Shortly after a great 10 days of paddle surf and touring courses in Tofino I left for Haida Gwaii to do a Paddle Canada SUP Instructors course. I was hosted by Vanessa and Dave Wahl in Tlell and Mike McQuaid and Lucy Neville from Masset and North Beach Surf Shop who helped to bring the training to the island.
Haida Gwaii is one of my favorite places in the world. I have been here a few times surfing and spent a few summers guiding saltwater fishing charters for the West Coast Fishing Club. My fondest memories though are from my Standfilm expedition and my standup paddleboard trip from Old Masset to Sgang Gwaay where I paddled the remote shorelines of Graham Island and visited the five Haida Watchman sites on South Moresby. The land, people and culture here are powerful and there is a magical feeling to these islands that can only be experienced by travelling here.
I decided to come up a few days before the course so I could take part in Mike’s North Beach Surf Shop Expression Session. Mike had organized a showing of Standfilm that evening and I was really excited to share the film in Masset. It was a great opportunity for me to say thanks to the people who supported and looked after us on our expedition. I shared a table with artist Rick Rika, whose paintings and prints of Haida Gwaii are spectacular and have been showcased yearly on the expression session t shirts. We had over 100 people come out to see Standfillm and Sitka’s Forture Wild, both films showcasing the incredible waves, coastalines and people of Haida Gwaii. I spent the next two days surfing North Beach during the expression session, conditions were not as ideal on the saturday but they cleaned up on Sunday and everyone had a lot of fun, including the youth who were part of the adopt a grom program. I was just happy to be in the water paddling and catching waves in such a beautiful and unique place.
After the weekend a big swell and strong southeaster hit the island. Buoys on the north shore were reading 4m at 18 seconds and I finally had a chance to see North Beach light up. Big sets, closeout barrels and screaming rights and lefts lit up all the hot spots. I managed to paddle surf the river but it was tough getting into the bigger sets with the howling offshore winds. This was real Haida Gwaii surfing. My trip from North Beach back to Tlell where Dave and Vanessa lived revealed some really fun wind swell that broke all along the coastline down to Skidegate. After school Dave and I hustled back so we could suit up to catch a few waves in the fading light.
After the big surf day I went to check out Dave’s practice with the Skidegate Saints. The seniors are back to back All Native basketball champions which carries huge coastal clout. Dave spends countless hours coaching and fundraising and has helped to build a very successful basketball program. I enjoyed watching these athletes and having played five years at Laurentian University and coaching at the All Native Basketball Tournament myself with Hartley Bay I really appreciated the talent that was on the floor and getting to know the guys. Not only were these guys very good basketball players but they are good people and superb role models for the youth in Haida Gwaii. If you love the game of basketball and want to experience something really amazing, check out the All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert in February. The Saints will be there to three peat this year and judging from what I saw, will have a very good chance to do just that.
One of the nights after our course I again had the opportunity to show Standfilm in Skidegate at the Haida Heritage Center thanks to Vanessa, who spearheaded the organization and Jason Alsop, one of the deadly shooters from the Saints who manages the center. We had a good turnout and it was impressive to share the film again on the big screen, the incredible sound system brought the film to life with it’s thumping base and great soundtrack. I was happy to have the opportunity to thank people in Skidegate and area for supporting us. I remember the day of the expedition clearly. It was a beautiful, flat calm day when I left Dave and Vanessa’s as I headed towards Skidegate and the K’ aay Heritage center. Judson Brown from Skidegate came out to greet me on his paddleboard and to welcome me to the area. Shortly after Jag from Jag’s Beanstock Coffee Shop waved me onto shore to provide lunch and coffee for me. I parked my Raven at the K’aay center under the totems and spent the afternoon at an orientation before heading into South Moresby the following day. If you happen to purchase a copy of the film, the picture on the jacket of the dvd is a shot Nicolas Teichrob took of me walking out from the outdoor workshop and past the old traditional canoes. This past April I was at this exact spot watching Jaalen and Gwaii Edenshaw and Tyler York(another talented point guard for the Saints) carving a totem pole that would be raised at the exact spot I visited on my expedition at Windy Bay. It was the first time a pole had been raised in South Moresby in 130 years. I watched the live stream of the raising from Squamish and watched as the Haida raised the pole to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the formation of Gwaii Hanaas National Park. It was very powerful to watch the pole being raised in a spot that was showcased in Stand and had wished I was there to see if for myself. It’s places like these that we are trying to protect with the showing of Standup4Greatbear and Stand film.
Our Paddle Canada course got started and over four days with the students we spent considerable time working on their individual skills and then shifted our focus to developing their instructional skills. I was really impressed with the improvement and committment to the program shown by all the participants. After completing the course I spent our final morning back at North Beach introducing the students to paddle surfing in the gentle waves under sunshine and blue skies. I was really proud of all the Layla, Lucy, Mike, Nico, Heather, Shelly, and Tiffany who are the first Paddle Canada certified SUP instructors on Haida Gwaii. They still have a lof of experience to gain and lessons to teach but they all now have the fundamentals and confidence to be able to teach people effectively and safely.
Thanks to everyone I met for such an amazing and memorable experience. I will be back in the spring and hope to see the fellas at the All Native Tournament. Norm Hann Expeditions will be planning a new trip to Haida Gwaii for 2014 so sign up for the newsletter on the website to keep up to date.