|Bella Bella Paddleboard Project Photo: Karen McAllister
After starting in Kitimat on May 8th, 2010 I finished my Standup4Greatbear expedition 11 days later on May 18th in the Heiltsuk community of Bella Bella. It was an amazing place to finish as I was greeted by hundreds of community members and youth. I remembered being really inspired by the students that showed up to support their coast holding signs and waving flags.
|May 18th 2010, Arrival into Bella Bella and completion of Standup4Greatbear Photo: Christina Mittermeier
A few months later I was contacted by Chris Williamson, a wood working teacher at Bella Bella High School, who told me that he had suggested to the students that for their next project they build surfboards but he had emailed to tell me that after the expedition they wanted to build red and yellow cedar standup paddleboards. I was blown away, inspired and excited to hear that a teacher and a group of First Nation’s youth would take on such a project. It is hard enough building one board but Chris and the class were determined to build not one but 12 boards and 12 wooden paddles to move them forward.
See the previous blog post from my visit to Bella Bella this past March to check out the students progress and the wooden paddleboards under construction. After that visit I vowed to make it back to Bella Bella to teach the students how to SUP and to officially launch the Bella Bella Paddleboard Project. The opportunity came up when Jess Housty, a youth leader from the QQS Society, contacted me about the Coastal Voices Festival they were organizing on May 20-22nd . This festival was about celebrating our coast and keeping tankers out of the Greatbear Rainforest by showcasing films and speakers related to the issue. I was invited to share the Standup4Greatbear Expedition which was great since it was the year anniversary of the trip and I hadn’t been back to Bella Bella to share my presentation and say thanks.
|WHAT’S YOUR REASON?? Photo: Norm Hann
A challenge I had though was that I had Quest University in Hartley Bay at the same time. After a few logistical changes and a boat from Pacific Wild I found myself traveling the inside passage for a 5 hour trip to Bella Bella. I passed a number of places that I visited on my trip and it brought back powerful memories. I made it to Bella Bella that evening for the launch of Frank Wolf’s On the Line film documentary about his multi sport expedition with Todd McGowan from the Tar sands to Hartley Bay. I also had a sneak peak at the completed paddleboards, three of students boards were on display in the school’s hallway for everyone to see. The boards were beaming.
|Ross Dixon’s Custom Red Cedar SUP Photo: Ian McAllister
Saturday morning was the launch day. The students showed up and transported their own boards down to the beach under the main pier in Bella Bella. Community members started to gather to support their youth. I was offering a Paddle Canada Introduction to Standup Paddleboarding course so the students would receive official certification. Safe ocean paddling and solid instruction was the focus but you could see the nervousness in the students eyes conveying they were fearful about falling in and not looking bad in front of the building crowd. They were game though and even before they stood up I told them how proud I was and how proud the community was of their huge accomplishment. The boards lined up on the beach looked stunning.
|Paddle Canada Instruction prior to launch Photo: Ian McAllister
They are real works of art but were meant to be paddled on the ocean. Red Cedars are the tree of life for First Nations on the coast as they were used for everything from clothing, to longhouses to traditional canoes. Red Cedar was incorporated into every part of their life. Now these Red Cedar paddleboards were starting a new life on the ocean. We waxed the boards up like they used to do, and one by one we got the students on the board. Every time a student stood up the crowd cheered and horns were honked! Within minutes you could see the fear drop away, replaced with a sense of pride and confidence. I could barely contain them. Soon they were paddling away with that feeling you can only understand if you have stood up on water for the first time, but for these students it was more than that. This was freedom, this was exploration of their traditional territory, this was connection to their land. These youth come from a lineage of ocean going people. They are inherently waterman and you could see centuries of knowledge and skills awakening. It was incredible to watch and be a part of. Their smiles told me everything I needed to know.
|The Bella Bella SUP crew Photo: Ian McAllister
|From the pier. Photo: Ian McAllister
|Freedom, confidence, exploration, connection Photo: Ian McAllister
After presenting the students with their Paddle Canada certifications I made my way back up the outer coast to meet the Quest students back in Gitga’at territory. It was an incredibly inspiring boat ride and again I passed places that I managed to get to on my paddleboard and it brought a smile to my face. It was a three and a half hour outer coast boat ride and I did not see another human being until I got to Hartley Bay’s spring camp at Kiel. I saw a lot of wildlife making their way up the coast. I shared the waters with 5 Resident Killer Whales, the A36’s, two Humpbacks and numerous Dall’s Poirposes. As I arrived into Cameron Cove to meet the class a large black bear awaited me on the shoreline. I really felt the GreatBear Rainforest was welcoming me back.
|A36 Residents on the way back up the outer coast Photo: Norm Hann
|Black Bear feeding on Sedge grass Photo: Norm Hann
Thanks to Ian and Karen at Pacific Wild and Jess Housty for supporting me on my trip to Bella Bella. Thanks to Frank Wolf, Ian McAllister and Mark Wunsch for taking pictures and filming and to Kevin OBrien at Kalavida Surf Shop for sending up leashes and wax to the students.
Thank you to the community of Bella Bella for their support and encouragement. And most of all thank you to Chris and the students for inspiring me and allowing me to feel very very proud. Check out the Bella Bella Woodshop Facebook Page to keep updated. Thanks to Kevin OBrien at Kalavida Surf Shop for sending up leashes and wax for keeping the students safe on their boards.
Congratulations, William Dixon Jr, Aki Tiitto, James Hall, Leanne Reid, Richard Wilson, David Applebaum, Louis Shaw, Kara Williamson, Chris Williamson.
On a side note, a couple of days later Diana Chan from Pacific Wild told me that a bunch of students were going by her front window on their paddleboards. I had to smile…..
|BlackFish SUP Paddle Photo: Norm Hann