Norm Hann has been at the forefront of the stand-up paddle movement since the sport’s early days. As a SUP athlete, Norm has competed and raced around the world as a global team member for Boardworks Surf and Kokatat and has extensively explored the waters of BC’s Great Bear Rainforest and other world class destinations. He’s a Paddle Canada certified Surf, Coastal and River instructor and trainer and one of the only Canadians to have ever completed the grueling Molokai to Oahu “Channel of Bones” SUP race in Hawaii. His adventures have been featured in Mountain Life, SBC Surf, Explore, Sierra, Stand Up Paddle, SUP the Mag, and British Columbia Magazine.
Norm was part of the award winning STAND film project, which highlighted his 350 km SUP expedition along the coast of Haida Gwaii. Norm’s Standup4Greatbear Society now promotes the education, awareness and protection of the Great Bear Rainforest through conservation expeditions, featured talks and school presentations. He lives in Squamish, BC with his wife Jenn Segger and their 3-year-old boy, Kiel.
About his presentation:
Norm Hann’s work in the Great Bear Rainforest as a guide, educator and coach led to a special relationship with the community of Hartley Bay. In 2006, he was adopted into the Raven Clan of the Gitga’at First Nation and given the name T’aam Laan, which means “Steersman of the Canoe”. Since then, Norm has stood up for the Great Bear Rainforest and fought to keep oil tankers off the BC coastline, starting with a 400 km Standup4Greatbear expedition in 2010 in which he traveled along the proposed tanker route.
Interview by Brian Peech
What are you planning on talking about at this year’s MULTIPLICITY?
I haven’t quite decided yet, but most likely I’ll focus on my connection to the coast and stories of SUP, exploring and the Great Bear Rainforest with a message of protection, awareness and coastal inspiration. Actually, these questions may help to craft my story. Thanks.
The first time I learned about you was watching STAND. For the readers who aren’t familiar, what was that trip all about?
Well, STAND was a project I worked on with filmmaker Anthony Bonello and [photographer] Nicolas Teichrob. It was born over coffee in Squamish with Anthony, who had watched my first journey and awareness paddle, Standup4Greatbear on YouTube. I’d paddled from Kitimat to Bella Bella while trying to bring awareness to the threat of oil tankers on our coastline and in the Great Bear Rainforest. Anthony thought we could work on another project that would bring even greater awareness to a more global audience. The project focused on my standup paddleboard expedition along the coast of Haida Gwaii. The film also features the amazing Heiltsuk students who built their own wooden paddleboards and the incredible surfing and coastal connection of Tofino pro surfer, Raph Bruhwiler. It was an amazing journey and one that I was really proud to be a part of.
What’s stuck with you most about that journey?
I would have to say visiting the Haida Watchman sites by paddleboard. These sites are so amazing. At one time, these places were significant, thriving, coastal Haida communities that were eventually decimated by small pox. Only the fallen beams of the huge longhouses and long standing totem poles remain as a testament to these once great villages. Having the local Haida Watchman take us through these sites was an honour. On our final day, I paddled to the Unesco World Heritage site of Sgang Gwaay, and landing on the beach in front of these ancient totems was one of the most powerful and humbling experiences I’ve ever had.
“I paddled to the Unesco World Heritage site of Sgang Gwaay, and landing on the beach in front of these ancient totems was one of the most powerful and humbling experiences I have ever had.”
You’ve spent a lot of time with the Gitga’at community, so much so that I understand you’ve been adopted into the Raven Clan?
I was adopted into the Raven Clan of the Gitga’at people by Eva Hill. This was a huge honour that was bestowed on me in October of 2006. First Nation’s communities are matrilineal, which means that you take the clan name of your mother. They gave me the name T’aam Laan, which means “Steersman of the Canoe” for the work I had done with the youth in the village teaching and coaching basketball. Having a name carries a big responsibility, and it’s one that I do not take lightly. I am on a constant journey of learning whenever I am with the Gitga’at on their traditional lands.
You lead paddleboarding expeditions all over the world. I understand you’re in Belize right now? What is it about SUP that attracted you to make this your life?
I’m just getting back from two, week-long SUP trips in Belize. I grew up in Northern Ontario and spent a lot of time paddling a canoe and fishing. Once I moved out West, I couldn’t get enough of the ocean and surfing and when I saw Laird Hamilton on a surf paddle, surfing big waves in Hawaii, I was like, “That’s it. I need to get one of those!” I just love the paddleboard as a tool for exploration and keeping fit. One of my true passions is paddle surfing and sharing the sport with people from around the world on my SUP expeditions and courses. Our Great Bear trips would blow people’s minds if they had a chance to come there with me. The sport is attractive to young and old and the multidisciplinary aspect of the sports keeps things interesting and exciting.
