The frosty methods of the multi-million dollar company behind Wim Hof

The frosty methods of the multi-million dollar company behind Wim Hof

October 24, 2023
criminal justice, meditation, law

Original in de Volkskrant published 21 Oct 2023

By Anneke Stoffelen

A message from ‘ice man’ Wim Hof, this spring on Instagram: ‘Don’t worry about your fears. Embrace them!’ In the video you see the 64-year-old wellness guru stepping into an apparently icy lake in front of a brown rock. His gray hair drips in wet strands over his shoulders. “The fear of cold is logical,” says Wim Hof’s voice in the voiceover, while on screen he blows out short bursts of air above the water surface. “But if you do the breathing first, you will see that the fear disappears.”

It is one of the many inspiring texts that Wim Hof ​​presents to his 3.3 million followers. Or rather: by his son’s employees, because Hof is not on social media – ‘he has better things to do’.

In terms of style and ingredients, the video does not deviate from his other posts full of water, ice and uplifting words, but it is salient: you could deduce from this video that you should first do Wim Hof’s breathing exercises before immersing yourself in ice-cold water.

It is precisely this combination of ‘breathwork’ and water that is the reason why Wim Hof ​​and his son’s company, Innerfire, are facing a multi-million dollar claim in the United States. 17-year-old Madelyn Metzger drowned there in 2022. According to her father, this happened after doing breathing exercises from the Wim Hof ​​Method. He has demanded compensation of more than 63 million euros from Wim Hof ​​and Innerfire.

Wim and his son Enahm Hof ​​requested last summer to cancel the case, because they would never have sold products in California and the court would therefore not have jurisdiction. This week the judge in Los Angeles ruled against them. This means that Wim and Enahm will have to answer for Madelyn’s death in 2024.

On August 10, 2022, Raphael Metzger last saw his daughter at 9:30 a.m., the complaint shows. It was a warm summer day in Los Angeles, and Madelyn came into his home office to say good morning to her father. She hugged the cats and told them that that day she was going to work on an explanation video about mathematics for her university admissions. She walked out of the office and Metzger, herself a personal injury attorney, went back to work. He was busy and skipped lunch. So it wasn’t until late that afternoon that he discovered Madelyn lying face down in the garden pool. Drowned, in water where she could just stand.

Metzger only discovered his daughter’s interest in the Wim Hof ​​Method after her death. This method, sold worldwide by Innerfire as an online course and shared via social media, is based on three pillars: breathing exercises, cold and ‘mindset’. The promises include more energy, better sleep, a stronger immune system and relief from conditions such as migraines, asthma, COPD and MS.

With Sittard-born Wim Hof ​​as the eccentric poster boy, Innerfire has managed to reach millions of people worldwide. He had meetings in Hollywood with celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Streisand and Tom Hanks. The Netflix documentary The Goop Lab by actress Gwyneth Paltrow devoted an episode to the Wim Hof ​​Method in 2020; Last year the BBC even made a 6-part series in which famous British braved the cold with Hof.

That audience of millions included a teenage girl in Los Angeles. The case about her drowning is the first legal case against Hof, but the issue is not an isolated one. This summer, American journalist Scott Carney collected a list of eighteen deceased drowning victims who were involved in the Wim Hof ​​Method - more than half of whom died in the past two years. Director Britt Jackson of Shallow Water Blackout Prevention, an American foundation committed to swimming safety, has also seen an increase since 2022. This is, she suspects, because ‘many famous people talk about his method’.

It is remarkable that Carney, the author of the bestseller What doesn’t kill us , delivers this message. In that book he describes how, as an initial skeptic of the Wim Hof ​​Method, he eventually became convinced of its many health effects. He befriended Hof and climbed Kilimanjaro with him.

The turning point came at the end of 2022, when Carney posted a YouTube video containing a few critical comments about the Innerfire organization. “Then Enahm Hof ​​started threatening me, filed complaints with YouTube and had my channel taken down,” Carney said in a video interview. Enahm himself states that he only told Carney that he could sue him because of his ‘clearly untrue reporting’.

Carney found this intense reaction to relatively mild criticism alarming enough to delve further into Innerfire. In a short time he came across several drowning cases. “I still believe there are many good aspects to the method,” Carney emphasizes. Yet he thinks it is important to point out dangers ’that no one talked about before’. The drownings he discovered were mostly in the US. ‘It could easily involve hundreds of cases worldwide. And they are unnecessary deaths, aren’t they? They do not die due to a medical side effect, but due to misleading information from Wim Hof.’

Wim Hof ​​himself did not respond to a contact request from de Volkskrant via Innerfire. It is therefore unclear how he personally views this accusation. His son Enahm says that his father ‘always’ warns about the risks.

