I know how to not fall off a paddleboard.

That said, I’m used to participating in this wobbly watersport in only the most ideal conditions: on calm lakes in the hottest days of summer, and once in Maui, where taking a tumble into the ocean hardly matters. But the stakes feel a lot higher on an overcast day in Squamish at 7:45 in the morning.

My friend Mariah and I are suiting up on the west shore of the Mamquam Blind Channel for an “Intro to Stroke” class with Norm Hann Expeditions. Our instructor, Tina Currie, exchanges friendly greetings with the earlier-risers who pass by us on their way out of (out of!) the water. Many of them look twice our age and also twice as fit. Buckling into my crayon-red life vest and lugging my board to the water’s edge, I decide to fake it till I make it. After all, there’s not much wind, the water looks buttery smooth and I kind of know how to do this.

Currie suggests we start on our knees, but all four of her pupils (Mariah and I plus a couple from out of town who apparently think an 8 a.m. paddleboard is a romantic vacay) move quickly to standing. We paddle south along the channel, Currie stopping every once in a while to point out an interesting bird or historical landmark or fundamental error I’m making while paddling (politely, of course). It turns out that you’re not supposed to jam your paddle as deep into the water as possible, but, instead, hinge and rotate at the waist and keep your arms in a relatively stagnant position… kind of like how a Barbie might paddleboard. My (wrong) technique had me zig-zagging across the channel, needing to switch sides almost every stroke. Now, I’m on a much straighter track, slicing through the blue-green water and hardly even thinking about how embarrassing it would be to fall in.

Not only does Currie’s instruction make me faster, it also makes me more energy-efficient: in the past I’ve found paddleboarding exhausting, but this method is downright meditative. The glorious marbled cliffs and lush forest landscape helps, too. We practice turning on a dime, paddling circles around a dock and facing the occasional boat wake head-on.

Prior to this, I didn’t think I needed a paddleboarding lesson—like with ice skating or Spikeball, I thought this was just one of those standard seasonal PNW activities I’d approach with some spirit, little skill and zero grace. But there’s something deeply satisfying about skimming over the water while gazing up at those serene Squamish views. I understand now why the paddle-happy retirees were so eager to get up and go.

Paddleboard lesson in session
Photo by Alyssa Hirose

Paddling is for summer only, right? Wrong. So, so wrong. Paddle BC is an excellent resource for year-round activities (think canoeing, kayaking, rafting and more). They offer a list of training courses all over the province—that’s how we found Norm Hann Expeditions in Squamish. You don’t have to get wet, you just have to get with it. paddlebc.ca

Squamish Checklist

Out of the water, here’s a list of things to do on (and above) dry land.

Where to Eat in Squamish

Pre-paddle, there’s coffee and doughnuts at Fox and Oak, the cozy café that you’re basically guaranteed to see a corgi at. Check out their rotating “community” and “experiential” doughnuts—the former donates a portion of proceeds to charity, the latter pushes baked good boundaries. 1386 Main St., Squamish

Fox and Oak donuts
Fox and Oak

Just north in Brackendale, the Watershed Grill has a charming riverside patio and is a prime eagle-viewing spot (it’s just across the water from Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park, the part-time home of around 1,300 bald eagles—bring along your binoculars). Grab a salmon burger with wasabi mayo or split some baked brie with red onion jam with your adventure pal. 41101 Government Rd., Brackendale

Designophiles, take note: Taka Ramen and Sushi is dreamy minimalist space created by local Squamish designer Josianne Bérubé. On the menu is (you guessed it) ramen and sushi, plus sashimi salad, donburi and more. 38065 Cleveland Ave., Squamish

Taka Ramen and Sushi
Taka Ramen and Sushi

Where to Shop in Squamish

To escape from your escape, there’s Gather Bookshop, a store packed with stories for readers of all ages. If it’s in stock, check out Held by the Land by ethnobotanist and Squamish Nation member Leigh Joseph—it’s all about the healing powers of Indigenous plants. 38041 2nd Ave., Squamish

The Squamish Farmers’ Market is on every Saturday, April to September, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find fresh flowers, local veggies and live music here. 37996 Cleveland Ave., Squamish

Squamish Farmers’ Market
Squamish Farmers’ Market/ Photo by Tourism Squamish/Explore Squamish

You won’t find a prettier modern boutique than Grateful Gift Shop. Vintage clothing, all-natural skincare, handmade jewellery and candles line the carefully curated shelves in this light-filled space. 38027 2nd Ave., Squamish

What to Do in Squamish Besides Paddleboarding

Take sea to sky literally by booking a scenic flight after paddleboarding—trust me, the water is even more gorgeous from the air.  Sea to Sky Air offers tours starting at $135. There’s no bad seat on these little planes, but the co-pilot spot is definitely the coolest.  

Sea to Sky Air plane and passenger
FYI, Sea to Sky Air pilots are friendly but firm when answering no, you can’t have a turn at the wheel. Photo by Tourism Squamish/Explore Squamish

This story was originally published in the May/June 2024 print issue of Western Living magazine. Get your free print subscription here