When you first meet Chris, no one can guess how incredible his journey has been. When you see him in the surf on his stand-up paddle board, he seems fit and capable. When you sit down with him and start chatting, his laid back and modest demeanour doesn’t make you think that he’s anything else than a regular guy and if you ask, he will probably insist that he’s nothing more than one. You have to dig and ask questions to see for yourself that although he’s got both his feet on the ground, he has lived an adventurous and inspiring life and continues to do so.
“Whitewater kayaking is where it started for me. I grew up at the mouth of the Capilano River in North Vancouver and everyday I would see guys paddling down. I was probably in grade 7 or 8 and I asked my mom and dad if I could have a kayak that year. They bought me lessons and that definitely was the start of adventures for me.”
The passionate young man was having a blast, surfing river waves in his kayak and going down to trips in the USA with older fellow paddlers. Failing math in 9th grade is, however, what really changed his life. It forced him to attend summer school during a bus strike. His dad got him a mountain bike so he could make his way there and back.
“There is this crazy hill to get to the school and everyday I’d ride it. Doing that every day, by the end of the summer I was faster and faster getting up this hill. Fast forward two years, I was on the National team for Canada riding the road and moved to Belgium for a while riding road races and trying to make a career of it.”
Coming back one from Belgium and retiring from road racing, Chris was still a naturally active young man. He started getting into climbing and his love for skiing grew to become his number one passion, one that would define his adult life.
“Skiing and ski mountaineering is a progression. It’s not because you ski that you can climb up mountains. You have to have mentors, get out there and figure out the craft. Over the years, that’s what sort of happened and it morphed into wanting to be skiing big mountains and ski mountaineering.”
Skiing big mountains brought Chris to all sorts of places and on all sorts of adventures. It also was the vector by which he got into photography.
“I felt pretty fortunate to be in some of the locations I was in, and I wanted to share those experiences with other people. Skiing was one of my first loves and being on high mountains in the winter is remarkable. Not a lot of people get to experience that. I just kind of picked up a little point-and-shoot to start. Eventually I started stepping up my gear and making it happen.”
Years of patience and learning the craft led him to make a successful career into big mountain ski photography but a series of events led him to move away from skiing hard lines. In one of them, he was climbing a peak with a friend. They had done all their safety checks, kept up to date on avalanche forecast, dug out pits and changed their trajectory to make their route safer but a change in aspect and snowpack 100 feet from the summit led them into a 900 foot fall in climbing gear.
“It was quite a large fall. We both survived it. That will always live with me when I’m skiing right now. You can reduce the risk when you’re skiing as much as you think you can, but exposure to risk always means there is a chance something will go wrong. Many years of skiing lines safely and coming away feeling we did great, but this one moment where we thought we were doing everything right went wrong, so it’s affected how I feel about my decision-making in the mountains. I feel back a little bit. Nowadays, the mountains give me more anxiety.”
Although he still enjoys skiing, Chris fell back to his first love, the water. After meeting Norman Hann, a well-known paddle boarder on the West Coast and adventuring with him, he knew SUP would be his new thing.
“It all made sense. I wanted to surf but didn’t have surf. SUP is great. We have amazing rivers in Squamish and around and other water outlets we play on. Then I take that and take it to the ocean to surf, it ties it all together and makes complete sense for me.”
Since discovering stand-up paddling, Chris has made it its main adventure vessel. Between, casual paddles, expeditions, downwinders and surf, he has his fair share of outings to keep his passion alive and release the pressures that come with being a firefighter.
“A wave of calmness comes over me in the ocean. Being out there, I feel at home, at peace with myself. All I can think of is “This is exactly where I want to be right now. Right now, this is it!” The ocean, the marine life, the perspective. It feels so good. You’re standing tall, if the ocean is clear, you see life underneath you and above, you can see further away. There’s lots going on and it’s really engaging. I feel pretty lucky that way.”
Chris is lucky to have found and pursued so many outlets. The places he’s been to, the people he has met and adventures he has been on are not only amazing, they are also inspiring to both athletes and regular Joes. But despite all that, what stands-out to me is Chris’ strong desire to inspire others to pursue their own passions, something we can definitely stand behind.