing and you have to learn about different demographics and advertising. And there’s just so much that goes into it, you know, accounting and the whole work. So it’s just fun to always have a new challenge. And even when you think you’ve gotten to a point where you know, there’s not something right at top of mind to learn, then it’s your job to figure out what you need to learn to move things forward even more.

Host: Every day is a little different because there always is something to learn or improve on.

Guest: Yeah, it’s not like a nine to five, where you show up and somebody gives you a list of what to do, you have to go out and figure out what your list of to-do is in order to keep things progressing. So it’s fun, you create your own problems and then you go solve them.
Host: Yeah. What would you say was epithets to actually start the business then? You’re not having any business background. Was it just, “Hey, let’s do this new challenge, we’ll figure it out.”

Guest: Oh, yeah. Amy and I, we’ve always liked challenging ourselves, you know, when we moved out to Colorado, you know, she’d never really moved across the country and away from home. And so that was a challenge, you know, and then we decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. And, you know, hike 2,200 miles in six months, and it was the best summer ever, but a hell of a challenge. And then we were home in Maine, and we were both working jobs that we really didn’t love and we missed floating. You know, he tried that when we lived out in Denver and we missed it and thought, you know, we’d love to share that with our friends and our family and the community. So, yeah, just won’t make it happen. Like you acknowledge, you know, floating it’s just, it’s great. And without a place around to do it, we just missed doing it and wanted to make it available to everyone.

Host: The audience is very wide and the different problems you may be facing, or it’s just more kind of like from a high-performance angle or peak performance you know, sports athlete kind of thing recovery. There’s so many different use cases for it. [I can’t understand]

Guest: Yeah, I definitely agree. I always compare it to, you know, when you’re at home and you’re in your bed and you think you’re getting good rest, your brain still processing all kinds of information, you know, the feel of the mattress, the temperature of the room, little sounds that you’re not even cognitively aware of, your brain still processing that. But when you get in the tank, and you turn off the lights and the music, and there’s none of that, your brain not doing anything. So yeah, except for thinking, which is the one that we can’t turn off for you, which becomes a really big, big obstacle for a lot of people, you know, and when you really get quiet for the first time, for some people ever, for some people for the first time in a long time, that monkey mind will just start racing. And in sometimes it goes away after a little while, sometimes you just got to get in there and go through your thoughts and then after a while, you just kind of zone out and get to the theta brainwave state is a great spot to just hang out and let your brain have some space. It’s a great tool.

Host: I always tell people that you got to do it four or five times, you can’t just do it once and, like you’re talking about, I remember thinking, well, I’ll just go in here, and I’m just gonna meditate and fall asleep, and it’s all gonna be sunshine and rainbows and I get out of it and I was like one of the things I just do, like, you know, mind’s going crazy. But as you do more that you just get more comfortable and now I pretty much always end up falling asleep, or in some state like that.

Guest: Yeah, I always say that the tank gives you what you need, not what you want, you know, you might get in there thinking that you want to explore your consciousness but you get in there, and you have something really weighing on your mind and it’s real heavy. And you have no distraction, you can’t run from it. So you might as well dig into it, you know, or you get in there and you want to explore some creative idea. But you find like “Oh, man, my shoulder is really having a nagging pain”, you know, and again, you can’t run from it. So just deal with it, and just spend some time being in your body. Yeah, it’ll give you what you need, and if you get in there, and you have that great idea, but you’re really exhausted, you’re just going to get to fall asleep and you’re going to get some great restorative rest. But yeah, like you said, sometimes you just get to that really deep theta brainwave state, it’s not quite sleep it’s something different. And it’s really fun because at our place, there’s an exit track, it’ll come on and let you know that your floats over and sometimes that comes on and the light comes back on and you just go “What the hell was that? Where was I? Was I sleep? Was I dreaming? Was I thinking?”, you know, it’s a real fun space to play around.

Host: I can count on this best life advice.

Guest: You know, I think it goes back to being on the Appalachian Trail. And there was always the best advice that was given to us on the Appalachian Trail was to not quit on a whim. You know, don’t just throw your hands up and give up. If you think you want to quit, then give it three more days. And after three more days, if you still want to quit, then maybe consider quitting, but just don’t quit on a whim.

Host: Well, I appreciate the time. Have a good rest of your night.

Guest: Take care.

Host: If you want to check out either of the flow centers mentioned in this episode, you can do so at and Thanks for listening.

Overview: James Harder has tried his hand at many different things in his 36 years. From farming, concert production, factory work, the US Army to backpacking and hitchhiking all over the place. He has taken the lessons learned, sometimes the hard way, and tried to make some sort of sense of this weird word. Since completing a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail with his wife in 2013 his focus has been primarily on the floatation industry.

After 2 years of research and preparation James and his wife/business partner Amy opened Float Harder Relaxation Center in Portland, Maine, the state’s first muti-tank floatation center. A year later they began operating New England Float Partners, a company offering float tank consultation, installation, service and maintenance all over the North East. James also serves on the board for the Floatation Tank Association and The Float Conference.

Most recently James and Amy have partnered with a friend to open Ripple Float and Wellness in New Haven, Connecticut offering floating, cryo, sauna, and massage. Spring of 2020, great time for their largest entrepreneurial venture yet. Right? When not working you can find James out running somewhere, enjoying some jammy tunes, watching/playing just about any sport or game and philosophizing over food and drink with good people.

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