Raphael Metzger’s attorney, Scott Brust, emphasizes on the phone that the Madelyn drowning case is not about the death of an individual. ‘My client wants to prevent other young, healthy people from becoming unnecessary victims.’ Brust calls Hof ‘a danger to public health’ and wants to ban Innerfire from further spreading his method, ‘at least in California and preferably in the United States as a whole’.

Brust therefore calls on relatives of other drowned Wim Hof ​​adepts to tell their story before the jury. ‘So we can show that there is a pattern here.’

It concerns people who drown due to shallow water blackout, fainting under water. This can happen if you (repeatedly) hold your breath under water for too long, as freedivers do, for example, but also if you hyperventilate before going under. The Wim Hof ​​breathing exercise consists of thirty to forty rapid, deep breaths - a kind of hyperventilation - after which you exhale extra deeply and then hold your breath, ‘until you feel the urge to breathe again’. Although the method is not aimed at this, many Wim Hof ​​practitioners try to stretch the so-called ‘breath hold’ as long as possible. Hof himself once boasted in the Volkskrant that he can hold his breath for more than six minutes.

According to Hof, it is not unusual for you to become light-headed during breathing exercises. You can even faint, Hof warns these days during a free online mini course. That’s why he says you should always do the exercises in a safe place. ‘Imagine what else happens when you’re in a swimming pool or in a car.’ According to his son Enahm Hof, Innerfire has started warning about this in all official instruction videos since 2015. The question is whether that message will also get through, if the elements of water and breathing exercises are mixed up on social media.

In any case, it is a shock for two Dutch relatives that in 2023 Wim Hof ​​followers are still drowning in this way. They told Het Parool in 2016 how they lost a friend and a family member respectively, because they drowned in a swimming pool after doing Hof’s breathing exercises. ‘Pretty silly,’ Enahm Hof ​​responded in Het Parool , ‘but then you shouldn’t do the exercises under water.’

One of the victims was Johan, a father of three children. His friend Peter (like Johan, a fictitious name to protect the privacy of the relatives) tells de Volkskrant that their group of friends was very busy in 2015 with the Wim Hof ​​Method, which was much less known at the time than it is now. They got a lot of energy from the ice baths and breathing exercises. ‘Vitalizing your system’ is what Peter calls it.

Johan attended a one-off workshop, but Peter had even started the course to become a ‘certified Wim Hof ​​instructor’. “At that time, we were absolutely not told that you should not do those breathing exercises in the water,” says Peter.

Johan drowned in 2015 during a sunny holiday, while swimming underwater in the swimming pool of his hotel. His wife immediately suspected that the Wim Hof ​​exercises had something to do with it. Peter himself only made that link months later, when during the instructor course there was talk about a drowned Wim Hof ​​practitioner in Saudi Arabia. During that period, Innerfire deleted a warning message from his widow on Facebook. “That post was an attack without any evidence and jeopardized my father’s mission,” Enahm Hof ​​now explains the action.

In that context, the course leader mentioned the phenomenon of shallow water blackout , says Peter. ‘Then the penny dropped for me. During that course I tried to have a discussion: why isn’t there better warning? But I soon noticed that Innerfire didn’t want to talk about it.’

Hajo Smit was in the same course group and confirms this story. He says that he and Peter suggested to the course leader that he ‘set up some kind of safety committee’. Smit is a supporter of alternative medicine and an admirer of Wim Hof ​​and ‘his contributions to our knowledge of natural resistance’ – still is. At the time, he was keen to help improve his method, with clearer warnings. Initially, according to Smit, the course leader was open to this, but everything changed when he forwarded their email conversation unsolicited to director Enahm Hof. Hajo and Peter were removed because of their criticism of the instructor training, emails confirm.

The fact that contradiction is sensitive is also experienced by another Dutch survivor, who does not want to be identified in the newspaper because of previous fierce public reactions to her story. She lost her brother in 2016, who was doing the Wim Hof ​​Method. She contacted Innerfire. ‘I wanted to understand how this could have happened. And I worried that the same thing would happen to others.’ There was no personal conversation. ‘On my first phone call I was asked to fill out a contact form on their website. I thought that was incredibly cold.’

Britt Jackson also says that she has contacted Innerfire several times on behalf of Shallow Water Blackout Prevention to discuss better warnings. “But we never even got a response to our emails. Apparently they don’t think the theme is important enough.’ Innerfire says it has never been approached by the foundation.

When the Dutch survivor insisted in emails (seen by De Volkskrant ) that Innerfire provide better warnings, she did not get the impression that feedback was welcome. ‘In the last phone call, someone from Innerfire warned me that I had to be careful. They suggested they could also sue me for libel or slander.” Enahm Hof ​​does not recognize her story and suggests that it is made up.

The surviving relative decided to put the matter to rest at the time. ‘But you do wonder: what kind of company is that?’


