The ACA is proud to recognize certified instructors who have gone above and beyond, and who are making significant strides in their communities and to the sport of paddling overall.
For ACA Instructors
Instructor of the Month
Patrick HigginsRead More
Congratulations, Patrick Higgins, September’s ACA Instructor of the Month! Patrick is currently a Level 4: Whitewater Kayaking Instructor Trainer, a Level 3: Packrafting Instructor Trainer, a Level 2: Essentials of Kayak Touring Instructor Trainer, a Level 5: Advanced Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor, and a Level 4 Whitewater Stand Up Paddleboard Instructor! There isn’t a body of water or type of boat that Patrick won’t paddle, and since moving to Alaska, he has become especially passionate about teaching packrafting classes.
Patrick’s first experience paddling was in a river kayaking class at Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon. Showing natural skill and an aptitude for paddling, Patrick was offered the opportunity to assist his instructor in the afternoon of his first class. That experience prompted him to switch from pursuing a Master’s Degree in Forestry to a Master’s in Outdoor and Environmental Education. Now an accomplished ACA Instructor Trainer, Patrick is happiest when he sees his students progress beyond his own ability. “When I was working at Next Adventure in Oregon, one of the new hire kids was incredibly motivated to go boating. We would pick him up and promise his mom we would take good care of him. Fast forward to before he left for college: he was showing me lines down the Little White I had never tried before, or I (had previously) opted to portage.”
When Patrick moved to Alaska and started teaching packrafting courses, he saw lots of upside-down paddles and people wearing paddling gear that was not suitable for whitewater. People would regularly post on his local Facebook groups about lost packrafts and “suffer fests” that involved hiking out long distances…in areas with not-so-friendly bears. “There were a lot of near misses. It’s interesting because most of these people wouldn’t go backcountry skiing without taking an avalanche course, but they were willing to wing it on the river.” Patrick hopes that working in the community and introducing a standard of instruction will reduce the frequency of risky boating activities and also motivate people to take classes with a certified instructor to increase both safety and fun! Thank you, Patrick, we look forward to seeing the paddling safety culture in your community change through your hard work!
Debbie BriscoeRead More
Congratulations, Debbie Briscoe, ACA’s Instructor of the Month for August 2022! After more than twenty years of paddling, Debbie thought she knew all the ins and outs of Swiftwater Rescue…until she took an ACA Level 3 Instructor River Safety and Rescue Course. This sparked her teaching career and got her hooked on the feeling of accomplishment she experiences when her students improve and are excited to learn more. Debbie is a Kayaking and Safety Instructor at the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute in Tennessee where she plays a leading role in their flatwater safety classes.
Debbie graciously credits the ACA with teaching her not only the fundamental skills needed to paddle safely, but the ability to convey this knowledge in an effective and engaging manner. “I was astounded how well the ACA teaches their instructors and how it instills focus and direction in every angle: from teaching theory to practical application. During that course I learned so much about how to teach different types of students because everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds.”
More than twenty-five years ago, a local river outfitter in Tennessee sponsored a “try-out day,” where Debbie was able to demo different canoes and kayaks. She had gone to the event thinking that she was going to purchase a canoe but ended up with a Perception Acadia recreational kayak because she could load it on and off her Jeep with ease. This boat allowed her to get out and paddle every day after work, teaching herself and her friends the different paddle strokes that she learned from a book she had purchased at a used bookstore. In time, Debbie joined the Appalachian Paddling Club to explore more rivers and find a community that helped her paddling develop exponentially. By the end of that summer, she transitioned from paddling her Perception Acadia on the lake to paddling a Dagger RPM on the Nantahala River in North Carolina. Debbie gives Scott Fisher of the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute a special shout out for the role he played in transforming paddling from a favorite pastime to a rewarding career.
Debbie found that her skills in instruction were most needed for paddlers who frequent inland flatwater lakes because de re-entry rescue trainings are hard to find in those areas; seeing this gap in instruction, Debbie used what she learned through the ACA to help create and promote a flatwater safety and rescue course tailored for paddlers on Watauga Lake in East Tennessee. She has seen how arming paddlers with the tools they need to self-rescue, or to assist another paddler to self-rescue, can make all the difference in the world. If you have noticed that there aren’t many instructors in your area, become an instructor yourself! Help fill in the gaps like Debbie, as she will be happy to tell you, it’s worth it!
Lyle PhetteplaceRead More
This July, we honor Lyle Phetteplace as our newest Instructor of the Month! Lyle takes the hard parts of life and uses them to create joy and purpose. He really stands out for his ability to teach others to do the same. For Lyle and many of us, paddling is more than recreation – it gives us purpose, a community to lean on, and a deep and indescribable feeling of joy and accomplishment. Lyle is an ACA Instructor Trainer for Whitewater Kayaking and Swiftwater Rescue, and he runs the Colorado River School, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that provides transformative growth through whitewater kayaking and outdoor recreation, education, and adventure.
Lyle’s first day kayaking was his first day of sobriety. “In short, paddling saved my life, and the transformational effect paddling has had on my life has motivated me to teach others.” He believes that whitewater kayaking unlocks a large potential for growth within each person. He has often found that the challenges he faces while on the river are great metaphors for the challenges he has faced in life. The ways that paddling can equip a person to handle stress and pressure translate into a person who has a much greater capacity for handling stress, managing addiction, and curbing depression off the water as well. Paddling gives people the ability and will to heal.
When asked about a teaching moment that stands out in his career, Lyle recalls his work with cancer survivors. “We had one participant, nicknamed “Johnny.” Johnny had been diagnosed with aggressive stage IV cancer. She had been through one round of chemo and had shared that she wasn’t going to do any more. On her fourth day in a kayak, she told the group that if she had one more day like that day (kayaking), she would do anything to live, including more chemo. It was through watching Johnny transform from a survivor to a thriver that gives me chills to this day. In my early days teaching, I was driven by the “Aha!” moment when a student overcomes fear or learns a new skill. What motivates me to teach today is how transformative kayaking can be within people’s lives. I saw this with Johnny, who switched from trying not to die, to living her best life.” Lyle likens his experiences to Scott Lindgren’s documentary, “The River Runner,” and Lindgren’s ongoing participation in a study of how kayaking may have a healing effect on his brain tumor growth. It is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet!
Since the start of the pandemic, Lyle has restructured the programming at the Colorado River School to better serve the youth in his community. Forming this nonprofit has allowed him to fundraise, which has provided his program with the resources to provide paddling instruction to those who would not be able to afford to whitewater kayak, and to those who have never been exposed to the paddling world in the first place. “We have opened several paddling programs with local high schools, as well as a weekly pool program just for kids. We have purchased additional kid’s boats and have had record success with introducing many brand-new paddlers to a fun and supportive paddling community. My biggest plug to the ACA community is let’s get kids together, paddling outside, and learning how to be kids again.”
We are incredibly lucky to have Lyle as one of the ACA’s many talented instructor trainers. We know countless lives have and are being changed for the better through the introduction to paddling and through Lyle’s mentorship. To learn more about the Colorado Rivers School or to check out their awesome programs, click here.
Laura ZulligerRead More
Laura Zulliger’s name might sound familiar from her recent recognition by the ACA California Chapter as one of their annual Paddle Heroes award winners for Leadership in Instruction. We are honoring Laura again as June’s Instructor of the Month for her passionate work to develop safe, inclusive, and joyous paddling communities, as well as for the steps she has taken to help shatter the glass ceiling for women hoping to paddle and teach at the highest level of their disciplines.
Laura first became an ACA instructor when she was 19 years old, and she was heavily involved in her college’s outdoor education program. With the help of talented peers and incredibly supportive mentors, she earned instructor certifications in three different disciplines all before she graduated college. She has now guided and taught kayaking for nearly 18 years, with a two-year hiatus when she taught middle school in rural Yunnan, China. Laura stands out for her choice to paddle multiple different crafts; in an interview with Kokatat, she cites how whitewater kayaking aided in her quest to become a Level 5 Advanced Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor. To read more about Laura’s journey to becoming one of the handful ACA Level 5 instructors who are women, check out her interview linked here.
