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A New Perspective on Squamish with Norm Hann

According to Norm Hann, right now is the optimal time to stand-up paddle the Howe Sound. This statement, made by anyone else, would be much less meaningful. Coming from Norm, however, who was cited in Explore magazine, as “Canada’s most experienced stand-up paddler,” I took it seriously. Despite his high level of expertise, he is kind and approachable. He shares a blog on his website, gives talks, has been featured in two films and in many magazine articles. He loves to teach and coach, having spend countless hours personally guiding tours and connecting with his clients and the water. It is clear that his skill was born from a deep love of sharing and connecting with the natural world and the people who inhabit it.

“I think we’ll look back on these times fondly,” He said.“When there wasn’t that many people out, because I really see huge growth from the ocean side.” From a business perspective, this might seem like great problem to have (and I’m sure it is).  However, Norm is in the business of creating memories, experience, and connection, not just selling SUP tickets. “My goal with the paddleboarding has been to teach ocean safety, that’s always number one, making sure people are safe when they go out there, teaching some skills, then giving people the opportunity to explore and connect with the land. So they can form their own experience and see Squamish in a different way. So many people are used to the biking, climbing, the Chief, the Gondola, skiing — a lot of land based activities, but to get the perspective you get from a harbour tour or a Coffee Run is totally different. People are usually surprised by how much they enjoy it.”

(Norm and his son, taken from normhann.com)

Like most Squamish residents, Norm is not native to the area. He made the great migration west from Ontario in the late 90’s, originally moving to North Vancouver. When a room opened up with a friend in Brackendale, he jumped on the opportunity. “It fit me really well because I come from a small town and it had that small town feel to it. Usually I do a lot of things by feel, what feels right in my heart, and I thought that this feels really good.” Since that initial move, he made Squamish home. It wasn’t until 2008, when a major rock slide left Highway 99 closed, that he first accessed Squamish by water.

He never forgot that spectacular view and eventually decided to root the heart of Norm Hann Expeditions in Squamish. Over the course of his years here, the town has been undergoing many changes. One of the most inspiring changes he’s witnessed has been the revival of the Howe Sound. Even this year compared to the last, Norm has noticed major changes in the wildlife. With the return of the heron, they have set an important foundation for the food chain, and are bringing larger animals with them. Based on these changes, he predicts major improvements still for the Sound.

(Paddling the Howe Sound Tour, taken from normhann.com)

“Seeing the life come back after it had basically been declared a dead zone for 50 or 60 years, it’s an amazing story. It’s been on a real steep curve for growth and we’re just on the front end. I tell people, if you give the Sound another 10 years and look after it and manage it properly, there will be whales regularly coming in. We’ll probably have whale watching tours. That’s what I envision Howe Sound will be like as it really starts to come back and we’re just at the front end.” But this optimistic future isn’t certain. The ongoing plans to construct a liquified natural gas facility in the former Woodfibre pulp mill could mean an industrial future for the Sound. For Norm, his business, and anyone who loves to get out on the water, the potential consequences could be devastating.

When I asked him how we get people inspired about environmentalism and conservation, he said we don’t.“I think what you have to do is: not talk about environmentalism — because then people say “yay” or “nay”. The best way to get people to be concerned about what’s happening out here is to have them experience the land and the ocean. You can’t explain or describe to somebody what it’s like to get out on Howe Sound in the morning when it’s flat calm and the sun’s rising and there’s harbour seals and whales. These really powerful environments that we have —  the forest, the ocean, the mountains — they have the power to affect you emotionally. You can interpret the land for them, and that’s what a good guide will do, and then after that they get inspired.”

(Paddling near the Squamish Estuary, on the Howe Sound Tour, taken from normhann.com)

While there are many ways to experience the water, SUP is exciting because of the versatility of the experience. It can mean a quiet morning float or an active adventure, truly a sport for all ages and skill levels. Additionally, the trip prices include all necessary gear, so all you have to do is show up! Norm Hann Expeditions offers several trips in the Sound, with the Howe Sound Tour and Coffee Run being the most popular. The stunning Coffee Run is a unique point-to-point tour by shuttle, in partnership with Galileo Coffee Company, that runs about 3 hours. For those of us looking for something quicker, the Howe Sound Tour offers a relaxing alternative, running at about 2 hours. If you’re looking for more instruction than tour, the Intro to Stoke class is for you. So get out there and get inspired! No matter who you are, there is much wisdom to gain from connecting with our land, while we still have the chance.

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