The Wim Hof ​​Method was not invented by Wim Hof. The wellness guru stated this under oath to a judge in Los Angeles in August. ‘I don’t know how the Wim Hof ​​Method came about.’ Lawyer Brust showed screenshots in court from the official website Wim Hof, who participated in the hearing via video connection, said he was not familiar with that website. “Incredibly likely, but true.” Nor does he have anything to do with the Wim Hof ​​Academy. What certified Wim Hof ​​instructors do? “I don’t know about that.”

Who invented the Wim Hof ​​Method? “That was me,” son Enahm Hof ​​said during the hearing. ‘The Wim Hof ​​Method did not exist. My father was someone who had an exercise routine. I put it on paper and gave it a name. He does not call his lessons the Wim Hof ​​Method. I will do that.’

To promote the Wim Hof ​​Method, Enahm Hof ​​(40) founded the company Innerfire in 2015. To this day, he single-handedly forms the board. This results in the strange situation that not Wim Hof, but his son, has control over the names Wim Hof ​​and the Wim Hof ​​Method - protected trademarks that Innerfire has registered in Europe and the United States, among others.

According to Enahm Hof, it is logical that everything is in his name, because he is responsible for business operations. “My father never wanted anything to do with money.”

Enahm was therefore the sole director for many years, but also the sole owner of Hof Holding, the parent company of Innerfire. In 2021, Hof Holding had an equity of 10 million euros and that year it bought a monumental building on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht for almost 3 million euros, where the ‘Hoffice’ is now located. Innerfire made a profit of 4.5 million euros in 2021.

In the meantime, Wim Hof ​​was on the payroll as a regular employee for years. His salary? “Less than $5,000 a month,” he said during the hearing. That situation only changed in the summer of 2021. “Then I gave my father 50 percent of the shares for a symbolic amount of 1 euro,” Enahm said by email. ‘Even though he didn’t want this at first.’

Wim Hof ​​still doesn’t want to know much about it. When asked whether he is a co-owner of Hof Holding, he replied in the hearing: “Yes, but I have nothing to do with the affairs of that company.” Except that he receives an income from it, he had to give in. Whether Hof Holding owns Innerfire? “I wouldn’t know,” Wim Hof ​​replied. “I trust my son.”

The fact that Enahm now leads the Hof empire is special, given the troubled family history. This is marked by the death of Wim’s first wife Olaya, the mother of Enahm and his two younger sisters and brother. In 1995 she took her own life. A few years later, Wim Hof ​​got a new wife, but things did not get along with his children. Hof decided to leave the teenagers, aged 18, 16, 14 and 12, alone in a demolished house without electricity. In Volkskrant Magazine he said in 2022 that he drank at that time.

His eldest brother Rob Hof tells by telephone how he visited the house after he heard that his nephews and nieces had been left to fend for themselves. ‘What I found there reminded me of the images I had seen of refugees in war zones during my work as a documentary maker. Four children in a corner under a blanket in the cold, with no food in the refrigerator. What I remember most is that they hardly spoke. They were apathetic, completely traumatized.”

Enahm himself previously called it in Quote ‘a dark period . “It’s like losing your nest.”

Wim Hof ​​shook off his responsibility in the Volkskrant interview. ‘What did I do wrong?’ I was always ready to receive them, but they remained stubborn and went their own way. Later they blamed me for it.’

Wim Hof ​​had no contact with his children for ten years. Their bond recovered when the relationship with his second wife broke down and he was faced with a tax debt of 35,000 euros. The strangest anecdote from that time takes place in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, where Hof waited for his son Michael in 2008. To pass the time he sat on the fountain in the pond, ‘an enema’. Hof said in the Volkskrant that he had already sat with his anus on the same fountain countless times, but this time the pressure had been adjusted. The water sprayed straight through his intestinal tract. He barely survived.

Because of his bizarre antics, others did not take him seriously, says Dennis Huizenga, a breathing coach who became good friends with Wim Hof ​​from 2008 and traveled a lot with him. ‘He didn’t want to be a circus artist, but he behaved that way. In Spain he quietly did the splits on a terrace.’ They are busy with record attempts. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Hof swam 57.5 meters under ice in 2000 (the world record is now 80.9 meters) and in 2013 he lasted almost two hours in an ice bath (in 2022 a Pole stayed seated for 3.5 hours ). It generated TV attention, but no method or revenue model yet. “He asked me if I wanted to become his manager,” says Huizenga. ‘But I would rather not do business with him. Such a man lives in the moment, it is difficult to make agreements with him.’