These days, Laura primarily teaches coastal kayaking, surf kayaking, and whitewater kayaking in northern California through California Watersport Collective, an organization committed to providing quality instruction for all levels, ages, and bodies, with the ultimate aim of expanding and diversifying the paddlesports community. Laura describes how the ACA benefited her growth as a paddler, saying, “The ACA has provided me so much support throughout my paddling and coaching journey: from connecting me with fellow instructors, instructor trainers, and instructor trainer educators, to providing curriculum and training to further my coaching prowess. I am honored to volunteer my time in this stage of my involvement with the ACA to give back and strengthen the organization so we can continue to serve new generations of paddlers and educators.”
We asked Laura to share a special teaching moment that stands out to her. She responded, “Oh my – there are so many! While on our expedition to Taiwan, fellow coach Kelly Henry and I taught a series of intermediate and advanced sea kayak classes to local paddlers. Through those classes and throughout our time in Taiwan, I came to appreciate how a shared love of kayaking can accelerate building friendships even among folks who have radically different backgrounds, life experiences, and speak different languages. I will never forget teaching a class in YiLan along with the most adorable Golden Retriever, A-Rod, who would bolt into the water to help anyone who was participating in a rescue, frantically swimming around the swimmer until they got back in their boat.” Laura brings up what we at the ACA believe is one of the most important parts of paddlesports: its ability to unite people (and dogs!) from all over the world. All who call themselves paddlers have something in common and that is pretty special. Every time we receive a nomination for Instructor of the Month, we are reminded how extraordinary our community is, and we thank everyone who has taken the time to share their stories and recognize outstanding instructors from all over the world!
As a leader in her own paddling community, we asked Laura what she hopes to see from her fellow paddlers. Laura responded with a call to action for all ACA members to get involved in any area you feel compelled to contribute. “There is so much room and opportunity for folks from many different backgrounds and experiences to get involved. From serving on a Discipline Committee, to sharing feedback on new curriculum or ideas, to getting more involved in preserving your state’s waterways. If you are reading this, you are the ACA - this is your organization, make it one that best serves you and our community.” At the ACA, we couldn’t agree more. The ACA is a member-based organization that aims to serve all paddlers. If you recognize an area where the ACA could be doing more, take the initiative and help us make the change that you want to see in the paddling community. If you want to see how Laura has shaken up her own paddling community in person, check out the California Wavesport Collective.
Instructor of the Month Award
Gil HidalgoRead More
The ACA has chosen to honor Gil Hidalgo as May’s Instructor of the Month! Gil is an ACA Level 4: Open Water Coastal Kayak Instructor and a Level 2: Touring Canoe Instructor. Residing in Winter Park, Florida, Gil splits his time between his two passions, paddling and photography.
If you come across a body of water within 300 miles of Winter Park, you can guarantee that Gil has paddled there. When he is not out paddling on his local springs, rivers, lakes and ocean, he can be found paddling around his backyard pool! Professionally, Gil teaches on intracoastal waters near Cape Canaveral, St. Augustina, Matanzas Inlet, and Vilano Beach, FL.
When we asked Gil what made him want to be an ACA instructor, he responded, “My biggest motivation to be an ACA instructor is sharing my love for paddling in a way that keeps everyone on the water safe while having fun learning.” Gil began his paddling journey through his high school and college job of renting canoes and kayaks at the local park. Gil first received paddling training and mentorship when a few community members took him under their wings and taught him safe paddling practices. He now reflects that their mentorship likely saved his life from all the risks he was unknowingly taking, not knowing many of the hazards, rescues, and judgement skills needed for paddling. Once he felt confident in his own paddling skills, he realized it was time to pay it forward, thus transitioning from paddling as a hobby to paddling as a way of life.
For Gil, any time you get on the water there are opportunities to learn. Whenever Gil is on the water or on the shore, he feels he has the responsibility to help educate the public, just as his mentors did for him. When chatting with other local paddlers, he hopes to help bring awareness to the importance of wearing a life jacket. Gil has been quoted as saying, “There are countless reasons why a paddler could find themselves out of their craft and countless more reasons why a life jacket could make a huge difference in the outcome of such a scenario.”
Gil looks forward to contributing to a paddling community where instructors spend more days volunteering their time and hosting community events both on land and on the water. He believes that as an ACA instructor, it is his duty to help spread safe paddling practices to as many people as possible. Community building and helping people recreate safely is what ACA’s instructor programs are all about! Every moment spent on the water or helping others safely do the same is time well spent. Thank you, Gil, for your commitment to safety and community in paddlesports!
MacKenzie HolbrookRead More
We are excited to announce April’s Instructor of the Month, MacKenzie Holbrook! We have chosen to recognize MacKenzie for her thoughtful teaching style and commitment to creating safe and welcoming spaces for women and other minority groups to deepen their knowledge of paddling and paddling safety. She is an ACA certified Level 4: Swiftwater Rescue Instructor and she works at Colorado Mesa University where she teaches multiple classes for the Outdoor Recreation program, including rafting and swiftwater rescue. Being able to share her passions and educate others on how to get out on the water safely while taking care of, and respecting our public lands is something she hopes to pursue for the rest of her life.
Raised in Texas, MacKenzie grew up kayaking on flat water rivers and in the ocean. As she got older, she was introduced to whitewater on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica where a friend invited her to raft for the day and stay in the town of Turrialba. She had so much fun that she went multiple days in a row and helped the company with lunch set up and other odds to be able to afford to go rafting each day she was there. This experience began her transition from paddling recreationally to paddling professionally.
MacKenzie began raft guiding in 2015 in Glenwood Springs, CO, where she worked primarily on the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers. In 2021, MacKenzie took an ACA Swiftwater Instructor Course where she was the only woman in a class of eight. Despite her strong and confident personality, she found that she was still being overshadowed by men’s pride and attitudes. Instead of letting this uncomfortable situation turn her away from paddling, she began to take steps to start her own business, Human Kinda, an LLC that focuses on providing swiftwater rescue courses specific to women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and any other communities that find it hard to break through the barriers of entry into the whitewater paddling and rescue community.
When asked to share a special teaching moment in her career, MacKenzie remembers an all-women swiftwater rescue course she taught on the Moab Daily, in Utah. She and her students were all sitting at camp one evening practicing knots after a full day of class. When she saw how her students’ faces would light up when they finally understood a knot, she knew she was right where she was supposed to be. “These small moments are what create change in the world, and I am so fortunate to get to educate individuals on topics I am passionate about,” said MacKenzie, reflecting on this moment. There is so much value in these courses, far beyond the inherent benefits of fast and efficient rescue techniques.”
Thank you MacKenzie for taking the time and care to make the classes you teach as welcoming, fulfilling, and rewarding as possible.
Kyle ThomasRead More
As we welcome back the Instructor of the Month program, we honor Kyle Thomas who is an exemplary member of both the ACA and the greater paddling community. Kyle works hard to teach his students to be thoughtful paddlers and creates programming that benefits his community now and for generations to come. Kyle recently became a Level 4: Whitewater Kayaking Instructor Trainer and continues to teach as a certified Level 5: Advanced Whitewater Kayaking Instructor and a Level 3: Coastal Kayaking Instructor.
As an ACA Instructor, Kyle believes that he has the power to open the door to life-changing experiences, and help people find a pursuit that may help them to live free of the influences of substance dependence, anxiety, and depression. When asked what he finds most rewarding as an ACA Instructor, Kyle responded, “I have witnessed the transformative effect of paddling in my personal life and the lives of those I care about. I live a better and more fulfilling life because of this pursuit. I also believe we have the power to save lives and prevent tragic moments from occurring through educating our communities on paddling best practices and safety and rescue techniques.” Those who know Kyle best can see how deeply he cares about paddlers and their ability to plan properly, enact preventative measures, and execute basic self and partner rescues.
