Val Litwin
Credit: Tanya Goehring

The BC Chamber of Commerce CEO takes to the water to maintain physical and mental equilibrium

Val Litwin is something of a water rat. As a child, he sailed with his parents in the Gulf Islands and enjoyed competitive swimming. In Grade 10, he took up surfing. “One of the perks of growing up in Victoria,” Litwin says.

Now the BC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO lives and works in Vancouver, where he stand-up paddleboards “I love the ocean, and I was feeling a little bit stuck in a rut with my urban options for fitness,” Litwin explains. “The best thing about Vancouver is we’re all close to the water, so after work I started, especially in the summer, walking my paddleboard in my flip-flops down to Olympic Village. I would throw it into False Creek and paddle out to the outer banks and some of the beaches around the point.”

As for fitness, paddleboarding offers a core and upper body workout. “It’s incredible for your balance, but I think more than anything it’s about your mental sanity,” he says. Because he’s on water, Litwin doesn’t wear headphones, instead listening to the waves and the wind, which clears his head. He likes to decompress, be by himself for a while, get a workout and not be distracted.

In the past couple of years, Litwin has been doing multiday long-distance voyages. “I’ve done trips into Desolation Sound, and depending on how the wind’s blowing and how the tide’s either working for you or against you, it’s not hard to get in 20 kilometres of paddling in a day,” he says.

Thanks to his surfing experience, he understands how to read weather and waves, plus the importance of checking marine forecasts before heading out each day. “Depending on whether you’re a glutton for punishment or not, you don’t want to be paddling all day into the wind against a tide,” Litwin notes. “Sometimes you can split the difference. If you’re working against one, you want to make sure the other is working for you. But the ideal is, when you’re doing the full-day paddles, you plan your movements around maximizing both of them at the same time, if you can.”

His board, which can carry about 90 pounds of gear, has a displacement hull shaped somewhat like a boat’s, which helps it cut through chop, stay directional in a strong crosswind and travel faster than a standard board. “You can put in some serious kilometres and get to some really unusual, remote places that sometimes not even boats can pull into,” Litwin says. He brings his fishing rod and catches salmon, rockfish, cod and snapper from his board. “It’s under your own steam, so it’s pretty gratifying when you get to a beach and then you can fry up your own fish over a campfire.”

Litwin paddles off the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island. He and a friend once took a fiveday trip from Bamfield to the Deer Group Islands, where they set up a base camp, and one of his alltime favourites was a night paddle from Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island back to their campsite in Copeland Islands Marine Provincial Park, north of Lund.

“There was no moon, just the stars were out, and it was flat calm,” he recalls. “We paddled for about nine kilometres in the dark in an ocean that was completely fluorescent with phosphorescence. I’ve never been in total silence for a couple of hours on a flat ocean where it’s just completely iridescent with phosphorescence under your feet and you’re just carving your way through it.”

Sounds of nature sometimes punctuate the silence. “All of a sudden you’ll hear a whale blowing, maybe 20 feet away from you,” Litwin says. “Not that you always see the whale, but you would never hear that if you were just buzzing by in a boat.” •

Warrior Spotlight

President and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce since 2016, Val Litwin was previously CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, VP franchise operations with Nurse Next Door and co-founder of the Blo Blow Dry Bar franchise. In his current role, Litwin is expanding MindReader, an online network for surveying the BC Chamber’s 36,000 members. “With this new technology, we’re going out there and finding out more than ever what people are thinking in B.C. when it comes to supporting a strong economy,” he says.