Local Business

The Spirit Within

Ocean Resort offers a unique approach to getting away—and finding yourself.

Decked out in camouflage army fatigues and grinning ear to ear, Andy Cowan looks every bit the kid-at-heart. Before moving to Canada two and a half years ago with his wife and three daughters (his wife’s idea—he’d wanted to move to New Zealand for the rugby), Cowan ran a string of Domino’s Pizza joints in the UK, and he only got involved in the laser tag racket because he wanted something that would get him outdoors. He’s the most unassuming fellow you could ever hope to meet, and by all appearances he’s much more Average Joe than G.I. Joe.

In 1978, however, when he was just 16 years old, Cowan enlisted in the British Army and was a soldier for more than five years. The instantly likeable bloke who today makes his livelihood playing war games with children was once a trained soldier who served in Germany, Northern Ireland and even the Falklands.

While Cowan doesn’t appear eager to discuss his time in the army, he does admit that he draws from his military experience when he puts on his “drill sergeant” act for kids at North Island Battlefield.

“It’s all part of the game,” he says. “When I go to schools for fundraisers they just love it. They bring down the kids and I yell at them. It’s all tongue and cheek, like ‘You’re in the army now, do as you’re told!’ It’s all good fun.”

Because Cowan is able to transport the guns, helmets and sensors anywhere he has permission to play, his battles are quite regularly held as fundraisers for schools and other community organizations. He recently held a midnight game at a church for a Christian Life group, and Cowan’s face lights up as he relives the event.

“I was the Terminator and everyone had to run from me. They could kill me eventually, they just had to work hard. I had a better weapon and I just walked around the building and killed them all. They were running and screaming; they had a good time.”

Naturally, there are some parents who cringe at the idea of simulated gunplay with their children, particularly, perhaps, when those same children are ostensibly at church to grow in their faith. In response, Cowan points out that the weapons they use, while intimidating, don’t really resemble real guns, and that most parents come around after they see how much fun it is.

While young boys, typically around 11 years old, make up the bulk of local laser tag enthusiasts, North Island Battlefield’s clientele touches virtually every demographic. Cowan’s battlefield has seen frenetic firefights between young children, sniper fire from old ladies, strategic missions orchestrated by corporate coworkers and deadly warfare between members of stag parties.

“You can get the whole family out,” says Cowan. “We’ve had four- and five-year-olds play and we’ve had grannies play. I’ve had kids in wheelchairs play and we even had a blind girl here one day. She could see the shapes of the bunkers and the bushes and stuff but she couldn’t see any details. I just held her elbow and led her around the field, and every time she saw something move she shot at it. She had a great time!

“We’ve even had mom’s groups come out and play, although I think they spent more time discussing where they bought their camo pants from than actually playing laser tag.”

Unlike paintball, says Cowan, laser tag attracts a surprising number of female participants since there is absolutely no pain involved.

“It’s funny, boys play completely differently than girls. Girls will hunker down and not move, whereas with boys, I blow the whistle and they’re off running. And of course the girls are picking them off like nobody’s business. Then the girls get a bit more adventurous and the boys calm down a bit, and it sort of evens out.

“Girls like it because they can beat boys. It’s not about being stronger or faster or bigger, as most sports are, it’s about thinking and communicating and being a team.”

With the sweat still moist on my forehead and the adrenaline still surging from the excitement of our simulated battle, I find myself already looking forward to our next session. Fortunately my comrades, while sitting in the “graveyard” awaiting the victor of our final death match, had already begun formulating plans to get a larger group out for another round of laser warfare. This sort of enthusiasm, says Cowan, is not uncommon.

“We see the same faces coming back time and time again. I can’t think of anyone who’s not enjoyed it. Most people go off the field with big grins.”

Eager to tap Cowan’s surely vast laser tag expertise before our next battle, I ask him for some tips on the most effective strategies. He talks a bit about angles and about getting out to the flanks, and then offers what could be the golden rule of laser tag, the one maxim that must never be forgotten.

“You have to pick your moment to move,” he says. “You can’t outrun a beam of light.”

To book a session with North Island Battlefield or for more information, call 250-202-3484 or visit the North Island Battlefield web site

Lucas Stiefvater in the resort’s dining room.