Kyle currently lives in Washington where he works at Ballard Kayak, hired to further develop their instructional program, focusing initially on sea kayak instruction, with an interest in expanding to whitewater kayak instruction. Last year, Kyle volunteered at a BIPOC Paddling Skills Day held on Lake Sammamish, in Washington State. This was a free event where participants needed only to come in non-cotton layers and rain jackets while the community supplied boats, gear, and basic instruction. He left that event inspired and a filled with a desire to partake in similar events and initiatives. Kyle reflects, “there are so many people in my community who can benefit from the transformative powers of an outdoor recreation experience, but some of those individuals encounter roadblocks and barriers preventing them from participating. Whether that be financial, cultural, or not having time to pursue a hobby while working multiple jobs, I hope to provide additional opportunities.”
In addition to attending events aimed at making the paddling community more inclusive and accessible, Kyle has worked hard with Mary Pedrick on the ACA River Kayak Committee to develop the ACA’s curriculum for hand paddling. If you are looking to engage with the water in another way, or you keep a pair of hand paddles in your stern as a spare paddle but haven’t had a chance to practice with them outside of a pool, this is the perfect course for you! The ACA’s first River Kayak Hand Paddling course will be held this April of 2022 in North Carolina. Thank you, Kyle and Mary, for the work you have put in to get this course up and running!
Carol WintersRead More
Carol has taught American Red Cross Canoeing and Sailing since the late 1970’s at various summer camps, to both staff and campers. In 2014 she added ACA Instructor certification for Canoe Touring (Tandem and Solo) and Sit On Top Kayak to her teaching repertoire. She enjoys team teaching with other ACA instructors to share new teaching techniques and coaching skills with each other. She has also taught at Kentucky Becoming An Outdoors Woman, WTF (Wild Turkey Federation) Women In The Outdoors event, trained staff for RiverBend Campfire Camp Tannadoonah, and is a consultant with Girl Scouts Kentuckiana rebuilding their aquatic paddlesport curriculum and training. In August, Carol taught Watercraft Safety, Canoe, and Kayak classes to 35 scouts leaders so they are able to take scouts paddling on council waters.
Carol provided the following quote, “While you are directly teaching for the immediate experience, the moment, you are also teaching for the future. When I teach scout leaders, who will then teach youth, I remind myself AND them that yes we want the youth to have a good time. However, we also want them to understand proper preparation, quality strokes and safety and rescue techniques so that when those youth are out with family or friends, they can be safer! I enjoy the looks on the students faces when they have that AHA moment! “I didn’t know that” or “I have been canoeing for years and I learned something new in your class!”
Allison ConeRead More
The ACA Instructor of the Month for September 2021, Allison Cone, earned her first instructor certification in 2001. Since her initial kayaking certification, she has added canoeing and stand up paddleboarding to her credentials and expertise. Allison hosts her paddling classes working for Adventure Outpost, a program of Great Parks of Hamilton County Ohio.
Allison started her career in environmental education. She recommends new instructors investigate experiential learning and how to incorporate it into classes. “The skills and lessons I learned as an educator with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and as a facilitator with the American Youth Foundation have been essential to becoming the paddle instructor I am today,” Allison says about her experience prior to becoming an ACA instructor.
When asked about what she finds rewarding as an ACA instructor, Allison eagerly replies, “I appreciate that I get to be a part of our participants’ paddling success story and get to witness them develop their skills and build confidence throughout the class.”
Due to the pandemic, one of Allison’s favorite activities with Adventure Outpost has been on hiatus for two years. She is looking forward to hosting again a cleanup series initiative with partnering organizations. Taking canoes out onto the lake provides access to much larger items that cannot be accessed from the banks. Over the years, this initiative has retrieved tires, sports balls, straws, shopping carts and various other large random items discarded in her community’s waterways.
Allison’s dedication to sharing her passion for paddlesports and environmental stewardship are admirable, and we applaud her efforts! Congratulations Allison!
Jake TaylorRead More
Jake has been an ACA Instructor since 2011 and an Instructor Trainer since 2018. He teaches and instructs river canoeing, whitewater kayaking, SUP, and coastal kayaking. For the past few years, he has been instructing predominantly in Vermont and areas in New England.
Most of his instructional activity is with beginner to novice paddlers and instructors. Jake believes that introductory paddling experiences are pivotal and foundational part of people’s journey through the sport. Jake states, “There is a lot of excitement as paddlers begin to make sense of being in control when they move their paddlecraft where they want to go on the water.”
Dave TobeyRead More
Congratulations to Dave Tobey from Van Buren, Missouri! The ACA staff recently had a chance to virtually sit down with Dave and talk about his work an ACA certified instructor working with paddlers in national parks, national forests, and other wild places.
“Working in national parks, national forest, and state parks is the best job in the world. There is no such thing as a “typical day.” Each day is as unique as the variety of visitors encountered and as special as the resource you are sharing. Being an ACA Instructor has allowed me to serve visitors on the Current River in the Missouri Ozarks, the Turner River in the swamps at Big Cypress National Preserve, and on lakes in the Okanagan Forest of Washington. I grew up on the Current River and love to share this wonderful resource with other people. I want visitors and community members to have the best experience possible on the river. After serving a couple of years as a seasonal park ranger on the Jacks Fork and Current River, I witnessed some of our visitors struggling on the river. In 2010, I decided to take a tandem canoe instructor certification class. That summer, while serving as a seasonal park ranger for the ONSR, I started offering ACA skills classes for visitors at Round Spring on the Current River. I also presented a dry land basics class as part of my evening program each week. In 2014, I organized our first ACA Instructor Certification Class on the Current River. Since then, we have offered a certification class each year, and as a result, the ONSR has over 30 staff members and volunteers eligible to assist as certified instructors. Another great pleasure has been the development of meaningful partnerships with other like-minded organizations. Team River Runner and local Coast Guard Auxiliary 5-2 have become valuable park partners assisting with several river safety programs.”
Mitchell JoldersmaRead More
Mitchell is a kayak Instructor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and founded the Sioux Empire Paddlers PAC in 2014. Mitchell saw a need for paddling education, conservation, and improvement of paddlesports in his community and stepped up to the plate with Sioux Empire Paddlers. Sioux Empire Paddlers now has over 250 members and has taught over 600 students with more than 50 events every year. He applied for grants through his nonprofit status to help with funding of the equipment and with his Level 2: Essentials of River Kayaking Instructor certification, he was able to get people on the water! Mitchell says, “giving back to the paddling community has given me a lot and I hope I have saved some lives while having a blast on the water.”
Kate StepanRead More
Kate Stepan grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. Her life changed forever when, at 5 years old, Kate’s dad signed her up for flag football instead of cheerleading. In high school, barely knowing how to ski, Kate became a ski instructor at Blue Mountain in the Poconos. Ski instructing led to raft guiding, which led to kayak instruction, which led her to Buena Vista, Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center in 2009. With a degree in journalism from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Kate also did a two-year stint in southern California as an editor at Canoe & Kayak magazine. She started guiding in 2003 on the Lehigh River, then worked as a raft guide and video boater on West Virginia’s infamous New and Gauley rivers. Kate has paddled in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. She has surf kayaked off the northern California coast, and sea kayaked in Alaska and Florida. Kate learned to canoe when she took a NOLS River Instructor Course in 2014. She has taught expedition-based leadership, whitewater raft/kayak and canoe courses for NOLS on the Green River in Utah, the Main Salmon in Idaho, and the Kali River in India. She’s boated in Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, New Zealand, Fiji, India, and Nepal. Kate now teaches whitewater kayaking, rafting, swiftwater rescue, wilderness first-aid/CPR at RMOC, where she is a staff manager and trains new guides. She lives in Buena Vista where she is still learning to ski while teaching lessons at Copper Mountain.
Christian FuchsRead More
Christian Fuchs is an ACA Level 4: Open Water Coastal Kayaking Instructor Trainer and Level 3: Surf Kayaking Instructor. He lives near São Paulo, Brasil! “Where is that?” you might ask – it is located in the southern half of Brasil, between Rio de Janeiro and Paraná! After taking his first ACA course with Fabio Raimo and Roger Schumann, he learned how to break one maneuver down in understandable parts. Christian realized how effective different teaching methods can be when catered to different learners. He was fascinated with the variety and flexibility of new paddlers and those who wanted to learn. Paddling then gained a whole new layer of depth in his life, and he wanted to better himself as an instructor so he could share my experiences with others (and help them help others too).