What inspires you to help others connect and explore?
I just enjoy being with positive people, sharing the sport and helping them to connect to these amazing environments that they otherwise might not have a chance to experience. I feel fortunate to have chosen a path that I enjoy, and to share my passion with those around me. Most of my life has been about teaching, coaching and guiding. The sports and experiences may have changed, but the values are the same. These values will continue to guide me into the future and you won’t find me too far away from our coast.
“Going against the grain and having the confidence to follow your path requires some fearlessness and we owe it to ourselves to follow that path or, at least, to explore it.”
What were the biggest challenges for you to go out on your own to create a working life rooted in your passions?
Well, I gave up a full-time teaching job in Northern Ontario and packed up my old 4Runner to move out west and get into the outdoor guiding industry back in 2000. Going against the grain and having the confidence to follow your path requires some fearlessness; we owe it to ourselves to follow that path or, at least, to explore it. Starting a standup paddleboard business in Canada at a time when no one even knew what the sport was about was a big commitment. But I was pretty confident that people were going to love it. I was lucky to be hired in 2000 at an adventure lodge in the Great Bear Rainforest where I guided for years prior to the introduction of the SUP. I had years of transferable skills that I could apply to paddleboarding and leading people on expeditions. I was fully confident that as the sport grew, people were going to be taking these boards all over the world to explore, surf, run rivers and race. I started the business in 2009, and I’m just starting to see critical mass building over the last couple of years. Although I do a lot of courses and training in the various disciplines of SUP, my favourite part of my business is exploring the Great Bear. That place is just so incredible to experience by paddleboard.
What is it about the Great Bear that speaks to you?
The environment there and the spirit of the place are just so powerful that you have no choice but to be moved emotionally. I have guided people that have cried in the middle of an estuary due to the overwhelming power and truth of the place. I have had people quit their jobs after returning from the Great Bear and I have had people spread their loved one’s ashes in wild salmon streams. This place, our coast, has the ability to change people and you need to spend time in these environments to understand. Coastal First Nations have been living on our coast for close to 15,000 years and you cannot separate the people from the land; they are one in the same. Many of my values about the land, the traditional foods and our role in the ecosystems have come from the people of our coastline. Those principles, born of the land, continue to guide me. Places like the Great Bear Rainforest will become more important as the world becomes smaller and technology and consumption continue to progress. People from around the world should have the opportunity to visit and experience these wild places so they understand exactly where they stand within the ecosystem and how these places shift their way of thinking. Spend time paddling next to a humpback whale, walking shoulder to shoulder with a grizzly bear feeding on spawning salmon or walking through an ancient, towering, old growth forest. Talk to an elder in a First Nations community who has lived his whole life off the land and whose family goes back thousands of years, then you will understand the place, you will understand the people and you will understand the stories.
“A group of committed, emotional, passionate people is a really hard group to run over these days.”
How do you feel about the latest announcement that huge swaths of the Great Bear will be protected?
I think this is truly a great step in the right direction for our coastline. There are issues, like trophy hunting, which need to be put to bed once and for all, but I think this is a decision we can all celebrate and I thank those that have worked so hard to make it happen. People these days are looking critically at the decisions being made that have a negative impact on our environment. There are a lot of people that feel the same way I do about our coastline and what happens to it. We understand the value of the land which goes way beyond a monetary value; it’s a value we are just starting to understand as being really, really important. A group of committed, emotional, passionate people is a really hard group to run over these days.
On that note, do you feel we as people are drifting away from our connection with natural environments and if so, what can we do about it?
I think these days more people are realizing the importance of those connections and of committing to finding that connection and having it in their lives. Many of us either have grown up here in the west or, like myself, moved out here to be able to connect more easily and to share these places with our families and like-minded friends. I was fortunate to have parents who took the four of us kids to my grandfather’s cabin in Northern Ontario every summer. I grew up fishing, swimming and being on the water every day, all day. To this day, one of my favourite things is to go back to Northern Ontario to fish and connect to my roots. The values and love of wilderness and freedom is something I have tried to share with my son. It’s not a magic formula, we just need to share our passions and stories with family and friends, provide those the opportunity and the mountains, rivers and oceans will look after the rest.
What do you hope people who watch your presentation come away with?
I just want people to enjoy the show. For those who feel the way I do, it will just confirm our choices and what we value in life. For others it might just be the trigger to pull out some charts of our coastline or have a look at Google Earth and plan a coastal expedition. I just feel fortunate to share experiences and a place with people that have had such a huge and positive impact on my life. Thanks for asking me to be a part of this amazing and inspiring evening.
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