Erin Gibault
Credit: Adam Blasberg

When hes not in his downtown office, Gibault gets pedalling

The Headwater Projects boss spends his spare time scaling the North Shore mountains on skinny tires

Right around the time he made the biggest career move of his life, Erin Gibault took up cycling. Sure, that could have had more to do with age than anything, as the then-35-year-old Richmond native found that running was getting hard on his knees.

But the UBC commerce graduate was still relatively early in his career, as an industrial brokerage specialist at the Vancouver office of Colliers, when he quit the real estate services giant to start property management firm Headwater Projects in 2007.

“Right at the start of the financial crisis,” he says, laughing, over a video call. “Left to go start a company, had some resources available, a lot of ambitious ideas—in your mid-30s, you’re just young enough to make something of yourself but not old enough to understand the risk you’re about to take on.”

More than a decade later, Headwater is still operating, and Gibault is still cycling. In fact, both the business (see sidebar) and his hobby have levelled up since. He’s now on his third bicycle—the 800 Series Trek Madone, billed by its maker as the “ultimate superbike”—and he talks about riding to the top of Cypress Bowl Road from his West Vancouver home like it’s walking around the block for a cup of coffee. “I can be home in 15 minutes, which is nice.”

Fair enough; after all, Gibault is something of a cycling veteran. Usually, he tries to ride as many of B.C.’s seven annual Gran Fondo races as he can. Though most of this year’s fondos have been cancelled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, he placed 519th in the 2019 Whistler race, which had close to 4,000 competitors.

He’s also done multi-day cycling camps in California, as well as on Mount Baker, a 160-kilometre climb that he calls a “European-style stage ride, fantastic for anybody, and probably a little safer than doing the Whistler Sea to Sky Highway, outside of a fondo [when the route is specifically tailored for cyclists].”

The toughest ride he’s ever done?

He calls it the triple summit—sequentially tackling the Seymour, Grouse and Cypress access roads all in one go. “That’s a big ride, 105 to 110 kilometres from my house, somewhere around 2,500 metres of elevation,” Gibault says. “It’s a full afternoon—that’s when you really want some friends to join you because misery loves company.”

To that end, Gibault finds himself flush with people willing to get in on the misery. “The social circle for cycling is huge. I have friends with all range of capabilities, some ex-racers, some casual enthusiasts,” he says.

At that recent fondo, his team included Vancouver mining attorney John Munnis, Fort Capital Partners managing director Ali Pejman and Matt Shandro, president of Fulcra Asset Management. “Because it’s such a social sport, there’s always somebody out there for a ride,” Gibault explains. “If you give someone five hours’ notice, it’s possible. I sent an email out this morning saying I was going out for a ride, and I’ve got six people meeting me this afternoon after work.”

He and his crew also connect on the social network Strava, which lets users record rides and encourage each other to accomplish goals. Sometimes that can be a curse as well as a blessing, though. “I do it primarily to track mileage, to see how I’m doing during the week and make sure I’m hitting my targets and goals,” Gibault says. “It’s very discouraging to see how fast some of the people are out there are. I’ve realized that no matter how hard I train and aspire, there is a whole other two levels above me in terms of capability.”

Surprisingly, Gibault doesn’t use his favourite mode of transportation to get to work. “I haven’t biked to work, ever,” he says. “It’s about 20 minutes max from my house to the office, and I’d have to shower, carry all my stuff, et cetera.” But he isn’t exactly stuck in his ways, admitting that he may eventually join his five or so coworkers who pedal over every day. “I’m usually happy to get up at six in the morning and get out before work, but yeah, I could see it.”

In the meantime, scaling the side of a mountain will have to do.  

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Erin Gibault started Headwater Projects in 2007. “It was really just a blank piece of paper,” he recalls. Since then, the company has grown to 24 employees and manages about 25 residential and commercial properties from Victoria to Whistler. “The bulk of our activity is serving customers, tenants, residential and commercial,” Gibault says. “Trying to navigate property management, residential suite turnover and coordinating maintenance of the portfolio has been challenging. We couldn’t wait for a rule book to come out, so we had to make it up as we went along.”

Headwater must now do the same during COVID-19, but Gibault believes things are getting back to normal there. “You look at the much larger landlords and other companies leading by example, and to [provincial health officer] Bonnie Henry, who is doing a fantastic job, for guidance. A lot of it has to do with customers and clients, and what their comfort level is.”