Christian has been instructing and leading sea kayaking trips for 15 years. At first, becoming an ACA Instructor Trainer was purely a personal challenge; he couldn’t imagine that he would eventually contribute to the certification of almost 150 instructors in Brasil, Argentina, and Chile. After years of slow and constant work, the paddling culture in South America is slowly changing; Christian is proud to play a part in it and to bring safety principles, educational resources, and new perspectives to everyone.
Jeff LaxierRead More
In 1996, Jeff started teaching kayaking. A lifelong waterman and nature lover –
teaching kayaking has become a way for Jeff to share his passion for water and
nature with others. In 2005, Jeff founded Liquid Fusion Kayaking. Liquid Fusion Kayaking is an instructional kayak company based on the Mendocino Coast of Northern California. From dry and mild to wet and wild, Jeff and his partner Cate Hawthorne instruct and guide sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, surf kayaking, rock gardening/rock hopping, and nature history tours. With 20 plus years of experience teaching multiple disciplines of kayaking, Jeff has honed his instructional skills for all levels and i a master at skill refinement and application and fun. A former member of the San Diego Mountain Rescue Team and the U.S. Marine Corps, Jeff has a dedication to exhilarating outdoor activities that know no boundaries.
Scott EvelandRead More
Until recently, Scott was a Boating Specialist and Conservation Officer for the
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission at Nebraska’s largest reservoir, Lake
McConaughy. He recently transferred to Lincoln and now works as a Conservation Officer, but with the large number of small lakes/reservoirs, he is still an active part of the boating world, doing enforcement and education. On the water patrols of both powered and nonpowered boating areas are an integral part of his duties. He’s also collaborated with local Sheriff’s Offices in the Omaha area who use kayaks for patrolling of local tubing rivers and search and rescue work.
While at Lake McConaughy, he developed a partnership with Mid Plains Community College and instructed numerous courses to the public. They conducted many entry level courses to address the large number of new paddlers with zero experience. The proliferation of “big box store” kayaks and inexperienced users leads to many accidents and near misses.
The large reservoir on the wind-swept high plains was unforgiving to new paddlers in basic recreational kayaks, so they focused on getting them safely on the water (and helping them know when to stay off the water). As the assistant state director for Nebraska, he helped form a Paddlesports Stakeholders group to try to address the needs and challenges the paddlesports community faces in Nebraska.
Mark LittleRead More
The Instructor of the Month is Mark Little! Mark serves as a recreational
safety warden as part of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Spooner, Wisconsin. When he began his job, Mark immediately noticed the explosion of the paddle craft industry in the area and the increasing accidents and waterway user conflicts. At that time, the agency only focused its boating safety efforts on motorized boats. Informal surveys of the region reveal that paddle craft (canoes, kayaks, and stand up paddleboards) outnumber motorboats by as much as 3:1. It was apparent to Mark that the WDNR was not providing the public with adequate paddlesports safety instruction. In 2012, Mark pursued ACA Canoe Instructor certification. Other warden teammates also completed the training, which enabled them to develop a plan to enlist
additional trainers and pilot a program of training for other department staff.
Twelve instructor candidates from across Wisconsin were trained in in both river canoeing and kayaking. The program soon took off and instruction was held around the state in following years. Since the initial success of the program, Mark has led WDNR’s team of instructors to teach warden recruits and department staff using ACA’s curriculum; he has hosted up to four training courses over their four-month season including courses on flat and moving water. Knowledge gained by those taking the courses helped make WDNR staff
safer on the water, more able to assist regional waterway users, and more effective at understanding and investigating incidents.
Wayne DouchkoffRead More
In conjunction with ACA Florida and the Florida Paddling Trails Association, Wayne has conducted several “Paddlers Environmental Toolkit” programs around Florida to teach paddlers about local ecosystems. Part of the training addresses how to protect the environment, how to safely interact with nature, and who to contact about local environmental issues. Wayne volunteers with a local organization to serve paddlers with vision impairments. As physical disabilities sometimes affect those with vision impairment, Wayne has had multiple opportunities to use both Adaptive Paddling and Advanced Communication skills that he learned during ACA Universal Paddling workshops.
Brian DavisRead More
Brian Davis is from Saluda, North Carolina. He is a full time whitewater kayak and swiftwater rescue Instructor and have been teaching for 8 years. He primarily teaches at H2O Dreams Paddling School in Saluda, NC and is a senior staff member, but also occasionally teaches at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC.
He started paddling as something fun to do and stay cool in the summertime, but never envisioned it totally taking over his life. He enjoys it so much that he left a corporate job and the city atmosphere to totally immerse himself in kayaking and whitewater. Now he teaches kayaking full time and lives beside the Green River in the North Carolina mountains.
Randi KrugerRead More
Randi Kruger is from Accokeek, Maryland. She is a small business owner, combining coastal and river instruction with kayak & gear sales. She paddles full-time. She left her desk job and career behind in 2015 to pursue her passion for water sports, with an overarching goal to have a positive impact on others. She is also a working artist; she collects elements and ideas for art while she’s paddling on her home river, the Potomac, and the other locations she finds herself.
Instructors of the Month - 2019
October 2019 – Tommy Thompson
Paddling for Tommy is a lifestyle. His personal, professional, and civic lives all revolve around being on the water, inspiring others toward safety and good environmental stewardship, and using kayaks as “escape capsules” as he seeks to emotionally connect with wild places. Being on the water gives me Tommy opportunity to integrate an athletic lifestyle while modeling safe, best practices. The more he can get others to connect with the outdoors, the more he hopes to inspire them to join me in preserving, protecting and restore our natural world.
Tommy has organized and led international kayaking, cycling, climbing and trekking trips on four continents. He has kayaked extensively in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, the Puget Sound, south Greenland, throughout the Inside Passage of western Canada and Southeast Alaska, the Bering Sea and of course, North Florida. Tommy is a 35 year veteran of wilderness expeditions, guiding, and instruction. He enjoys sharing his love and respect for the rivers, springs and coastal areas and the beauty, ease, and simplicity of paddling through these environments. Tommy believes that to travel in these environs with safety and respect requires a high-level of skill and knowledge. Tommy is an ACA Certified Guide, Level-4, Open-Water Coastal Kayak Instructor, and a certified Wilderness First Responder. Tommy also serves on the Executive Council of Florida’s America Canoe Association and is a TrailKeeper and Trail Angel for the Florida Paddle Trails Association and works directly on special projects with the Apalachicola RiverKeeper.
As the former ACA Florida State Director, being the ACA’s Florida Deputy Director gives Tommy a break from being at the tip of the spear and continuing to serve the ACA Florida Executive Council largely in an advisory capacity. Being the State Director is an extremely rewarding and fulfilling job for Tommy. However, he feels that it is important to let others take the lead and share their ideas, enthusiasm, and creativity.
September 2019 – Steve Henkind
Steve Henkind loves being out on the water: in the middle of the ocean (serving as a navigator/instructor on the Coast Guard’s training ship, USCGC EAGLE), sliding on frozen water (he is also a ski instructor) and, especially, paddling. Steve is a big proponent of professional instruction (“practice makes permanent, not perfect”) so he attended numerous sea kayak classes, and symposia, up and down the East Coast, in order to improve his skills. As a physician consultant, he travels extensively, and one of his engagements was in Asheville, North Carolina … conveniently very close to Nantahala Outdoor Center. He got hooked on whitewater, as well. Steve noted that “one of the best ways to improve your own skills is to teach others.” As a result, he has spent extensive time developing his teaching credentials and is currently certified as an instructor in multiple domains: L4 Open Water Coastal Kayak, L3 River Kayak, L1 Canoe, and L1 SUP. He also recently became an L2 IT in Coastal Kayak. Mentors along this road included Michael Shugg, Dale Williams, and Tosh Arwood.
