For the independent civic official, paddleboarding brings presence of mind and a sense of freedom
Rebecca Bligh has done triathlons, half marathons and gran fondos. One summer, she did the Grouse Grind 40 times to raise money for a children’s charity. But about five years ago, she found her true athletic passion: paddleboarding.
Asked what she loves about it, Bligh has an answer at the ready. “I knew you were going to ask me that, so I started thinking about it. And the first thing that came to mind was that I don’t take my phone with me,” she says. “There’s a sense of freedom with paddleboarding. You’re in control of wherever you go, and you can’t have distractions or you’ll fall off, so there’s this presence of mind.”
The solace of being out on the water alone is important to Bligh, an independent Vancouver city councillor who lives with her wife and 16-year-old son in False Creek. “I’m surrounded by people I love day in and day out, and this is one thing I can do on my own—it gives me some time to reflect.” Bligh also has a 21-year-old daughter, and though she enjoys the solo time on the board, she also often leads family trips.
Unfortunately, the water closest to her home isn’t exactly ripe for board sports. “The cost of falling in at False Creek is really high,” Bligh says with a laugh, noting that Jericho and Kitsilano beaches are her usual launching points. Lately, Bowen Island has also been a favourite locale: Bligh and her partner recently bought a place there, and her brother operates a café in the area.
But it isn’t the most exotic spot she’s paddled in. That would be her native New Zealand. Bligh and her family moved to Vancouver when she was 10, but she went down south just before COVID hit to see her since-departed grandfather. “My uncle got the boards out, and we were just out in the open ocean,” she recalls. “It was introspective, being reconnected to where I was born, doing the thing I love to do.”
After doing the sport a “couple times a week, at minimum” for the past five years, the 43-year-old still has one specific thing on her paddleboarding bucket list. “I wish I could tell you I saw a killer whale; it’s always been my dream,” Bligh says. “My paddleboards are black and white; I always think they look like killer whales.”
She did, however, have a close encounter with another marine animal a couple of months ago at Jericho. “A seal almost knocked me off,” she admits. “I was surprised—this seal came right up to the nose of my board. I took a moment, bent my knees to get my balance. There are a lot of seals that are around, but not usually that close. It turned into a bit of a game, like, Are you really going to tip me off this thing?”
Bligh maintains she’s “always been a solo sports kind of person,” whether that meant Highland dancing or road biking. But at around 30, she was ending a marriage and made a rule for herself.
“I wanted to get to a point where anyone could invite me to do any everyday sport, and I would be able do it,” she says. “So I started trying lots of different activities, and increased fitness came with that. I just feel really able in my body in terms of being a jack of all trades when it comes to sports.”
Now that her children are older, she’s got some more free time to do things that weren’t possible before: “There are less domestic dependencies on my time. And so I just love to do things I would have wanted to do in my 20s when I was raising my kids, like stand-up paddleboarding.”
Rebecca Bligh was elected as a Vancouver councillor with the Non-Partisan Association in 2018, leaving the party a year later to sit as an independent. Bligh, who was previously one of the first employees at Provident Security and spent more than a decade with the Vancouver-based firm, believes that her city has a triple threat of crises to deal with at the moment. “The main priorities for me right now are the local economy, figuring out the housing puzzle and to keep advocating for health interventions around the drug crisis,” she says. “And knowing that just because people are vaccinated doesn’t mean people won’t be dealing with the remnants of the pandemic for the next 18 to 24 months, minimum.”