There are stories that resonate strongly showing another dimension of stand-up paddleboarding. The focused, purpose-driven ones that demonstrate the versatility of our sport transcending the competitive and “lifestyle” aspects of it.
It was 2019 when we first talked with Norm Hann, Ocean Athlete, SUP Coach, Wildlife Advocate and Founder of a guiding company Norm Hann Expeditions. “One of the things that I have always believed in is people need to experience a place and be moved by it emotionally before they can fully understand it and protect it,” Norm’s statement strikes a chord in the post-lockdown world where purpose and conviction are so deeply so needed in the “New Normal”.
TotalSUP caught up with this passionate explorer to discuss the impact of global pandemic on SUP and SUNOVA, Norm Hann Expeditions’ brand of choice and how it aligns with their core values: “Connection, Culture and Conservation.”
A partnership of values, the Eco Expedition. Photo Credit: Joel Clifton
Hi Norm, welcome back to TotalSUP! How are you? How much has the world changed after the lockdowns and what was the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on
your venture and expeditions?
Hello Anna and thanks for having me back to TotalSUP. I am doing well and we have just wrapped up our guiding and instruction season with a number of paddle surf retreats and courses in Tofino, British Columbia.
Overall my business has had a great year but I would have to say that one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on the business was that we were not able to get up to the Great Bear Rainforest and into Hartley Bay and Gitga’at Territory for the third straight season. I am adopted into the Raven Clan of Gitga’at People and I have spent the last twenty years guiding in this spectacular area, so this trip and the people of Hartley Bay are very special to me.
The Norm Hann Eco Expedition loaded for a multi-day expedition. Photo Credit: Bruce Kirkby
We all wanted to make sure that everyone was safe in the small native community, especially the elders and we respected the wishes of the community by not traveling there. Our Great Bear Stand Expedition was the very first trip my business offered back in 2009 and represents our values, passions and goals of paddling, wildlife, traditional culture and connecting people to wild places.
Since we could not get up to Hartley Bay we added a new trip, an expedition paddling down one of the remote rivers in the Yukon Territory. The first time I went to the Yukon was in 2016 and was part of the first group of paddle boarders to race the Yukon River Quest. The Yukon has vast untouched spaces with wild rivers flowing throughout and spending time on these rivers is just magic. Our trip on the fun, class 1 Nisutlin River was a huge success. We didn’t see anyone for days and camped under the northern lights and in the presence of moose and wolves. Overall the business has fared well and we are heading back up to the Great Bear Rainforest in 2023. We should have our best year yet and I am really excited.
Exploring waterways of British Columbia Photo Credit: Chris Christie
What’s your view on the way the sport of stand-up paddleboarding is evolving?
As the pandemic has been winding down, I am happy to see all of the race events and retreats coming back. We have such an amazing community and it is so important that we share good times, connections and experiences together. The SUP retail industry went through a pretty significant boom in the last couple of seasons and paddleboard sales were sky high which was great for retailers and getting new paddlers onto the water.
My business saw that boom in a sharp rise of introductory lessons and we were happy to see paddlers coming to our lessons to receive quality skills and water safety instruction. The areas that continue to grow and evolve are the touring and multi day trips as people become inspired to explore and travel farther…
I have enjoyed seeing the growing trend of long, endurance based paddling events like the Yukon River Quest, Chattajack, Muskoka River X, 70/48 and so on. Paddleboarders continue to prove what is possible and how far and fast we can go and in turn may inspire others to explore in their own backyards. Standup-paddle boards, paddles and accessories continue to evolve especially in the touring category. The race, touring and surf categories require gear with solid design and we will see more people leaving their inexpensive inflatables behind and investing in good quality boards and paddles. Continue to support the good retailers and knowledgeable staff that know how to get you into the right board and for the right experience. There is still so much growth and maturing to be had for our sport of stand-up paddleboarding.
Sunova Surfboards well represented at Norm’s paddle surf camp in Tofino, B.C. Photo Credit: Alex Taalman
We’ve noticed some rad additions to your SUP surfing quiver… Could you tell us more about your collaboration with SUNOVA?
I have really enjoyed working with SUNOVA and I value the relationship we have built and the growth of the brand here in Canada. When I work with a brand there are three main areas that I focus on. Do they have a good product? Do they have good people behind the product and provide good support? and What sustainability and conservation initiatives is the brand involved with to help our environment? SUNOVA checks off all the boxes. I absolutely love the product. Aside from being the most visually appealing boards on the market with their use of Paulownia wood, they are well made, thoughtfully designed and perform well.