August 2019 – Elisha McArthur
“Paddling is my life,” said Elisha McArthur. “I have been in love with rivers my entire life. I was lucky enough to have grown up paddling and to have known my passion from an early age. (I was 15 when I knew I wanted to be a raft guide.) After 20 years of guiding and teaching I am just as passionate about it today as I was in the very beginning, if not more so! Professionally Elisha guided full time for 16 years before transitioning into full-time teaching. In 2017 she and her husband, Alan Cammack, started their company, Canyon River Instruction, in Salida, Colorado. This is a paddle school that focuses primarily on teaching rafting skills and safety & rescue.
As part of her endeavor to share her passion for paddling, Elisha conducts women’s specific paddling clinics. “Teaching women’s specific clinics is one of the most fun and rewarding things I have ever done in my life! And honestly it just kinda fell in my lap; I never set out to be a women’s specific instructor, as unfortunately, I never had much in the way of women mentors in my career, so it never occurred to me to be one.
July 2019 – Levi Hogan
For Levi Hogan, the most exciting part of paddlesports is getting to meet, and paddle with, a diverse range of people every year. Hogan says his life completely revolves around paddlesports. “While we do run a small lodge (Hope’s Hideaway) and coffee shop (Turnagain Kayak and Coffeehouse) out of the same building we use for classes, our primary mission has always been paddlesport education.
“Prince William Sound is where most of the expeditions we outfit take place. It’s a relatively protected area with an abundance of tidewater glaciers. Resurrection Bay is a place we use for coastal kayaking classes. It has swell, rocks, caves, glaciers and an exceptionally rugged landscape. Kachemak Bay is another one of our favorite spots for classes and trips. There are big tides, tidal streams, tide races and great camping. And right in Hope, we have Six Mile Creek and Turnagain Arm. Six Mile is a class 1-5 river with great road access. Turnagain Arm has the largest tidal exchange in the United States. It’s filled with beluga whales, tide races, over falls and has a bore wave about eight days a month. There are so many amazing options. It’s a great place to be a paddler.”
June 2019 – Chris Wing
Chris, founder and program director of H2o Dreams, has been pursuing whitewater paddling since 2000. As a student at Kent State University in Kent State, Ohio, Chris’s first introduction to whitewater kayaking was through the university’s recreation program, where he learned to paddle and teach kayaking simultaneously. From that point forward, he found himself chasing every bit of river he could before moving to North Carolina in 2005 to be closer to what he loved. Now residing in Saluda, North Carolina, home of the famous Green River, Chris spends his days not unlike those early days as a university student: chasing water, dreaming big, and teaching people to love the river. “Racing and training for personal pursuit, teaching folks how to teach is what I have come to love in my teaching pursuits,” said Chris. For him, “Any day on the river for recreation with my wife, Lydia, is a treat. Doesn’t matter where.”
May 2019 – Jennifer Yearley
The environment that paddling presents for fully present-in-the moment development of physical skills; for facing and overcoming fear; for raw engagement with the beauty and power of nature; and for deep and abiding training in humility, is like nothing else I’ve ever come across. These days my own personal practice is focused heavily on surf kayaking, but I can get just as focused and engaged working on fine details of strokes and rolls on flat water with my sea kayak or practicing techniques on my SUP or in my river kayaks.
The paddling memories that stand out most strongly to me all involve facing down and overcoming fear. Whether it has been handling big tide races, dealing with intimidating surf, managing rapids that were at the upper end of my skill level, or dealing with long committing open crossings, these are the experiences that have really affected me. Coming through environments like these, facing down fears and handling them competently, is extremely empowering. This is something I try to share with my students. I teach in a lot of environments where people can feel intimidated. I know what it is to be afraid, and I know how awesome it is to come out the other side, having built the skills and confidence to handle what you are faced with. I try to help shepherd people through that.
April 2019 – Bernie Rupe
“I love teaching kids how to paddle for the first time. It is great to see them go from apprehensive to stepping into the boat and finishing with a big smile because they just learned how to canoe.I am executive director for Chicago Voyagers. We work with at-risk youth, giving them opportunities they would never have had. We introduce hundreds of kids to paddling each year. Some even get to experience wilderness canoeing in places such as the Boundary Waters. Paddling is perfect for building confidence and learning how to work together. I also love to paddle personally – river trips and my annual week-long trip into the Florida Everglades are my favorites.”
March 2019 – Lenore Sobota
Lenore Sobota started kayaking 20 years ago after making a list of 21 things to do in the 21st century. Lenore said, “My involvement in a university outdoor program led me to become a Level 2 coastal kayak instructor in 2010. The original goal was just to teach others in the program how to do rescues, but soon I found myself teaching at kayak symposiums in the Midwest. My favorite thing about teaching kayaking is helping beginners overcome their fears and build their skills.”
“During my time as state director in Illinois, I’ve tried to reach out to people with an emphasis on safety. I’ve attended a variety of festivals and other evens to talk about basic safety and risk assessment and even done a ‘fashion show’ or two preaching the word of dressing for immersion,” she said. Looking ahead, she said, “I’d like to do more exploring by kayak, including camping out of my boat, which I’ve only done a handful of times. I have my eyes on a kayak trip in Grand Teton National Park where I had a couple of climbing epics years before I started paddling. I’m hoping to avoid the flat tire, forgotten equipment and hypothermia that made the Tetons memorable. At least I shouldn’t have to worry about avalanches while on the water instead of the side of a mountain.”
February 2019 – Jamie Eubanks
Jamie Eubanks loves that stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is such an approachable sport. “Anyone can enjoy their first time out on the water, but you can spend a lifetime perfecting your skills,” she said. “My favorite paddle activity is SUP surfing. The water and conditions are always changing, so each session presents me with a novel and engaging experience. It can be very humbling at times and allows me to embrace my inner kook,” she added. “Whether the ocean is glassy or sassy, I know I’m in for a good time!” Jamie’s job at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center is instructional supervisor. She says she evaluates, develops, and implements programming for the paddle department.
Jamie’s future paddling goals are to just keep paddling as long as she can and wherever she can. “Whenever I travel somewhere, the first thing I do is try to find a way to get out on the water,” Jamie said. “Paddling allows for a unique perspective when it comes to experiencing a new location. Bonus: it’s a nice way to counter all of the plane sitting and food sampling that comes with traveling.”
January 2019 – Rob Moody
Rob Moody started paddling as a teenager. He knew after the first trip on the river, it would be the start of a long journey throughout his life. Moody said, “One thing I always look forward to is being on the water with a paddle in my hands. Also, I enjoy helping participants grow to love paddling. This is one of the most exciting parts of being a paddlesports instructor.”
Moody now holds multiple instructor certifications through the ACA. Swift water rescue (SWR) has been a cornerstone with all of his paddlesport courses. He is the founder of Arkansas Outdoor Outfitters LLC. Through this company he teaches kayak, SUP, SWR and canoe courses on a regular basis in Northwest Arkansas and surrounding areas. Moody really enjoys teaching paddlesports and helping the paddling community grow.
Instructors of the Month - 2018
December 2018 – Crystal Skahan
“Water has always had a restorative effect on me, and I like to share that experience with others,” said Crystal Skahan. She grew up swimming in Minnesota lakes, paddling canoes, and immersing herself in water whenever she could. She still does.
Skahan is an active ACA Adaptive Paddling Instructor Trainer, providing paddling opportunities for individuals with disabilities and training opportunities for paddlesport instructors and adapted sport professionals. As a recreation therapist at Northeast Passage, a program of the University of New Hampshire and chapter of Disabled Sports USA, her specialty in adapted sports has enabled opportunity to provide paddling programming to assess the unique characteristics of each individuals’ experience with their disability, and utilize a strengths-based approach to facilitate fulfilling recreation participation.
