Madeline Leblanc…

Tell us a little bit more about yourself Maddi

I am from Welland Ontario Canada which is located in the heart of the Niagara Region. I have always grown up around the famous Welland Canal, but never took advantage of the water until I discovered paddle boarding in 2007.

How old are you?

I am 22 years young 🙂 

Are you currently studying? If so, what are you studying?

I am currently an undergraduate student in my fifth year of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo Ontario Canada.

How did you get into Stand Up Paddleboarding?

I was first introduced to Stand Up Paddling when I was ten years old in a Northern Ontario town called Sauble Beach. At the time I remember seeing two men taking out their paddle boards out on the lake and being fascinated by what they were standing on. My mom encouraged me to approach the men when they came back in from their paddle, and so I did! I asked them what they were standing on and they said: “Stand up paddle boards, want to try it?”. Ever since that day, I begged my parents to help me buy a paddle board because I knew I had found something that I was going to love for a long time. In the winter of 2012, I received my first paddle board with the help of my parents and started paddling the following spring in 2013.

How long have you competed in SUP?

I have been competing in SUP racing ever since the summer of 2016 and I am super stoked to go into my fourth season this upcoming summer.

What’s your most memorable race?

My most memorable race was the first time I competed in the Lake Ontario Paddle Board Crossing Race in 2017. I’d never been more nervous and excited for a race at the same time ever in my life. After nine and a half hours later battling through tough wind conditions, we crossed Lake Ontario from Niagara all the way to Toronto (52 kms). That race definitely made a huge statement in my paddling career and taught me that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. 

What do you love most about SUP?

The thing I love the most about SUP is the feeling and experience it gives me. Everytime I step onto my board it brings me a sense of confidence and peace. I have never been able to find that feeling doing anything else in my life and I think that is why SUP is so special and means a lot to me.

What would you say some of your biggest achievements are?

Some of my biggest achievements so far in the paddling world are creating an annual fundraiser for brain cancer research called ‘On Board’ when I was just sixteen years old, as well as recently going to China to compete at the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships for Team Canada this past November. Without my fundraiser, I wouldn’t where I am in my life today whether it be SUP racing, my school or my jobs etc. By giving back to others, I have learned that life can give you so much in return.

How often do you get into the water?

How often I get out on the water depends on what season it is. In Canada, it is hard to get out during the winter months because most of our waterways around the Niagara Region freeze over, so I probably go paddling about once a week. During the summer months, I am out on the water almost everyday whether that be training or teaching the SUPkids program. 

What board do you race on?

I currently race on a Starboard All Star 12’6 x 23’.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

If I could travel anywhere in the world I would go to Hawaii HANDS DOWN! I want to learn how to downwind paddle in the ocean and what a better place to learn than between beautiful, pristine islands. 

Where has been your favourite place that you’ve travelled to?

My favourite place that I have travelled to would have to be Nicaragua. I loved going there last spring to learn how to surf with Surf the Greats. The people, the land, the food were all so amazing!! I would go back there in a heartbeat.

If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be?

This may sound super cheesy, but if I could meet anybody in the world it would definitely be Svein Rasmussen, the founder of Starboard. I have always admired the work he’s done for the planet in partnership with Starboard, and I would love to tell him in person how much his work inspires me and my environmentalism efforts. 

You also give guest lectures and inspirational talks to others about following their passions and chasing their dreams, tell us more about that… 

After I created my fundraiser On Board in 2014, I felt like I had learned a lot about fundraising, networking and entrepreneurship skills that I wanted my peers to know about. To this day I want to continue to inspire younger generations and let them know that anything is possible, and you can create change in the world just like I did! I want others to feel empowered and know that taking that first step in order to develop an idea, project or business is not as hard as it seems when you’re young. I started giving these lectures in my third year of university and since then, I have found quite a huge passion for public speaking and spreading positivity. 

Tell us more about your ‘On Board’ project… what is it and how did it come about?

The whole reason why I started ‘On Board’ was because of Julia Turner and Lynn Lambert. They were both two young women who dedicated their lives to helping others. When they passed I wanted to do something for them because they gave up every bit of themselves for other people. They both inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and give back to my community. It was the least I could do for them. On Board was first an idea in my head, and then I made it a reality with one phone call. I called the Mayor’s office one day and got to speak with Barry Sharpe. I told him my idea and what I was thinking for On Board and why I wanted to do it. When I was done explaining, I said “I don’t know if it’s a stupid idea but I was wondering what you think” and the first thing Barry said was, “Maddi not one thing about this idea is stupid, I think it is amazing what you want to do for your friends and you have my full support”.  Then after we were done discussing some more, he gave me permission to use the canal on a summer day in July, and he put me in contact with the Welland Recreational Canal Corp. and ever since then On Board has taken off!

How much money have you raised since you started On Board?

In 5 years we have raised over $30,000 towards brain cancer research with the Canadian Cancer Society

How often do you run your On Board events? When’s your next one ?!

On Board is an annual event that takes place in July. The next upcoming On Board event is on Sunday July 21st 2019 at the Welland Community Boathouse in Welland Ontario Canada. 

Must be such a fun day! Can anyone come to On Board? 

HECK YA! Any paddling craft is welcomed! Beginner to advanced, canoe, kayak, outrigger, surfski, anything and anyone is welcomed!

You’re also a certified WPA Level 1 instructor and teach SUPKids at Paddle Niagara during the summer months… stoked to have you a part of the SUPKids gang! It’s super fun teaching SUPKids right? How did you get involved with Paddle Niagara?

Teaching SUPKids has truly been the best job EVER!!! Nothing brings me more happiness than seeing the kiddos go paddling with the biggest smiles on their face. Paddle Niagara approached me in 2016 as a new sponsor to On Board, and ever since then Tim Bala and I have been amazing paddling partners since. The following summer of 2017 during a casual paddle he had brought up SUPKids and asked me to join his team for the next year. Since then SUPKids has taken off quite a bit in Niagara, and I am so honoured to be apart of it!!

Whom are you inspired by?

Julia Turner and Lynn Lambert. These ladies are the reason why I started On Board and are what keep me going every single day. They not only inspire me to push myself when it comes to paddling, but also when it comes to my personal, school, and career life. For both ladies who lived such short lives, they left such a huge mark on the world. Their lives were about quality not quantity. They inspire me to continue to push myself every single day and to leave my own mark on the world. 

What are your goals this year?

I have so many goals when it comes to paddling, school and life in general! For school, I just recently applied to a masters program in recreation and leisure studies at Brock University for the fall season. So I hope to get in and learn more about recreation and getting more people outside enjoying nature. For paddling, I hope to get more children in the Niagara Region involved in the SUPkids program. I have seen the program change so many lives and I hope to continue inspiring children on the water and make them fall in love with their environment. For racing, I have a ton of goals, but I think the biggest one I’d like to accomplish this year is completing the Lake Ontario Paddleboard Crossing race solo! Definitely lots to look forward to this year 🙂 Last year I had a lot of opportunities present themselves to me very last minute, and in the spur of the moment, and so I basically just plan to continue going with the flow and enjoying life this year!