As the outdoor capital of Canada, Squamish is known for its righteous rock climbing, wicked windsurfing and stellar singletrack, but an Iranian newcomer sees big potential in the kickboxing ring.
World Champion and fourth degree black belt kickboxer Nader Balafkan has chosen to settle his wife and two young daughters in Squamish and teach local residents his craft with the goal of training a Canadian to earn the World Championship title.
Balafkan, 38, was originally drawn to Vancouver for the 2002 Sport Kickboxing Federation World Championships and ended up moving to Vancouver from Iran last year, his friend Ali Abolfathi translated. He chose Squamish because of the active lifestyle it promotes.
"When I came to Squamish I was just so overwhelmed by the ocean and the mountains and I really enjoy people. What I see in Squamish is an excellent opportunity in sport and it's more readily available for people here than any other city," he said.
Being surrounded by active people has energized Balafkan as he tries to build local kickboxing. He is already running classes two nights a week at Club Flex and he has separate youth and adult classes lined up at Totem Hall in mid-April. Meanwhile, he is hoping to teach kickboxing classes to elementary students free of charge in order to promote self-confidence.
Most of his students take his classes to learn self-defence and become physically fit, he said.
"Most people think kickboxing is a violent sport but it's not. It's the best sport to get your body toned," he said.
"The good thing about kickboxing is it gives a person self-confidence and while you're doing it you're thinking about nothing else and it takes the stress off your body."
Balafkan started kickboxing in Iran when he was about 10 years old. By the time he reached his late teens he was fighting against the best in the country, he said.
His experience is obvious, said student Scott Lamont before a class this week.
"You can tell he's a World Champion. He's really strict but can teach new people as well as experienced," said Lamont, who has been kickboxing for five years.
Balafkan is taking a break from teaching this summer to compete in Las Vegas, where he'll shed his calm exterior to represent his new home, said Abolfathi.
"He's very gentle and humble but when he gets in the ring he's a different animal all together."