November 2018 – Fukang Wang
Fukang, or Kangkang to his friends, is an L3 Coastal Kayak instructor and an L2 SUP instructor. He said he has taught in Beijing, Baotou and Hangzhou this year. Anna Levesque describes him as, “He is generous, committed, organized and a great paddler and teacher. During my month-long stay I observed him working hard on his skills, teaching others, assisting others and being pro-active in his duties of promoting the ACA in China. He is a wonderful example of a high-quality teacher, coach, mentor and friend. He is committed to growing paddlesports in China in professional and sustainable way.”
June 2018 – Lydia Wing
Paddling plays a huge role in every arena of Wing’s life… it’s her day-to-day job. She is managing partner of H2o Dreams Paddling School, so most of her days revolve around teaching, thinking about teaching, or developing programming. “When I endeavored for my instructor certification back in 2014, I had no idea that it would lead me down a path of becoming an industry professional whose full-time job would be teaching kayaking, but here I am! I love the challenges, growth, and adventure that every student, every class, and every river can present during my work day; it is never the same,” Wing says. In her personal life, kayaking has brought her an incredible amount of joy and fulfillment both for her personal development and her relationships. She has gotten to travel, teach, and adventure all over the world with her best friend and husband, Chris Wing, because of “this crazy job we have.”
When it comes to paddlesports, Lydia Wing says she is “addicted to the ‘process:’ the drills, puzzles, moves, surfs, and even the crashes that set a paddler up for success in more dynamic environments… true for my students and myself!
May 2018 – Sean Morley
Originating from the UK and now a resident of Marin County, California, Sean Morley has been a paddler pretty much his whole life, admitting that “Every big life decision I have made has, for better or worse, been based on what I want to do as a paddler.” He began kayaking at the age of 10 with the Boy Scouts and took part in his first kayak race in 1978. Morley has competed in many disciplines of paddlesport since then, including white water slalom and downriver racing, marathon, sprint, wave ski, surf lifesaving, surf-ski, surf kayaking and SUP, with success at national and international levels.
Morley began expedition sea kayaking in 1996 and set a record for the fastest crossing of the Irish Sea in 1998. In 2004 he achieved his childhood dream by completing the first solo circumnavigation of the UK and Ireland by sea kayak – the first ever to include all of the inhabited islands. The 4500-mile expedition took 183 days and is the longest kayak journey ever undertaken in British waters.
Morley has worked in the paddlesports industry continually since moving to California in 2006. He founded the River and Ocean Paddlesports Coaching Collective and is owner of Performance Paddlesports, importing and retailing Valley Sea Kayaks, Mega Surf Kayaks, Nelo Surf-skis and Reed Chillcheater paddling clothing. He loves nothing more than to share his passion for paddling by coaching new and developing paddlers. He is supported by Mega Surf Kayaks and Werner Paddles.
April 2018 – Tosh Arwood
Tosh Arwood’s life is whitewater. His career revolves around his true passion for whitewater, and he has the ability to share that passion with others. Arwood began his career at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in its retail organization as paddlesports product manager. In that capacity, he was responsible for all paddlesports product offerings, ordering and replenishment, and sales in the NOC Outfitter’s Store, where he controlled millions of dollars of inventory. Arwood was then promoted to paddling school manager, where he oversees the largest whitewater paddling school in the world. He holds numerous certifications, including Wilderness First Responder, ACA Kayak Instructor Level 5, ACA Swiftwater Rescue, Rescue 3 Swiftwater Rescue Technician-A, and Whitewater Rescue Technician-A. Most recently, Arwood went on a self-support kayaking trip with other NOC guides down the Grand Canyon. His favorite NOC adventure is Adventure Travel to Chile. “I have been fortunate enough to spend multiple winters in South America, between Ecuador and Chile,” said Tosh Arwood.
“I have facilitated everything from exposing unknowing locals to the amazing resources in their own back yard, to providing my students from the U.S. the opportunity to paddle in the warmth of winter in the southern hemisphere, progressing as paddlers. In each case, seeing the confidence and growth gained is extremely rewarding. I’m pretty much living the dream,” he added.
One of the more remarkable aspects of teaching for Arwood is how paddlesports bring people together.
“We have students in our programs from all walks of life. In any given clinic you could have a lawyer, a college student, a tradesman, and an IT consultant. The river brings these diverse individuals together initially, but the friendships they form during the week/weekend last well beyond. More often than not they network on their own and return the following season together as a group.”
He continued, “The learning environment on the river neutralizes many social contrasts. We are all vulnerable in these conditions and it often brings out the best in us.”
March 2018 – Josh Oberleas
Josh Oberleas has worked at the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center for nine seasons as a raft guide/instructor, kayak instructor, and SUP instructor. He has been an ACA instructor since 2006 and a kayak instructor trainer for four years. As a raft guide/instructor, he has worked on the Arkansas River in Colorado with the ACA Pro School Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center in Buena Vista, Colorado. He enjoys teaching new guides and showing people the beauty of the river. Oberleas studied Outdoor Leadership and Geology at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado. He has been visiting Chile since 2007 when he first went with his school. He began working in Chile on the Maipo River and then in Pucon as a safety kayaker and raft guide. In 2014 he completed his IT training and decided he wanted to share his knowledge in South America. Since then, he has conducted several courses in Chile and Brazil.
“My goal was to share the information that was still fairly unknown [in South America]. After the first course the students were fascinated to learn about so much and the progression of teaching in South America. There is a lot of interest here, and the ACA has a beautiful and reputable name,” said Oberleas.
After that positive feedback, he started offering courses and spreading the ACA in South America. He has had students from all over South America, Europe, and the United States. The most eye-opening experience Oberleas has had while teaching courses has been realizing there was no formal instruction in Chile. Most kayakers learned from their friends. Essentially, they would learn the roll and then go to the river.
“Showing them that there is another way to learn/teach has exploded this sport here and I am honored to have helped accelerate the growth of kayaking and rafting in South America,” Oberleas said. With Spanish as a second language, Oberleas has found teaching to be a great challenge, but also a very rewarding undertaking. “In Chile it is amazing to be guiding on the Trancura River in Pucon. It’s a different type of river to run, and you learn a lot from how people in other places in the world run rivers,” said Oberleas.
February 2018 – Jessica Amendola
“I am one of the lucky ones who can say that her entire life revolves around her biggest passions,” said Jessica Amendola, founder of SUP Yoga Center. Just a couple years ago she took the plunge and decided to become completely self-employed and create her dream life, following her heart and turning her passion into her business. She opened her first SUP Yoga Floating Studio on the beautiful island of Maui. Moving back home to Florida in 2016, she brought her business with her.
“I am happy to say that my entire life revolves around being on the water. I spend as much time on the water as I possibly can,” said Amendola. “Being a single mother to a 1-year-old (who already LOVES paddling with her mommy!), it certainly doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but I truly cherish every minute I’m on the water and dream of being on the water every minute I’m not.”
Amendola is an ACA-certified Standup Paddleboard Instructor, Yoga Alliance registered E-RYT200, certified SUP Yoga Instructor, BOGA Yoga Ambassador, and she brings over a decade of experience as a practitioner and expert instructor. She teaches SUP and SUP yoga classes that are inspired directly from her time in or around the ocean. Her classes are a blend of challenging movements, interwoven with spirituality and a heavy emphasis on alignment of the body and movement with breath. The purpose of her classes is to help guide her students into living a life of purpose and passion, finding peace of mind and strength of body.
“The most incredible thing about paddling to me is being so perfectly connected to our beautiful planet. I love lying on my paddleboard after a SUP Yoga class, with my hands dangling in the water, feeling as if my body is just floating on earth. My years on the water have inspired me to take action in reducing my carbon footprint, making a positive impact on our planet, and in turn inspired me to take even better care of my own body. You have two homes to take care for: your body and your planet. Every single time I am on the water, my passion to take care of both is renewed,” she added.
January 2018 – Sean Podrecca
Sean Podrecca has been kayaking since 2005 when he went on his first trip through his university’s outdoor recreation program. He quickly took to it, becoming a raft guide in North Carolina for two summers before heading to Colorado where he not only raft guided but became an ACA whitewater kayak instructor in 2008. He has worked with many different paddling programs since then, including managing two chapters of Team River Runner (a nonprofit for wounded veterans), First Descents (a nonprofit program for young adults with cancer), the National Outdoor Leadership School, and both the US Army and Air Force, with whom he is currently employed.
