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After 8 days and 350km of paddling, Norm Hann has completed a standup paddleboard expedition along the east coast of Haida Gwaii, on British Columbia, Canada’s west coast.

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With the notoriously volatile open waters of Hecate Strait to the east and traditional Haida territory rising out of the ocean to the west, the expedition showcased what is at stake both in an environmental and cultural sense should oil tankers be allowed passage through these waters.  The expedition presented many challenges, including consistent 50 km days on the board, head winds, strong ocean currents, and times of complete isolation.

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The expedition was documented from a 40 ft sailboat as part of the upcoming film STAND – a SUP adventure through the Great Bear Rainforest, presented by Quiksilver Waterman, in association with Escape Route and Pacific Wild.  Setting out from Old Masset on the northern coast of Graham Island, Hann began paddling on June 7, 2012, making his way along North Beach before rounding Rose Spit, an iconic and turbulent location where two bodies of water merge.  Due to shallow water and the convergence of currents, the support boat was unable to join Hann, and as a resultant he spent the first night solo on the beach.

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“After 52 km and an unrelenting side chop, being alone that first night gave me an inspiring and humbling feeling of remoteness.”

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Rejoining the crew in Queen Charlotte City, the expedition moved into what everybody was looking forward to: more isolation and most significantly, the Haida Watchmen sites.  Haida Gwaii is a powerful place, and has been home of the Haida First Nation for the past 12,000 years.  At the turn of the 20th century, contact with Europeans brought waves of small pox, which decimated the Haida population.  After great struggle, the Haida have reclaimed much of their land, and the five Watchmen sites are culturally significant locations spread throughout the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.  At each site watchmen, Haida stewards who maintain the land and educate visitors, welcomed the crew with open arms, sharing their stories and more often than not, traditional foods such as halibut, gau (herring roe) and dried seaweed.

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“I felt really honored to be shown those sites by the Haida.” describes Hann.  “There was a real feeling of spirit and power in those places.  The watchmen were true hosts of the land and welcomed us with open arms.”

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With favorable weather presenting itself daily, Hann pushed on without a rest day to finish with a 54 km paddle on glassy waters under a perfect blue sky at perhaps the most powerful of the Watchmen sites, SGang Gwaay.  Greeted by towering totem poles that stand sentinel, facing the open water, it was a fitting conclusion to the expedition.

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“For me it was the completion of a vision.  Paddling into SGang Gwaay under the presence of the poles and the ancient village site was totally visceral.”

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Leaving what is akin to Canada’s version of Machu Picchu, the crew felt grateful for the experience of the previous 8 days.  Reflecting on the whole journey, Hann adds, “Haida Gwaii revealed itself as a magical and profound place and I think viewers will get a sense of that in the film.”

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Stay tuned for more updates coming soon.

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