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A Fun Short History Of The Hot Tub Industry
From the foreword to Dan Hardy's new book, The Complete Spa Manual For Homeowners
by Dan Harrison,


It was a cold, clear night and I had just finished a long day of skiing at Vermont’s Okemo Mountain, way back in 1982. I had traveled up from New York with some friends and they had arranged our lodging in a quaint New England bed & breakfast. Unbeknown to me, the facility had a small indoor pool, a sauna, and a hot tub tucked away in a back basement room.

“Hey, does anyone want to go jump in the hot tub?”, my friend said, with clear and apparent glee in his eyes. “Sure”, I said, not quite certain what I was agreeing to at that point. We gathered up the girls and took a trip down to the hot tub room.

In 1982, hot tubs and spas were not very commonplace. Hotels, health clubs and resorts tended to be the exclusive domain of the hot tub. I had actually never even seen one in person at that point, as far as I was concerned, they only really existed in movies or on TV. Visions of Jerry Garcia-looking hippies soaking in outdoor round wooden tubs in the forests of California filled my mind. “What was I in for?”, I thought. Is this going to be like some sleazy porn movie? Am I going to get a disease? I surely did not want to sit in some murky green water with other people!

Once we got to the pool area, I began to feel a little better, seeing that everything appeared nice and clean. “Come on, let’s go in the sauna first”, my girlfriend exclaimed. And with that, we all stuffed ourselves into this little tiny sauna. At first it was pretty hot and uncomfortable, but my muscles had been aching from that first-day-of-the-season ski expedition, and the dry, hot air was oddly compelling.

After a few minutes in the sauna, my other friend said that we should go out and jump in the swimming pool, now that we were all very hot from our sauna experience. I remember it clearly because he yelled out “This is either gonna feel great, or it’s gonna kill ya!”. And with that, we all boldly filed out of the sauna and jumped into the crisp (albeit cold) indoor pool.

“Wow!”, my girlfriend yelled, as we saw her emerge like a rocket from the water, “That feels great”. I thought she was nuts, but I followed suit and took the plunge myself. “Yesssss”, I blurted out, as I jumped in. The sudden shock from dry heat to freezing water was invigorating, to say the least. It was considerably more enjoyable than I had ever thought it would have been.

I could feel all the blood in my veins pumping as I swam around the pool for a minute or so, waiting for my poor little body to acclimate to the abrupt temperature change. Not another minute went by when my friend yelled out “Now, everybody out of the pool and into the hot tub!”. “What?”, I thought. “You gotta be kidding me!”

With great trepidation the rest of us, fairly invigorated by the somewhat unusual experience at that point, followed him like lemmings into the “hot tub room”. Obviously he had done this whole routine before and knew that as crazy as it all sounded, our little band of skiers would ultimately be quite satisfied with our unusual holiday jaunt. We were experiencing cardiovascular hydrotherapy at its’ best, although none of us realized it at that point in time.

Once inside, the “hot tub room”, most of my existing fears started to subside as it was tastefully designed with a large fiberglass octagonal hot tub in the middle of the room, set down, even with the floor. The room had cedar planking on the walls with mirrors set into the wood, alternating with the planks. Combined with the amber light emanating from the clear, warm, bubbling water of the tub, the whole ambiance of the room was very relaxing and quite womb-like. “Now this is something I think I’ll really like!”, I thought.

I entered the hot tub and immediately felt at home. In direct juxtaposition to the comparatively jarring experience with the sauna and the swimming pool, this tub gave me a feeling of warm, cozy comfort. As I enjoyed the swirling waters pulsating out of the spa jets surrounding my aching muscles, all the stress and tension of a rather long and arduous day disappeared as I seemed to enter my own little relaxing world. While all my friends were sprawling out and joking in the tub, I can clearly remember that I was quite quiet. I was having one of those “moments of clarity” that you only hear about others having. At that point, I did not fully realize how that moment was about to change my life forever, and set my entire life in a direction that I could not have possibly imagined.

“Wow, I bet people on Long Island (my home town) would really like this.” I blurted out to all my friends, who actually seemed like they could care less at that moment. “I wonder if I could sell these things?”

“I don’t know” my girlfriend said. “Why are you always thinking about business? Why don’t you just chill out and enjoy yourself for once?”
Well, anyone who knows me will understand how hard it is for me to truly relax. And while being in the hot tub was certainly one of the closest things to nirvana I had ever experienced up to that point in my life, the little gears in my mind were in full swing, trying to figure out how this experience could be brought to the masses and how I could find out more about this magical, mysterious thing that had been somehow kept from my radar scope for so long.

Needless to say, we were in that hot tub more than we were on the ski slopes that fabled weekend – and I was truly moved by the experience. I had never felt so relaxed, so invigorated and so rested – all at the same time. “I have to look into this further”, I told my girlfriend, as we packed up our belongings and got ready for our long, cold, icy ride back to New York.

Over the next few months, I investigated everything I could about the current state of the art in the hot tub “industry”, if you could even call it that, at that time. In 1982, there really was not much of a hot tub industry at all. Actually there were only a few companies nationwide that were making things you would remotely recognize as the hot tub spas of today.