“Paddling has been a big part of my life since my first experience with it in 2005. I have paddled on both coasts and everything in between within the United States, as well as guided trips in Europe,” Podrecca said. “I find that paddling provides me as an individual the ability to focus on the moment, to be fully committed to a rapid or line, and to push everything else to the sidelines. It puts things into perspective as well. You can be a great paddler, know you can make a line, and due to the dynamic and unpredictability of a rapid still not be 100% perfect but still persevere through uncertainty.”
In a typical season he tries to get 30 to 50 days on the river between personal trips and instruction. As an outdoor guide for the U.S. military, he splits his time guiding among many sports and is not always able to devote as much time to paddling as he would like. “I have been fortunate to paddle in many different locations with many different people and enjoy the mentorship that comes with instruction. I have recently taken up whitewater canoeing to diversify my skills and to reinvigorate my passion while paddling with friends and family on more mellow runs,” he said. “Currently I aspire to paddle with other open boaters that can teach me and mentor me in the same way I have done with others through whitewater kayaking.”
Instructors of the Month - 2017
December 2017 – Tommy Gram
Tommy Gram has over a decade of experience teaching people to have fun and be safe in the outdoors. He lives in Buena Vista, Colorado, where he works and plays outdoors as much as possible.
When asked how he keeps sharp in the off season, Gram said, “Luckily there is always a bit of water in the Arkansas River Valley that makes running slalom gates and low water runs possible to keep my paddling skills sharp. I spend a lot of time skiing in the backcountry, which translates to keeping my thinking and decision-makings skills sharp.” In the winter, Gram is a backcountry ski guide for Buena Vista Mountain Adventures and an avalanche instructor for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. He currently is an L4 Whitewater Kayak and Swiftwater Rescue Instructor Trainer, an L5 Advanced whitewater Kayaking Instructor as well as a Wilderness First Aid Instructor.
Gram is the program director and lead guide/instructor for the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center. He is also the owner/operator of Whitewater Attainment, where he provides instructor certification and advanced level training for kayak schools, clubs and other organizations in the western states. “Whitewater Attainment was started in 2015, and provides Instructor Development and Instructor Certification Workshops as well as high-end coaching and clinics throughout the western states. Over the last few years I have met some awesome people and gained some great experiences,” he added.
“The awesome thing about paddling is that there is always something to learn. I always look forward to learning more from experience and continuing to work with some of my accomplished mentors and colleges along the way,” Gram said. “I hope to plan a kayaking road trip to the northwest and British Columbia next fall.”
November 2017 – Walter Felton
Paddling has been a part of Walter Felton’s life since he was a small child.
“My family would go to local Arkansas rivers for day trips and that grew into a passion for paddling,” he said. By the late 1980s Felton decided that he wanted to explore more difficult whitewater and purchased a kayak. He then joined the Arkansas Canoe Club. He soon discovered that he loved the open boat more and begin taking ACC and NOC classes for open boating. “By the early ’90s I found myself unwittingly thrust into an open boat teaching role for the local club and realized I needed to know a lot more if I was going to teach for the Arkansas Canoe Club,” he said. In that same time frame the ACC started engaging the ACA instructor program and he joined in.
“My teaching and learning about teaching has grown from a desire to support the Arkansas Canoe Club, to a passion for sharing knowledge about a sport that I love,” Felton added. By the late 1990s Felton was paddling Class IV whitewater and helping with swift water rescue workshops around the state. He had realized that he needed to know how to get himself out of trouble and how to support his paddling group if they had a problem. “That drive for knowledge led to my first certification as a SWR instructor and sharing SWR skills grew into a passion for developing new teaching ideas and SWR techniques,” he said. Felton said his development as an instructor has been influenced by several people, many in the Arkansas Canoe Club and several from the ACA, most notably Sam Fowlkes and Robin Pope. “These mentors taught me how to teach people first and then how to offer the various skills to those people. Teaching in this sport has been a life journey,” Felton said.
October 2017 – Brendan Fitzpatrick
Brendan Fitzpatrick’s obsession with fly fishing led him to become an ACA instructor.
“I purchased a canoe to allow me to fish more water. I contacted Mike Aronoff at Canoe, Kayak and Paddle Company and he set me up with Kenny Guerrant for a canoeing lesson. Kenny, Mike and I became good friends, and I quickly realized becoming an instructor would polish my paddling skills,” said Fitzpatrick. “I now have an unhealthy obsession for teaching others how to paddle and have fun on the water.”
Fitzpatrick is the most active instructor using the ACA Paddlesport Safety Facilitator program in his region.
“The Paddlesport Safety Facilitator endorsement has served me well over the past two years. It is most popular with organizations (e.g., Girl Scouts) that require more than a skills course, but find the commitment and pricing of a multi-day ICW inconvenient. At CKAPCO we were able to slightly modify our beginner kayak course to include the additional safety and rescue topics of the PSF and certify folks to evangelize paddling at their facilities. The written exam has actually proven to be a fun way to see if students are retaining the information we teach,” said Fitzpatrick.
Currently, Fitzpatrick is an Instructor Trainer candidate in whitewater canoeing. His near term goal is to complete that process and then work on becoming an IT in whitewater kayaking. “My longer term aspirations are to get my four kids to fall in love with paddling and join me on paddling adventures. It would also be nice to be a full-time guide or instructor when I finally retire,” he added.
September 2017 – Ge Wu
When it comes to paddlesports, spending time with friends and family and just being on the water with them either kayaking, playing canoe polo or paddleboarding are the most precious and exciting moments for Ge Wu. Canoe polo was Wu’s first experience with paddlesports. The sport has taught him a lot about self-determination, working as a team, and working hard to win. Since 2011 he’s been playing on the USA Men’s Kayak Polo Team, and he treasures this honor and opportunity to represent the country and play against the best players and teams around the world.
Apart from playing canoe polo, Wu also finds time to compete in whitewater, SUP and dragon boat races. However, this year he hasn’t been able to play as many tournaments as he did in the past. Now he’s dedicating more of his time to coaching others to prepare for and compete in such competitions. In May, the student canoe polo team from Zhejiang University that he had been coaching competed in 20th International Canoe Polo Amsterdam Open, and they finished third.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of these kids. They all had just started to learn canoe polo no more than a year prior to the competition,” said Wu. As an international ACA Instructor, Wu travels quite a bit. He uses these experiences to strengthen his local paddling community. “Wherever I go paddling, I take pictures of the local infrastructure, the facilities, the waterways and the local paddlers. And when I get home, I show these pictures to my fellow paddlers and share what I’ve learned from these trips. I think there’s always a thing or two that our local paddling community can relate to or learn from another community that may be thousands of miles away, especially when my young local paddling community and the entire paddling community in China just kicked off a few years ago,” said Wu.
He gets asked a lot by fellow Chinese paddlers to help them translate teaching and learning materials, or help them pay their ACA dues because they can’t read English, or help them decide which gear to buy, or help them get in touch with a club in another country. “I absolutely enjoy doing all of these, because it can help my local paddling community mature and stay connected with wider international community. I think globalization is definitely in our paddlesports, too,” he added.
August 2017 – Adam Masters
Adam Masters, founder of Bellyak, didn’t set out to develop a whole new sport; he just enjoyed playing in the water. He figured others might get the same kick he got. He started with a simple goal: to combine the feeling of whitewater swimming with the stability of freestyle kayaking. As a result, he developed prone kayaking. And now, prone river paddling is Adam Masters’ passion. He explains, “The bellyak opens up so much creativity in interpreting familiar runs – from front surfing, to splatting to spinning in holes to figuring out the newest ways to play…figuring out the smoothest and most effortless lines down a rapid and playing every feature.”
