West Coast paddlers and ocean lovers gathered at Mackenzie Beach on Saturday to honour an inspirational champion of change.
Cancer stole Bob Purdy’s life on Jan. 29. He was 64.
The Paddle for the Planet founder moved to the West Coast from his longtime Okanagan home in 2015 and made an immediate and profound impact on his new surroundings, quickly becoming a familiar face in the ocean and stalwart ally of environmental and social initiatives.
Through Paddle for the Planet, Purdy urged everyone in earshot and beyond to create positive change.
“You can look out your back window virtually anywhere on the planet and see things that need to be changed,” he told the Westerly News on New Year’s Eve, 2015, before heading out on his Stand up Paddleboard for his 1,826th consecutive day.
Despite breaking his nose at Coho Beach the first time he tried the sport in 2007, Purdy became a pioneer of Stand Up Paddleboarding and fell in love with the sport so deeply that he opened his own SUP shop. He sold that shop in 2010 and began his consecutive paddleboarding streak, which he began on Jan. 1, 2011, in an effort to motivate others to make social, environmental and economic changes in their world.
“We as a species, I think, have lost our connection to the natural world and with stand up paddle it just brings you right back there,” he said. “When you’re connected to nature you’ll take care of it and if we can get that message across that’s going to be a huge help.”
Hernia surgery brought an end to Purdy’s streak at 2,100 days on Oct. 1, 2016.
“I’m really sad that the daily paddle is going to end,” he told the Westerly before heading onto the water that day. “At the same time, I’m super excited and super happy about how far we’ve come, what Paddle for the Planet has been able to achieve, how we’ve been able to get our message out about changing the way we live on the planet and about what lies forward in the future.”
His legacy, and the change he inspired, was on full display on Saturday morning as the people whose lives he touched paddled out together to celebrate his impact.
“I’m here to pay some respects to a really good solid guy,” said Tofino councillor Greg Blanchette.
“I won’t say last respects, because I’ll be paying respects to the guy for, well, every time I see somebody on a paddleboard. Every time I go near the ocean, I’ll give him a thought…He was a visionary. He had a vision and he walked it for years and years and years. I’ve really got to admire him for that.”
“He was a man of purpose and passion,” added Tofino local Zak Cross.
Lisa Ahier said she would probably have never started paddleboarding if she hadn’t met Purdy.
“He was the first person to get me on a board and make me feel really secure at 57 years old, thinking that I could get out there and do it too. He encouraged me every step of the way and, now, I go out on a daily basis,” she said. “Many, many, times when I’m in the water, I’m thinking of Bob…He was instrumental in this community to get us all on boards and Paddle for the Planet was such an inspiration to us all because we really care about where we live.”
Surfrider Pacific Rim Chair Michelle Hall called Purdy an “amazing ocean defender” and incredible source of support.
“When we first came to bring Surfrider Pacific Rim back to life, he was one of my biggest mentors and a really great inspiration for the ocean and the community,” she said.
Nancy Woods said she met Purdy through Surfrider and was struck by his passion.
“I’m here to honour my sweet friend Bob,” she said. “We all knew Bob as a hardcore environmentalist. He would do anything to save the planet. He was so passionate about the earth…Such intelligence, such wisdom, but such heart. I love you Bob.”