2022 California Paddle Heroes - ACA

May 7, 2022

2022 California Paddle Heroes

CA Paddle Heroes (2)
Marcella Lopez (top left), Laura Zulliger (bottom left), Bill Cooper (top right), Maureen Agpoon (middle right), and Joseph Harper (bottom right)

The American Canoe Association California Chapter has selected five recipients for the 2022 ACA California Paddle Heroes Award. The recipients of this award are all active proponents of, as one council member puts it, “safely sharing the stoke.” Peer nominated, the individuals selected for this award were chosen based on the following criteria:

  • Heroes have helped share paddlesport by making others feel excited, welcome, and safe.
  • Heroes help protect and conserve public waterways and access to those waterways by paddlers.
  • Heroes are not motivated by financial or business interests, but a deep love of the out-of-doors and paddlesport.

Congratulations to each paddler who received this honor. Everyone at the ACA is so grateful for everything you have done to enhance the paddling culture in your communities.

Marcella Lopez – Government Partner and Community Connection
Marcella Lopez is a diligent and hard worker who is extremely deserving of this recognition. In 2017 River Manager, Marcella Lopez, began her journey working for the US Forest Service in Sequoia National Forest. With an enormous love and passion for the outdoors, Marcella helps protect the mighty Wild and Scenic Kern River by making conscientious management decisions that protect natural, cultural, and recreational values. By doing so, she educates the public on proper recreation and camping etiquette within the river corridor. She works collaboratively with whitewater outfitters, raft guides, and volunteer groups on solutions to improve boater launch sites for outfitter companies and provides outstanding experiences for guides and visitors. Marcella continues to inspire youth in underserved communities to connect with nature and encourage people of color that they too can make a difference on public lands. Thank you, Marcella!

Laura Zulliger – Hero for Leadership in Instruction
Laura truly is a Jack of All-Trades. She is renowned as an instructor, coach, competitor, volunteer and all-around asset to the paddling community. Laura had attained three ACA instructor certifications before she graduated college. Her contributions to paddling are endless, as are her student’s praise of both her instruction and person. Laura helps paddlers grow at all levels by creating an “almost magical space where students feel simultaneously safe and challenged,” remarked one of her former students. “She excels at creating community around kayaking, at mentoring, and at elevation and encouraging others at every step. You know when you have the privilege of watching someone who is deeply good at what they do? If you take that and you add a ton of laughter, that’s what it is like to learn from and work with Laura”.

Bill Cooper (with John Sweetser) – Trailblazers Award
Bill Cooper is the founder of the Kern River Parkway Foundation and a lifelong advocate for Kern River issues. Since 1974, Bill has worked to bring attention and environmental justice to the Lower Kern River which is now one of the United States’ most endangered rivers. In June of 1983 Bill and his friend John Sweetser kayaked 450 miles from Beach Park in Bakersfield to the Richmond Marina in the San Fransisco Bay. The journey took 11 days and 9 hours, with the longest land portage being only 200 yards. This feat was accomplished due to weeks of high flows being released from the Lake Isabella dam and others along the system after an exceptional rainy season. Flooding parts of the long-drained Central Valley and connecting inland areas to the sea, allowed Bill and John to reach San Francisco a week and a half after they left Bakersfield. You can help Bill protect the Kern by urging the California State Water Board to hold a hearing focused on ensuring that the river can be healthy and flow again. To contact the board members, click here.

Maureen Agpoon – Spreading Good Vibes Award
Over the past five years Maureen has personally taught and launched over 5000 youth paddlers in canoes, kayaks and SUPs while working at the California State University, Northridge Aquatic Center, the Boy Scout Camp at Emerald Bay on Catalina, and Sky Mountain Outdoor Education Center near the American River headwaters. She greets every day and every paddler with a smile, with aloha spirit and with respect and love for waterways. Thank you, Maureen, for making everyone you meet feel welcome.

Joseph Harper – Sharing the Stoke Award
A former Olympian, Joseph Harper has dedicated a significant portion of his time to coach young canoe athletes for the San Diego Canoe and Kayak Team. He has worked hard to help increase the participation of women in sprint canoe, going above and beyond to secure funds to provide housing for a training camp in San Diego that works with young women who did well in the National Championships last summer. Joseph does all this knowing how great of an impact sprint canoe can have on a community. His goodwill and positive attitude are what make Joseph really stand out as a model paddler in California.