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Entrepreneur helps customers catch wave

Bow Valley residents will no longer have to surf the internet for wave catching gear this year.
Brandon Olsthoorn stands with a surfboard at his pop up shop on Main Street in Canmore.
Brandon Olsthoorn stands with a surfboard at his pop up shop on Main Street in Canmore.

Bow Valley residents will no longer have to surf the internet for wave catching gear this year.

Stand up paddleboarding pop-up proprietor Brandon Olsthoorn has expanded his store, located on Main Street next to Ralph Connor Memorial United Church, to include all things river surfing.

The new Bow Valley Surf business is co-located with Bow Valley Stand Up Paddleboarding, offering surf boards, booties, wetsuits and gloves – all of the accoutrements required to take on man-made river waves located in Kananaskis Country at Canoe Meadows.

“We want to share our knowledge of the sport, how to do it safely, and we’re going to provide the equipment for you guys to do it,” said Olsthoorn.

Although located in the same pop-up shop, the two businesses for surf and paddleboarding are separate, catering to two different markets and each with its own online presences on social media.

That niche marketing is part of Olsthoorn’s plans to be seen as the credible Bow Valley source for more than just stand up paddleboarding.

“Surf is stand up paddleboarding, and paddleboarding is surf to me,” said Olsthoorn. “But on the other side, stand up paddleboarding is a very unique market … I wanted to separate the two and cater to two separate markets.”

Olsthoorn began Bow Valley SUP five years ago as a passion project, transforming that passion into a sustainable business.

With more mainstream acceptance of river surfing as a sport, Olsthoorn is bringing that same passion for surfing along with the stronger economic position from an expanded customer base to re-create the success of his paddleboarding business.

Olsthoorn worked with suppliers to bring in accessible, safe, temperature-rated equipment for the Kananaskis River.

“The water is extremely cold, so you want to be well prepared,” said Olsthoorn. “If you have a thick enough wetsuit you’ll be more than able to surf it.”

Providing a complete range of surf products was also a concern.

“No one is offering any equipment or anything to provide for the community,” said Olsthoorn.

Bow Valley Surf also offers specialty surf items like surf grass – mats to stand on while changing – along with board fins and tail pads for traction.

“Initially, I want to provide for the community by selling cheaper than you would find online.”

Price is dependent on the type of surfboard purchased, with a good quality entry level foam board starting at around $350. Wetsuits range from $250 to $500, and booties and gloves cost up to an additional $200.

“After you have those things, there are no fees at all for river surfing.”

The decision to go with a seasonal pop-up shop as opposed to a more traditional storefront location had a lot to do with emulating surf culture found in places like Costa Rica and Mexico.

“Seeing other businesses that don’t have the means and capital funds to start up a surf shop inspired me to create something like this,” he said.

A shortened season from May to September also played a factor into choosing to be part of the Canmore community market.

“It allows small businesses like myself to be open in the summertime, visible, and prominent.”

Olsthoorn suggests anyone interested in learning about more about river surfing to see it for themselves at Canoe Meadows in Kananaskis, and to meet other river surfers.

Rocky Mountain Outlook

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