Masters founded Bellyak Inc., headquartered in Candler, North Carolina, to share his newfound passion with others. The bellyak is the great “equalizer” in that it works off the shelf for the differently abled population. Masters said, “We do multiple events a year for people with disabilities, whether physical, cognitive or both. With no fear of entrapment, or lateral stability issues that come from paraplegia, the bellyak provides mobility, balance and exercise in a safe, fun and quick to learn package.”
“We also do local events with several of the Cross Fit gyms who use bellyak in their weekly workouts to mix up their fitness routines. We are always looking for creative ways to get more people on the water,” he added. “As a lifelong kayaker, I had forgotten how big of a barrier to entry the kayak roll is, and how much instruction early on focuses specifically on what to do if you’re upside down. What we’ve found is that there is a large community of people out there who want to experience the joy of whitewater but have felt limited by current options. We make it easy and exciting for them,” said Masters. “The best part of a bellyak is that everything feels exciting when you’re paddling prone and using your hands. There are those who have tried it, there are those who want to try it, and there is everyone else. We focus on our students, in making them competent, safe and knowledgeable paddlers. There is no substitution for quality instruction combined with experience over time,” he added.
July 2017- Dave Sibley
Dave Sibley has enjoyed more than 10 years participating in kayak training in various roles with the Wilmington (Delaware) Trail Club. The club has expanded its novice programs for both recreational and whitewater, and has added components such as Helper Training, swift water rescue and intermediate/advanced clinics like “Fun with Rocks” and “How to Lead on Class 4.” Instructors are mentored and encouraged to teach classes of their own design to take students beyond the novice training. Instructors also mentor trip leaders, so the club can offer trips on more advanced rivers.
For Sibley, teaching is a growth experience for both student and instructor. Along these same lines, Sibley finds cross-specialty learning to be important as it “helps to clear out student (and instructor) bias.” Recreational slalom is not far away from Delaware. Sibley found this to be a great way for paddlers at any level to improve skills in low-risk settings. He said, “Of course, slalom gave rise to so many moves and techniques that are common in paddling. And it’s good as an instructor to be humbled when you get in the gates!”
June 2017 – Tina Spencer
As a park educator with New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation in the Niagara Region, Tina Spencer provides in-park and outreach programs to serve patrons in 16 state parks as well as local schools in her region. She also operates a seasonal nature center at Beaver Island State Park. Her work has rewarded her with many opportunities, including becoming a boater safety instructor through the NYS Marine Services Bureau and a certified interpretive guide through the National Association for Interpretation. Her love of the outdoors and the desire to teach led her to become a kayak instructor.
Following NYS Park’s Commissioner Rose Harvey’s Strategic Goals and Priorities to increase, deepen, and improve the visitor’s experience, including recreational opportunities in NYS Parks, Spencer developed the Kayaking with Tina program that teaches Smart Start Paddling Orientation. In 2015 Spencer was honored with the Huttleston Special Achievement Award. She was recognized for supporting the commissioner’s goal of deepening and improving the visitor’s experience by initiating and developing a highly successful kayaking program in the Niagara Region of NYS Parks.
May 2017 – Jennifer Stockwell
According to her mom, Jennifer Stockwell has always been very comfortable in the water and spent much of her youth fishing and canoeing many of the pristine spring-fed Florida waterways around the Gulf Coast. Stockwell said she has always had the strong desire to paddle for fun and she is always elated when she can do this in the company of friendly people who challenge her. “For me, the most exciting aspect of paddling is being able to learn something new every time I get on the water, whether the challenge to overcome is technical or mental. This sometimes includes students finding their ‘A-ha’ moment or often my gaining knowledge from the students,” said Stockwell. “Another exhilarating aspect of paddling is getting to have fun living out my passion.”
Tied to living out her passion, Stockwell, an L4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor, founded Diverse Paddle Sports to educate other paddlers. She chose that name “because I want to encompass all of my paddle actives such as whitewater kayaking, outrigger canoeing and dragon boating because they give me the ability to evolve, both physically and mentally. This name also reflects and supports my personal belief system and encompasses many different groups and individuals.” Stockwell’s mission is to provide education to empower individuals with a passion for paddlesports activities. She strives to give back the knowledge she’s gained from instruction and through personal experiences. As part of this, Stockwell donates her time to others with this passion who are economically challenged and to a local youth program. Find out more about Jennifer’s amazing contributions to her paddling community in our newest edition of Paddle.
April 2017 – Jeff Atkins
Jeff Atkins is a 25-year veteran park ranger with South Carolina State and County Parks. He has led outdoor programs all over the state and is frequently found teaching at symposiums in the Southeast. As an instructor for the N.C. Outward Bound School, he leads expeditions around the U.S. Paddlesports is his passion and loves to spread the “infectious” recreation activity to others. He believes in having fun, learning, and helping others to expand their knowledge and skills. “There is nothing like the feeling of seeing a person smile because they just did something they didn’t think they could do,” he said. Atkins loves paddling in the ocean. “The energy of waves excites me. I also really love expeditions. The chance to see beautiful remote places that are not disturbed by development sooths my soul,” said Atkins.
A self-proclaimed kayak nerd, Atkins said he tries to paddle at least once a week, but he’s thinking about paddling every day. He reads books, watches videos, and practices drills frequently. When it comes to kayaking or teaching kayaking, his mantra is “It’s recreation dammit!” He explained, “Oftentimes we get really uptight about our skills and abilities being perfect, so we lose focus on why we are doing these activities – to bring us to our happy place. I love working with people to make them smile and laugh by the end of their class, but also by the end, they have learned things and enjoyed it. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of great ACA instructors in Charleston, S.C. This allows me to paddle frequently with talented friends.”
March 2017 – Erin Shaw
February 2017 – Mike Mather
Mike is an ACA Safety & Rescue ITE, Rescue 3 Rope & Water IT. With more than 20 years to develop his judgment on and in the water, Mike Mather is one of the more experienced and entertaining rescue professionals in the industry. Having taught courses all over the U.S. and in Europe, Mike has an unconventional approach to this topic. Mike excels at keeping topics clear, accessible and applicable for rescue professionals, experienced boaters and novices alike. Kent Ford described Mike as a “highly skilled person, with a valuable set of skills, including guiding, guide training and broad national experience in swiftwater rescue. His experience level is truly unique on a national level.” A few of the teams Mike has trained to date include: USN Seals, USAF PJs, San Diego lifeguards, Los Angeles lifeguards, Eagle County Colorado FD, etc. Mike worked with Horst Fürsattel, the inventor of the rescue PFD in Germany, and tested the rescue harness by having the class haul him up an 8-foot ledge. Mike played the role of the entrapped victim in the film “Heads Up” multiple times and in one instance the rope snagged on the river bottom entrapping him for real. Mike truly is the “Houdini” of swiftwater rescue! For more beta on Mike, check out our most recent version of Paddle!
January 2017 – Kelly Marie Henry
Kelly Marie Henry is completely addicted to high-performance surf kayaking. “For me, surf kayaking is very challenging, a little bit terrifying, and pure joy. When I am up and riding, the background noise of life fades away and there is only silence. I am fully present in the moment on that wave. As the ride ends, the surge of positive emotions is overwhelming – I am grinning from ear to ear,” she explained. She enjoys instructing almost as much as surfing. “I find helping paddlers at all levels build their skills and increase their comfort and confidence on the water truly rewarding. Several years ago, I left a promising career in oceanography to work full-time in paddlesports,” said Kelly. She instructs introductory and intermediate sea kayaking, surf kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding through California Canoe & Kayak. Recently, she collaborated with several San Francisco Bay Area instructors to form River & Ocean Paddlesports Coaching. Henry enjoys promoting paddlesports participation, particularly among women. “The more time I spend in coastal kayaking and surf kayaking, the more aware I become of the lack of women in both disciplines,” she explained. Several times a year, she collaborates with the California Women’s Watersport Collective– an organization dedicated to creating and fostering a community of women who share a love of the water – to offer women’s specific sea kayak and surf kayak clinics and multi-day classes. Read more about Kelly Marie in our most recent edition of Paddle!