Canada, a land of wide open spaces, untamed wilderness and a thriving SUP scene. At the heart of that scene are a number of dedicated individuals working hard for Canadian SUPers. One of those paddlers is Brent Ackland, the Infinity Surfboardsman for the North Americas who has spent some time talking with Chris from TotalSUP about all things SUP from his part of the paddling world.
Hi Brent, great to have you on the site. How about we start with an introduction, who is Brent Ackland?
Hi Chris and the TotalSUP crew, thanks for having me here. OK, who am I? I am a very enthusiastic water sports enthusiast and have been involved in SUP for a long time, it was back in 2011 when I started Northern SUP, that is a multi-faceted SUP company originally contracted by the City of Barrie in Ontario and now through the Town of Innisfilt (also in Ontario – TotalSUP) to offer rentals, lessons, classes, social programming and retail sales.
Right now I am the Canadian Distributor and Regional Sales Manager for Eastern/Central USA for Infinity SUP.
I love being on the water and sharing that with others, showing them how the sport can complement their fitness goals.
I have been a full-time fitness coach for over 10 years, primarily on the water with stand-up paddling through PaddleFit, and I recently acquired CrossFit Level 1 Certification. I was also one of the original PaddleFit Certified coaches, and I now am their Director of Education. I hope that I can help people live a more fulfilling life through a combination of traditional fitness and performance training and taking those skills into the great outdoors.
I am happy to say that I have taught well over 1000 people to stand-up paddle.
I think being able to get so many people on the water is fantastic! What about your own paddling, who is Brent, the paddler?
I love paddling and pushing myself in races. Back in the day, I raced all over North America at some of the sport’s most prestigious events, Battle of the Paddle and later Pacific Paddle Games, Carolina Cup, Chattajack, Sound Surfer Waterman’s Challenge, GOAT Boater Race Series in SC, as well as many local Ontario and Florida events from 2011 right up to this season.
Racing goes with my fitness, getting out there and pushing myself.
With the business interest you have in SUP and your own interest in racing do you get involved events?
Absolutely! When we created Northern SUP in 2011 we concentrated on retail, lessons and the recreation side of the business, and we were very successful in our first two seasons. That success lead to our partnership with PaddleFit in 2013 as their Canadian Affiliate, the same year Northern SUPwon a contract with the City of Barrie to open an on-water location at Centennial Beach on Kempenfelt Bay. That was the start of our Northern SUP Ambassador Team and when we could offer board rentals, additional programming and social events!
So far we haven’t mentioned Infinity much, when did your involvement with them start?
Oh, Infinity are fantastic to work with! I first paddled on Infinity when visiting California and after a few trips there I had a chance to partner with Infinity SUP as their Canadian Distributor, that was back in 2018. Since then we have been importing containers of boards with dealers across the country and supporting an amazing Infinity Team Canada.
I really like working with Dave and his team, like family.
Canadian and US Speedfreaks together
Right, lets talk racing. Who are the Canadian Infinity Speedfreaks and what can you tell us about them?
We have a great team of paddlers on Infinity boards and I am super proud of all of them, this last season we have
Caroline Cook – Ontario SUP Series Champion 2022, Caroline Cup, APP Tour – Busan Open Top 5, Chattajack 2024
Stella Gan – PaddleFit Pro Coach – Never stops training and will race anytime, anywhere – PPG, SUP 11 City Tour 2022, Chattajack belt buckle year 2024, multiple C3 and Ontario SUP series races throughout the last decade
Danielle Dalziel – PaddleFit Core Coach – Carolina Cup, GOAT Boater, multiple podium finisher at C3 and Ontario SUP Series events 2023 – Chattajack 2024 – Danielle has brought the whole family into the sport, husband Brent, Carolina CUP, GOAT Boater, C3 – Daughter Sophie (16), C3 and Ontario SUP Series podiums and now son Josh (11) is looking to start his racing career in 2024
Bara Skoumalova – PaddleFit Core Coach – Started paddling in 2020, progressing quickly over the pandemic years into her first season of racing in 2023 with a few podium finishes in GOAT Boater and C3 Canadian Cross Training Club events – 2024 Chattajack
Josh Gordon in action
Josh Gordon – One of the pioneers of Great Lake surfing with the Kincardine Surf Club, ISA World SUP Games
Mike Rae – Long-time water enthusiast who found the “best midlife crises ever” in Great Lake SUP surfing, an awesome ambassador with his wave forecasting.
