THUNDER BAY -- Jaakko Natri got into surfing when he lived in British Columbia. He moved to Thunder Bay in the early 2000s and started Natri Bros Surf and SUP with his brother so that people could enjoy surfing on Lake Superior.
“We started this little company so that we can get wetsuits and surf boards for people and for ourselves, because nobody was selling them here,” he explains. “It was a niche market, but when stand-up paddleboards came out, we got into paddleboarding because you can do that all the time, not just when there’s good waves.”
Now the company is operated by Jaakko and his wife, Johanna. She is also an avid paddleboarder, and teaches paddleboard yoga as well.
The Natris have a Facebook group called SUPerior Stand Up Paddleboarding for both keen paddleboarders and beginners interested in trying it out. Anybody is welcome to join the group paddles, not just customers of Natri Bros. Participation is free for those who bring their own gear, or Natri Bros can rent you a board for $20 per 2-hour excursion.
“The main thing is getting people stoked on being out on the water,” says Jaakko.
“It’s sharing the vibe,” Johanna adds. “When you’re on a paddleboard, you’re that close to nature, you can appreciate it better than if you’re on a boat.”
Natri Bros sells gear, from Canadian-made paddleboards to accessories such a dry bags, life jackets, leashes and paddles. For those like Jaakko who also love surfing, there are boards that can do both. If you want to rent a board to go paddleboarding on your own, the cost is $50 a day.
With Boulevard Lake being drained this year, many of the classes and group paddles were moved to other locations such as Little Dog Lake and Surprise Lake. Lake Superior can also be an amazing place to paddleboard, Jaakko says. “It can get choppy, but sometimes it’s like glass. It’s a really different view from the lake. You can paddle out to the lighthouse. Or you can paddle along the harbour and look at the city and marina from the water. It’s so different.”
“You can paddle right by the big ships and the docks and you just feel how small you are,” Johanna adds.
Jaakko explains that paddleboarders are allowed anywhere, as long as they have a life jacket. He also believes paddleboards are easier and safer for many people, because the boards are leashed to you if you fall off, and it’s easier to get back on one in the water than a canoe or kayak.
“I find paddleboards are versatile,” he says. “You can sit on it, kneel on it, have your dog on it, take kids on it, do yoga, even fish.”
Natri Bros will also bring paddleboards out to you. “We’ve done parties, team-building stuff, corporate events,” Jaakko says.
The Natris hope that they will be able to host larger groups of people for group paddles and lessons next year. “We’re trying to promote being active in nature, using paddleboards as the vehicle,” Jaakko explains.
“A lot of people are becoming more conscious of their carbon footprint, so things like this, eco tourism, we’re treading very lightly on the planet, without a motor, and taking care of yourself,” Johanna adds.
“It’s good for your whole body, mind and soul,” Jaakko says.