Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 3/7/2016 (1980 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
‘This sport is as mild or as wild as you want it to be," says Scott Hopper, co-founder of the Hardcore Surf & Paddleboard Company.
A couple of weeks ago, on a day when the mercury in southern Manitoba spiked to 31 C, Hopper drove to Patricia Beach to hook up with a group of friends, also accomplished standup paddleboarders. After unhinging their boards from the roofs of their vehicles, the guys paddled onto Lake Winnipeg until they were about a kilometre offshore.
"I’m a huge downwinder — that’s what I love to do most — and that day, the winds were blowing directly out of the south and were reaching heights of six feet," says Hopper, who has gone by his surname for as long as he can remember. ("Even my mom and sister call me Hopper. It’s weird.")
"It was absolutely fantastic. When we were in the bottom of a (wave) trough, we couldn’t even see each other. We were climbing one wave at a time, dropping down and literally surfing to the next one, all the way to Grand Beach. It was the absolute ultimate, but, hey, that’s where this sport ends, not where it begins."
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The first time Hopper, 47, saw a standup paddleboard was during a trip to Hawaii in 2008.
He was relaxing on Waikiki Beach with his wife, Tracy Leclair, and his buddy Chris Hellesoe when he began noticing other tourists skipping over the waves on the colourful contraptions, which, as the name implies, are propelled by rowing in an upright position.
When he returned to Winnipeg, Hopper started looking around for a paddleboard, figuring it would be put to good use at the family cottage at Pelican Lake. Unable to find a place that sold the product, he and Hellesoe, who was interested in getting one as well, decided their only recourse was to build their own.
"We made something like 12 that first summer and, if you give me a sec, I can probably find the last one of the bunch somewhere in the back," says Hopper, who studied autobody mechanics in school and later branched out into fibreglass repair, primarily boats and marine craft.
Hopper and Hellesoe opened the Hardcore Surf & Paddleboard Company — the name is a play on the style of music Hopper listens to when he’s riding the waves — in the lower level of a building at 248 Princess St. in 2009. If the idea of a surf shop on the Canadian Prairies strikes you as a risky proposition, rest assured the guys weren’t completely convinced the plan was going to hold water, either.
"Nowadays, you can’t pick up a magazine in a grocery store without seeing a picture of somebody paddleboarding, but seven years ago, yeah, Winnipeggers were just... they had no clue," Hopper says with a chuckle.
"But we posted some ads, put up this crummy low-track website and started renting our boards out to people curious about the sport. We’d take them out on the river to demo how (the boards) worked and after a while, we got a bit of a buzz going. That’s basically how this whole thing started."
"This whole thing" consists of the original site on Princess Street (now primarily a storage facility), a rental/sales kiosk at Grand Beach Provincial Park (where Hopper and associates teach the ins and outs and ups and downs of the sport every weekend from May to September) and a two-year-old retail presence at 211 Pacific Ave. (It wasn’t an intentional move on Hopper’s part to open up on a street named for the same body of water where he discovered paddleboarding. "I wish I’d put that much thought into it but, no, it’s ironic, for sure, but a total fluke.")
This summer, Hopper (Hellesoe left the business two years ago) has added Fun Mountain Waterslide Park to his itinerary. Every Tuesday and Wednesday evening, after the slides have closed for the day, interested parties can get their feet wet, so to speak, by working with a certified instructor in the park’s wraparound pond.
"The first question I ask is, ‘Are you comfortable with water?’" says Hopper, who provides all necessary equipment, including life-jackets.
"Next, we get into weight and height. We want people to be on a board that’s nice and stable for them, especially if it’s their first time out. As soon as they realize how easy it is, it’s an instant, fall-in-love thing. My daughter, Jett, is six and she’s totally into it. I have videos of her catching waves and striking her shaka (hang loose) pose. My mom’s 83, has her own board and comes out with us all the time."
Raquel Saniuk took her first paddleboarding lesson in May from Hopper, whom she now works for at the Pacific Avenue location. A quick study, the 24-year-old University of Winnipeg student took part June 26 in the Coney Island SUP Cup Challenge, an 11-km race at Lake of the Woods. The event, which was sponsored by Hardcore, drew participants from Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and was the first leg of a two-part series. (The second competition, the Grand Beach SUP Cup, is scheduled for Aug. 6 at Grand Beach. For more information, go to www.hcsurf.com.)
"The weather was crazy — it was cold and raining, and it felt like you were getting hit by these little ice pellets — but it was all smiles, the whole way," she says.
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Saniuk, a seasoned canoeist, is enrolled in the U of W kinesiology program and says paddleboarding fits perfectly with her lifestyle.
"I love being out on the water, first of all, but I also love using all of my muscles to pull me along," she says, taking a quick break from a class at Fun Mountain. "When people comment it looks slow and la-di-da, I tell them no, it’s a great workout. And I so want to learn how to surf on a paddleboard, like what Hopper does. I mean, that just sounds insane."
According to Men’s Fitness magazine, standup paddleboarding is the fastest-growing watersport in North America, with gear-related sales up more than 200 per cent since 2014. That’s great news for entrepreneurs such as Hopper, of course — but it comes with a price.
"That’s the thing, eh?" he says.
"Lots of people get into whatever it is they do because they love doing it. But then it grows, and you find yourself spending less and less time doing what you love. There are definitely days when I’m in the store when it’s sunny outside and the wind is just right, and it hits me right here," he says, tapping his fist to his chest.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
For the first four years of its existence, the Hardcore Surf & Paddleboard Company specialized in custom-made surfboards and paddleboards. As sales grew, however, co-founders Scott Hopper and Chris Hellesoe found there weren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with demand.
“I’m probably down to one or two (custom-made) boards a year. Mostly what we do now is work with Blue Planet (Surf), which, if you ask me, is the biggest SUP (standup paddleboard) shop in the world,” Hopper says. “We’re the Canadian distributors for them and have exclusive rights from Saskatchewan to the east coast.”
On June 24, Blue Planet owner and founder Robert Stehlik paid his first visit to Winnipeg from his home in Honolulu, to check out Hopper’s location on Pacific Avenue. Later that day, he helped teach a paddleboarding class at Grand Beach.
“I texted my wife that I got to the beach and her answer was, ‘Isn’t that a bit of a misnomer? How big of a beach can it be?’” Stehlik said when reached by phone. “My reply was to take a picture (of Grand Beach) and send it to her. She got back to me right away, saying, ‘OK, looks like a real beach.’”
Stehlik, who stuck around for the June 26 race in Kenora, Ont., said the “inland market” — people who paddleboard on lakes and rivers — is where the future of the sport lies. And OK, maybe he didn’t know where Winnipeg was, precisely, the first time Hopper told him he wanted to carry the Blue Planet line. But after referring to a map, he was pretty sure Hardcore would be a good fit for his creations.
“I saw that there were a lot of lakes in the area, so that was obviously a good sign,” said Stehlik, who also went whitewater paddleboarding in northern Ontario during his visit. “Plus, we were already working with a shop on Sylvan Lake (Alta.) so, no, the notion of a surf shop in Canada never seemed that far-fetched to me.”