A while later, Wim’s eldest son Enahm came into the picture. In his twenties he had founded his own company for outdoor travel. In the restored contact with his father, he saw a business opportunity around 2013, he said in a double interview in Quote in 2021: ‘I had a website, videos, everything was ready, but how do you attract people to your site? Dad was already The Iceman, so I thought: you have the fame, I have the product. Let’s go. '

His uncle Rob Hof’s analysis is that Enahm is taking advantage of what he missed in his youth with his business approach. ‘He saw that there was money to be made, and he is now making the most of it. Can you blame him? He never had any use for his father before.’

Enahm Hof ​​says he sees his father as a role model in many ways, ‘and also for how some things should not be done’. According to Enahm, their collaboration came about because he saw how a lot of managers ‘walked away with the money that was made at his back while he risked his life every time with his death-defying stunts’.

His son came up with something better: he poured his father’s disordered ideas into a diagram with three clear pillars: breathing, cold and mindset. The Wim Hof ​​Method was born. It started with workshops, quickly followed by online training. A 2015 Vice documentary with nearly 10 million viewers on YouTube did the rest.

Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of people start the day with a cold shower and the online training courses and Innerfire’s paid app make the cash register ring. Training instructors is also a revenue model. For 4,300 euros, aspiring instructors can take an online course and a five-day on-site training. After completion (and payment of a license of 500 euros per year), they can offer their workshops on the Wim Hof ​​platform. Innerfire receives 10 percent of the revenue.

Online there are plenty of enthusiastic stories from the approximately 1,200 Wim Hof ​​instructors. John Visser writes on the Wim Hof ​​site, for example, that he got rid of his osteoarthritis medication thanks to ice baths. So he became an instructor, because the method is ‘simply too fantastic not to share with others’.

Three Dutch former instructors that De Volkskrant spoke to are more critical of the ‘schizophrenic organization’, which on the one hand ‘promotes the picture of happiness’ while behind the scenes it is mainly about money. “It’s a crazy hippie with a whole business team behind it,” says one of them. These instructors do not want to have their names in the newspaper for fear of having a lawyer sue them. In the so-called ‘manifesto’ that instructors must sign, it is recommended to speak positively about Wim Hof ​​and his method.

According to Enahm, money is not an end in itself, but a way to “ensure that we have the resources to carry out our mission.” That mission: spreading Wim Hof’s health message worldwide. Enahm: ‘If I had been in it for the money, I could have generated ten times as much monthly income with all kinds of marketing tricks.’

The tensions between the business-minded son and the loose cannon Wim emerge in the double interview in Quote. Wim Hof ​​calls his son ‘a shark in the shark pond’ and says that his wife is angry because Enahm has taken too much power. She doesn’t want them to have their picture taken together during the interview, “because it makes it look like I’m just a product.”

Enahm in the interview: ‘I have to uphold his value. He wants to spread love and I have to make sure he doesn’t do everything for free.’

He takes that idea to the extreme, says Dennis Huizenga. ‘I had agreed to catch up with Wim. I suddenly receive a phone call from Enahm: ‘I see in the agenda that you have an appointment with my father. That’s not possible, we charge 1,500 euros for that."

“It’s cheap,” Enahm Hof ​​responds. ‘Everyone wants to meet up with my father. His time is worth so much more.”

De Volkskrant noticed this last year, when Enahm wanted to pass on costs for an interview with Wim Hof ​​that his son was not satisfied with afterwards. De Volkskrant never pays for interviews. Enahm Hof ​​threatened to send the editors a bill for 200,000 euros, because the two-hour conversation with his father had not yielded the result he hoped for. “If any publication takes place without our permission, I will invoice 50,000 euros per half hour of my father’s time,” Enahm wrote. ‘This is our regular commercial fee.’ The interview was posted, but he never sent an invoice. Nothing has been heard of the lawsuit he threatened in his email.

Now Innerfire and Wim Hof ​​themselves are in a difficult legal position. It is not a foregone conclusion that they can be held legally responsible for the drownings. But according to some people involved, there is a moral responsibility. A former Wim Hof ​​instructor: ‘If accidents are associated with your method, you can also say: when in doubt, I take a step back.’

Innerfire itself thinks the warnings are clear enough. ‘The breathing techniques we teach are not combined with cold water anywhere in the method. We strongly advise against this.’

If it were up to the Shallow Water Blackout Prevention foundation, Innerfire would delete all social media posts with Wim Hof ​​in the water. Director Jackson: ‘Wim Hof ​​warns against doing the breathing exercises near water. But then you see him on Instagram constantly busy in the water. That’s confusing.’

Can it be done differently? Enahm Hof ​​about that double message: ’ Although we understand that there may be videos on social media showing both aspects, we would like to make it clear that this does not correspond to the official instructions.’ Innerfire has not further tightened its warnings in response to new drowning cases. As long as the charges are pending in the US, nothing will change, according to Enahm Hof. In the long term, he does promise a ‘broad information campaign’ about the danger of shallow water blackout . “As soon as the trial is over.”