OK, Great Lake SUP surfing is something we might have to come back to! Is your involvement with Infinity confined to Canada and Canadian athletes?
Oh no, as you guys at TotalUP know the Infinity family is global. In 2022 we started to work with the Ocean Academy – SUP Training Club programmed by Candice Appleby. She is one of the greatest competitive paddlers of all time — 6x Champion of Battle of the Paddle and 3x Champion after it became the Pacific Paddle Games (an event long considered the World Championship or “Superbowl” of SUP) — and by partnering with we think Northern SUP is in position to help train the next generation of SUP athletes.
Does support for the Canadian Infinity Team go further than boards and equipment?
We are lucky to be able to help our paddlers with a bit more than equipment, as you can imagine sometimes paddling in Canada presents some special challenges, winter for one but also finding somewhere to train with consistent conditions for training was another challenge.
In 2023, Northern SUP and Infinity Canada partnered with C3 Canadian Cross Training Club, SUP Program Director and equipment provider.C3 is a private club with a 5km lake that has been used primarily for elite-level triathlon training over the years and are now incorporating stand up paddling in their training options.This partnership has allowed us to host a number ofSUP and combined SUP/Swim events that were great to bring new, competitive athletes to the paddle sport.
You mention working with Candice and her Ocean Academy, she has her own low-volume series of Blackfish boards in the infinity line-up, do you see many of them in Canada?
Bara Skoumalova with her Infinity Blackfish
Without doubt, the Blackfish is one of the best boards for a paddler looking for a one-board quiver and it has been the number one seller here in Canada since 2018 followed closely by the Blackfish Dugout.The Candice LV Blackfish models have been well received up here, many paddlers love that they can still have the amazing performance of the Blackfish with a lower volume.
And the other Infinity SUPs, how do they fit Canadian conditions?
Danielle Dalziel with her Infinity Whiplash
Our Canadian conditions are amazing for the Infinity Whiplash.With much of our paddling in lakes which are relatively calm compared to the open ocean many of our more technical paddlers say it is the fastest board they have ever paddled.
Going back to Great Lake surfing,if you were to ask Josh he would say that the new Wide Speed was made for Great Lakes conditions for surfing. He loves it!
Personally, I can’t wait to get on the new Infinity Everready in 2024. Sounds like it will be the perfect blend of the flatter conditions that the Whiplash excels in and the rough, surfy conditions that you typically reach for your Blackfish in.
I can confirm that there is a lot of interest in the new EverReady, will be great to see how that performs. Obviously, Canada is HUGE, what challenges does that present paddlers?
Big and beautiful! The sheer size of our country does throw up challenges for all athletes, not just paddlers and logistics can be an issue. But for SUP it is fair to say that our SUP scene is divided into an Eastern (Ontario and Quebec) group of paddlers and a Western (Alberta and BC) group of paddlers.
We are lucky to have some great events on both sides of the country.In the East you have the Ontario SUP Series with 5 – 6 local events each year, Tamas Buday and the Lake SUP Gliders put on the Montreal Paddle Battle usually in July, Sebastian Ouelette, Downwind Quebec has the Downwind Championships on the St. Lawrence river.
In the west you have a number of annual events.The Kalamalka Classic, hosted by one of our Infinity dealers, Kalavida Surf Shop in BC is a great event as well as a few others in Alberta and BC.
There has been a great virtual race series, Canadian Paddle League that Infinity Canada has sponsored since its inception over the covid pandemic when everything was closed.It is open to paddlers across the country as well as in the US and paddlers submit their times along with GPS information for each of the different distances and courses.