The team at SUNOVA is creative and are always looking at new ways of doing things. Their two-piece race and surf boards were a game changer for international travel. Bert Burger is an innovator and master craftsman when it comes to the understanding of design and performance in the shaping of the surf and paddle surf line. Martin Jandke has been really supportive and I value his passion for the business and the excitement he brings to the industry. Shaper Marcus Tardrew has race and touring designs that have not changed in years, a nod to the thoughtful design and investment in testing and feedback with athletes like James Casey.
SUNOVA’s paddle surf line up is deep with a range of boards and sizes. Working with a retailer or getting feedback from athletes can really help you to figure out what size and volume you should go with. SUNOVA stands behind their motto of ‘Right Board for the Right Wave for the Right Customer’.
I have been providing feedback on the Eco Expedition board for the last couple of years and it has been a great process to help bring to market a board that I think everyone will enjoy and will help them to explore their coastline. As a result of their commitment to sustainable manufacturing and building the best boards on the market the future is bright.
Norm surfing the Casey Revolution in Tofino, B.C. Photo Credit: Troy Nebeker
In everything you do, there’s a major focus on preserving local ecosystems and working with sustainable, eco-friendly brands… Could you tell us more about the ECO ONE board? And how does SUNOVA translates onto your brand’s values?
Our three core values at Norm Hann Expeditions are connection, culture and conservation. We always seek deeper relationships to the wilderness, others and ourselves. Every coastline is shaped by the indigineous communities that steward the land and we are driven by a respect for people, land and wildlife. We’re in business to protect wild coastlines through education, advocacy and being part of the 1% for the Planet Initiative.
A brand like SUNOVA mirrors our values. They are not a brand that goes around tooting their horn about how they do this but if you look under the hood you will see a company that walks the walk when it comes to care for their employees, how they manufacture their products and their focus on sustainability. SUNOVA has implemented the “Lean” manufacturing process learned from the Toyota Production System, with the main focus on “least waste,” and the goal of breaking free from the need to constantly throw things away and buy new ones. There is nothing more natural than the Paulownia and Balsa wood that they use for building their boards. When people purchase a board from us I tell them they have just invested in a lifetime board, one that will last and will keep a smile on their face for years to come. When they are done with it they can hang it on their wall. I am proud to be associated with a company like SUNOVA and I value the commitment they have made to doing things the right way.
What’s your favourite SUNOVA SUP board set up?
Considering the SUNOVA range, it’s a pretty tough question and might be made easier by asking what SUNOVA boards do I use in the surf and on the ocean? I am proud with how my Eco Expedition board has turned out and the feedback I have received from happy clients around the world. It has been our bestselling board in Canada.
I paddle the 14’ x 28.5” and it has been tested extensively, fully loaded and in the most challenging of coastal conditions where it has performed well. In the surf I have been enjoying James Casey’s collaboration boards and have been surfing the 9’ x 30” Revolution. I love the longboard feel of it and ease of getting into waves yet it performs well off the tail. I am also surfing the new Flow, an 8’8” x 31” that gets up on speed quickly with the quad fin set up and is a fun, user friendly board.
Other boards that I have really enjoyed surfing are the Speed and Steeze collections. All of these boards will put a smile on your face. The new board I am experimenting with right now is the 18’ x 27” Unlimited board, originally designed by Marcus for James and his Molokai to Oahu race. I am carrying overnight and expedition gear on it and I think it will be a game changer for big open water expeditions.
One of Sunova’s all time bestselling boards, the Speed.Photo Credit: Troy Nebeker
What other SUNOVA boards are available during your camps and expeditions?
The Eco Expedition is the board we are using mostly for our tours and expeditions as the paddling experience is enjoyable, functional and efficient. You can go a little narrower with the width as the parallel rails and flat surf deck allows for greater stability. If you are at any of our surf retreats or trips we usually have the Eco One boards with Flows and Steezes in there as well.
Design, performance and innovation. The two piece 8’10” Steeze. Photo Credit: Alex Taalman
What are your plans?
As we speak I am in the process of planning 2023 and looking forward to another great season ahead. I am excited to be heading back to the Great Bear Rainforest, Yukon and the remote areas on Vancouver Island. Bruce Kirkby and I have another big trip planned on the north coast of British Columbia in the spring and I am headed to Belize for trips this Winter. I am also looking at another tropical paddle surf destination as well. Pretty sure I will need a few lifetimes for all of the surf and exploration trips I keep thinking about.
The 9’5” Eco One ready for dawn patrol in Tofino, B.C. Photo Credit: Alex Taalman
Thank you for your inspiring insight into the future of our sport and we’ll be following your future expeditions!
To find out more about SUNOVA, visit sunovasurfboards.com
Follow SUNOVA brand on Instagram and Facebook
To find out more about wilderness tours in Canada, visit normhann.com
Follow Norm Hann on Instagram and Facebook
*All images courtesy of Norm Hann