Lucas Stiefvater in the resort’s dining room.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Ocean Resort started out as a chill along Lucas Stiefvater’s spine. The founder and former owner of Vancouver Island’s successful Kingfisher Resort had seen plenty of beautiful places on Vancouver Island, buy but there was one spot just south of Campbell River, bronchi
where The Bennett Point Resort perched next the ocean, that always gave him that telltale shiver.

“Whenever I drove past that part of the Old Island Highway and saw the little hotel and the ocean I had goosebumps,” he says. “I fell in love with this spot. So I talked to the owner and in 2001 I bought it.”At the time, Stiefvater had no specific plans for the property. The Kingfisher, which he had founded in 1990 and developed into a very successful spa resort, kept him plenty busy. He was just following his instincts, trusting that, when the time was right, both an idea and an opportunity would appear.

And that’s just what happened. A trip to India in 2004 was the catalyst that prompted Stiefvater to turn the charming hotel by the ocean into the elegant and beautiful Ocean Resort, a 29-room resort hotel with a wide offering of amenities and activities, focused on spirituality and conscious health. And just at the right moment, the Gourmet by the Sea Restaurant, right next door, went on the market. Stiefvater snatched it up and put the two properties together.

Although he intended to draw on all he had learned from his experience with the Kingfisher, Stiefvater knew he now wanted to do something different. His experience in India had been, as it is for so many visitors to that country, profound—even life-changing—and this was something he felt called upon to express in his business activities.

He hadn’t been looking for personal transformation. All he’d expected from India was an interesting travel experience.

“I had friends who had been going to India every winter for 10 years, and each time they had invited me to join them. Finally I said yes. It was curiosity that took me. I wanted to see what they do there, how they live,” says Stiefvater.

His curiosity took him to visit several Ashrams; one in particular, the Aham Ashram, intrigued him, and he decided to give meditation a try.

“I did a crash course. I’d never meditated before. The first hour was one of the longest hours in my life. My mind was so busy, my thoughts were coming and going, the whole time I was thinking, ‘I can’t meditate. I shouldn’t be here. I’m a businessman; I’m too busy for this… and on and on. But towards the end I got a glimpse of that point where there are no thoughts. It was just a split second but it made me curious. I’d never felt anything like that before. So I went back.”

Stiefvater’s next step was an eight-day intensive program in self-inquiry meditation. The experience changed his outlook on life.

“For the first time in my life I felt content. I really connected to the place of stillness and quietness within. Jesus talks about the peace that is beyond understanding; it felt like I really got in touch with that. It felt like coming home.

“I’d always thought that happiness was out there, that it came from having things, having family, having this and having that. I finally found out that it’s within, not out there. That was transformative for me. It was like a light bulb went on.”

When he returned from India, Stiefvater knew he was ready to sell the Kingfisher. “With the Kingfisher, I was in the pampering business. That’s all good. I’m really grateful for my experience with it; it was a beautiful business and I was able to create a lot of great things. But it was all do, do, do and have, have, have. I always put the ‘being’ part of things off; that was ‘for later.’ This new direction is the ‘being’ part.

“I love to witness people waking up to their inner world,” says Lucas Stiefvater, enjoying the peaceful view outside at Ocean Resort.

“I love to witness people waking up to their inner world,” says Lucas Stiefvater, enjoying the peaceful view outside at Ocean Resort.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

“I’d found this place within that I wanted to explore more. It was my new world. I wanted to hang out there. And I wanted to create a place where I can share my experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that this—our inner world—is the only place left to explore. We humans have been everywhere, all over the globe, out into space, but we haven’t paid much attention to what’s within.”

Stiefvater created Ocean Resort as a welcoming place for people to take this inner journey.

The extensive renovations took two years. Both buildings were entirely redone, inside and out. The décor speaks of calm, simplicity and peace. Walls are deep blue and pale aquamarine; natural driftwood features abound; windows open to stunning ocean views.

The old hotel building houses the accommodations—28 standard hotel rooms, many with private balconies overlooking the Strait of Georgia, and one one-bedroom suite. The former restaurant has been transformed into The Stillness Centre. This holds everything needed for relaxation, nurturing and inner exploration. There is a spacious, light-filled room for yoga, Tai Chi, courses and discussions, a tranquil meditation room, a library well-stocked with reading material, CDs, DVDs and comfy chairs; an infrared sauna, fitness centre and treatment rooms, and a dining room where guests are treated to healthy gourmet meals.