Brent with some of his Infinity Team
Virtual challenges are my speciality, nice to see that you guys are supporting one in North America. As we talk the World Championships are just around the corner, how does Canada sort out qualifying for the national team? That can be difficult to organise in smaller, more densely populated countries so for you guys it must be a real challenge?
It is a real challenge. Currently, there isn’t a significant qualifying system in Canada for either ISA or ICF World Championships. Typically, there has been one race in western Canada that is used to determine who is eligible to compete for Team Canada.
In 2023 the Ontario SUP Series race in Collingwood, ON, was designated the qualifying event for the ISAs.They had distance, technical, and sprint events that produced our official Team.Unfortunately, the event was designated as a qualifier at the last minute and many of the Canadian elite/competitive paddlers couldn’t make it, which affected the level of the competition.In addition to that, many who ‘qualified’ couldn’t make it to France.
That is a problem we see across the world, it can be so difficult to travel to events with equipment. Is it easier to race in the US?
Yes, it can be. One of the best race series I have seen over the past few years is the GOAT Boater Race Series in Tega Cay, SC.Although that isn’t the Canadian scene, I typically try to bring our local riders down for a road trip to a truly fun event.Yes, you go for the win and be as competitive as you can, but it’s more about having fun, promoting and growing the sport at the grassroots level.
As someone involved in the business side of SUP and someone supporting SUP racers and events, how do you see the future of SUP racing, particularly with current discussions on SUP in the Olympics in the future?
I think the future of SUP racing is going to stay at a grassroots level until there is an actual governing body and a Pro Tour.
There are a number of events that have come and gone over the last 10 years and the ones that are still around have either declined in attendance or basically stayed at the same number of participants with original participants leaving being replaced by newcomers to the sport. This primarily happens because at present there still isn’t a professional governing body and no real direction for paddlers to turn pro and make a living as athletes.
There are a couple of organizations trying to take SUP to the Olympic level, most recently the ISA winning the court decision to be that governing body, but there still isn’t a legitimate qualifying system. It’s, who has money to go to the World events, over who is the best athlete. While it does seem great for the average weekend warrior to line up beside some of the best paddlers in the world, it will never make it past the grassroots level if that remains.
You can compare this to any pro sport, from surfing, CrossFit, NASCAR, NFL, NBA, NHL, NFL, the list goes on, but let’s look at one of the more recent sports to make the Olympics that most closely resembles SUP and that is surfing.
There has been a legitimate governing body in surfing since 1976. There is a clear path to get to the Championship tour and be a professional athlete, making your living in the sport through a number of qualifying series. It sure would be super cool to line up beside Kelly Slater or John John Florence and surf in a heat with them, but since they are at the top level of the sport, and have earned their way there through the qualifying system, the weekend warriors that all have day jobs they make a living at and are not professional athletes, they just can’t show up and compete with them.
It has taken surfing over 40 years to get a shot at the Olympics, if SUP can take anything from them it is to create a Governing Body, have a qualification system and stop having the weekend warrior paddlers showing up to claim they are World Champions.
Once that happens, you can now have athletes who can make a living as professionals and then more of the general public will start watching because they are the best of the best. We all want to be entertained by sports, which means we need to have the best to eventually get television coverage.
There are so many amazing local and international events for the rest of us to compete in and enjoy, just like all the other sports we love. Let’s promote those and work on growing our grassroots level.
I think that’s an interesting summary of where SUP is as a relatively young, competitive sport and one that many would agree with. Finding the right way forward with a good balance for professional SUP athletes and weekend warriors is going to be a challenge for any international governing body and I think that events like the recent ICF World Championships with hundreds of competitions from around the globe show how a mix of Elite and, let’s say more normal paddlers can work.
Brent Ackland is Mr Infinity for Canada and North America, check out his company – Northern SUP for your all your SUP needs in the area, Infinity Boards, equipment and coaching.
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