Standup paddleboarding with a cause 

Squamish man attempts 3,000 km expedition to save the Great Bear Rainforest


It's the longest trip ever attempted on a standup paddleboard. And it's intended as a protest against a proposed pipeline that will stretch from the oil sands in Alberta to the lush rainforest along the north coast of British Columbia.

But Norm Hann is up for the challenge.

On Saturday, May 8, the 40-year-old Squamish resident departed from Kitimat on his 300 kilometres trip to Bella Bella.

His send-off at the docks that morning was picturesque. The spring sky glowed blue and the water twinkled as Hann made his way towards snow-capped mountains to the south. Underneath him, in the waters surrounding the rainforest, schools of fish circled the channels and seaweed floated in large clumps.

Now, over the next 11 days, he is following the route that oil tankers could take through the Great Bear Rainforest once Enbridge Inc. installs its Northern Gateway Pipeline.

His only mode of transportation is a standup paddleboard, although he also has friends in boats carrying supplies. And while Internet along his route is sporadic, he is carrying a satellite phone to send updates.

"They have been really lucky," said Hann's partner, Jen Segger, on Tuesday morning after getting the latest update on the voyage. "The winds have been in their favour and they have had blue skies everyday. Other than some big distances and a lot of time in the water, Norm is amazed with how smoothly things are going."

Hann was first acquainted with the Great Bear Rainforest 10 years ago, when he moved from Ontario to King Pacific Lodge to work as a wilderness guide. He also spent a significant amount of time with the First Nation group at Hartley Bay. The people at Hartley Bay now call him "T'aam Laan," or Steerman of the Canoe.

"I have learned that what is here - the traditional food harvesting areas, the wildlife and the philosophies of living in harmony with the Earth - are something special that cannot be lost," Hann said about what spurred him on to protest the proposed oil tanker route.

"I feel indebted to what this amazing place has provided me with and I cannot imagine a people, with thousands of years of connection to their land, not having this way of life."

Hann now runs a company called Mountain Surf Adventures in Squamish. He leads wildlife guides through the Great Bear Rainforest and teaches standup paddle boarding.

So what prompted Hann to launch his protest through standup paddleboard?

"When Norm found the sport, he totally fell in love with it," explained Segger. "He is a past kayak guy, but this is the new thing for him. He finds it so much easier on the body, as opposed to sitting cramped up in a kayak."

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