I was introduced to Artie Jost of AJ Spas in early 1983. Artie had a similar interest in hot tubs and opened up a small hot tub manufacturing shop out of the back of an appliance store in Patchogue on Long Island. After receiving quite an education from Artie, I opened up Long Island Hot Tubs, one of the first “all hot tub” spa stores in the United States soon thereafter.

I can remember the first home improvement show where we exhibited hot tubs to the public. It was in a shopping mall on Long Island’s North Shore area, known for its’ high-end homes and old-money mansions. We brought an old rickety fiberglass spa to the show and were virtually inundated with requests for more information about this relatively new and unique invention, the “portable spa”. Prior to this point in time, most people, even the rich and famous, only saw or got to use hot tub spas in health clubs, gyms, hotels or resorts.

“What is this, one of them new fangled “Sacuzzi’s?” was something that we got very used to hearing, as the initial wave of consumers got their first taste for hot tubs made for the home. Although most people we spoke with during that show called it a “Jacuzzi”, “Bath Tub” or a “Spay”, we could clearly see that this was something that was going to catch on in a big way. We were very surprised (and happy) to have sold 21 tubs during that first home improvement show.

As the popularity of the residential hot tub caught on during the latter half of the 1980’s, we luckily saw the parallel evolution of the “yuppie”. Luckily for the hot tub industry, the “yuppie”, as a demographic group, became a huge target-market for the influx of all the new spa brands becoming available, almost on a monthly basis. Companies like Hot Spring Spas, Sundance, Hawkeye, Baja, Regency, Nemco and Jacuzzi became commonplace names in the new lexicon of the late 1980’s Regan era of self indulgence.

As the demand for hot tubs grew and the money started pouring into our little industry, natural capitalistic innovations rapidly took place, greatly improving and standardizing the “portable spa”. Technological advances in acrylic vacuum forming machines made the complicated designs and seating patterns of the tubs commonplace. Circuit boards made the “spa packs” (the control system or “brains” of the hot tub) ever more able to control multiple jet pumps, air bubblers, heaters and even color changing mood lighting systems, which all converged to increase the eye appeal and functionality of the hot tub to the end user.

However, there was a dirty little secret brewing within the industry. Although consumers were truly enjoying the daily use of their home hot tub units, many of them were complaining to their dealers about the care and maintenance necessary to keep their hot tub water crystal clear, sanitary and fresh smelling. The amount of time and money that it was taking to properly maintain a residential hot tub unit was threatening the very existence and stability of the fledgling hot tub industry.

I heard it almost on a daily basis from consumers: “You sold this to me and I can’t keep it clean.” “My wife got an infection from using YOUR spa!” “I am gonna go broke with all the chlorine and chemicals that I have to add to my spa on a daily basis. What are YOU gonna do about it?”

This was rapidly becoming a concern amongst spa dealers as well as spa manufacturers, as the number of installed units nationwide grew to over a million. Something had to be done – and fast.

Luckily, if there is money to be made from anything, you can count on American ingenuity to fill the void, and by the late 1980’s there were a plethora of new chemicals and sanitizing devices that were made available to make hot tub maintenance considerably easier. Bromine, ozone and a host of alternative, eco-friendly spa water sanitizers quickly flooded the market and their success spread like wildfire among the hot tub using community.

Now-a-days, almost 30 years later, anyone can wake up in the morning and decide they want a hot tub in their own home. They can look up a few brands on the internet, find a local dealer, and in many cases, have their very own portable hot tub spa delivered to their house and be using it that night. And with all the new technology, many spas brands even offer built in stereos, waterproof flatscreen TV’s, LED color changing mood lighting, waterfalls and other exotic features to add to your relaxing hot tub experience.

But as with the purchase of anything, from a car to a computer, you really should do your research thoroughly first. And just like cars and computers, the hot tubs of today do need some periodic maintenance that you will have to learn about after you start using your tub.

In his new book, industry veteran Dan Hardy covers absolutely everything that you should know before you select a hot tub spa for our home. He then covers, in great detail, the do’s and don’t’s of hot tub care and maintenance. Although much of this type of information is available from spa manufacturers, web sites and other books, Mr. Hardy has gone through great lengths to sift through all the information out there, and presents it all to you in a very understandable and fun to read format for the average hot tub buyer or owner.

One thing is for sure, the relaxation and hydrotherapy you can get from owning your own hot tub spa is quite remarkable. This one little invention will help you feel better, sleep easier and provide a focal point for interaction with family and friends for years to come. And although our industry often tries to downplay the romantic aspects of a hot tub for some unknown reason, we all know that hot tubs are exceptionally great for those special occasions and intimate moments as well.

Anyway you look at it, there are few things in life that can provide you with the daily rejuvenation and the big boost to your heart, mind and soul, that a hot tub provides. I wish you all the best in your enjoyment of your hot tubs and I sincerely thank Dan Hardy for his efforts in educating the public about our industry’s wonderful products.  And as I always say at the end of my Poolandspa.TV videos and TV shows…“Happy Tubbing”.