Friday, February 27, 2009

Why the ACA is Relevant Every Day, Part I

Every few days I receive a sobering email from Chief John Malatak of the United States Coast Guard. It’s not the kind of thing you usually expect to find in your inbox. The emails list the numerous paddlesport “incidents” that the Coast Guard and other rescue workers respond to on an almost daily basis around the country.

The incident descriptions are usually accidents culled from news reports: missing boaters, dramatic rescues, and all too often, fatalities. As I said, these are sobering reminders that put into stark context why the safety mission of the American Canoe Association is so critical.

Here’s one example, taken verbatim from Chief Malatak’s email:

“02-14-09 INDIANAPOLIS, IN Indy man still missing a day after canoe capsized in White River []  (02-16-09) After searching for parts of 2 days, emergency responders Sun.(02-15) still had not found a man whose canoe capsized in the frigid White River. Ethan Runnels, 25, and Sara Pugh, 30, both of Indianapolis, were paddling on White River on Sat.(02-14) when the nearly 14 mph current trapped their canoe against an obstacle, said Indianapolis FD Division Chief Dave Owens. The strong current caused the canoe to go sideways and tip over about 6 p.m. Pugh managed to swim to shore but saw Runnels floating downstream near the canoe. IFD spokeswoman Rita Reith said Pugh was a little hypothermic after exiting the water but otherwise OK. The two had lifejackets in their boat, although they weren't wearing them." All indications are they were very outdoorsy people who got in above their heads," Owens said.

According to the Nat'l. Weather Service, White River was nearly 2 ft. above flood stage about the time of the mishap. The water temperature was estimated to be 40 degrees. IFD and other agencies searched several hours on Sat. night, then resumed the search at 8 a.m. Sun. Rescue personnel used sonar equipment to scan the river. The search was called off at 3 p.m. because firefighters had not located Runnels' body using sonar technology and the current still was too fast, about 7 mph, to safely send in divers even if they had. Scuba divers are expected to resume their efforts at 9 a.m. Mon.(02-16) if the current slows to about 3.5 mph or less.”

There’s a common theme in many of the incident reports. All too often, even experienced paddlers are caught off-guard, and often fail to wear lifejackets. So here’s a reminder: Wear it!

The U.S. Coast Guard provides the ACA significant funding each year to produce paddlesport safety programs and literature designed to reduce these statistics. And the effort does work. Still, we face an enormous challenge: As canoe and kayak sales remain the fastest-growing segment of the overall boating sales, more and more people take to the waterways and are sometimes under-prepared for the challenges they may face.

We’ll continue to work every day to distribute these safety messages. They’re no less important in an economic recession—in fact, some statistics suggest people are more likely to take part in paddlesport activities because they’re relatively inexpensive and can be done close to home. So if you haven’t joined the ACA yet, or are waiting to renew your membership, or if you would just like to donate, please do.

I’d love to have a week without an incident email.

Martin A. Bartels
ACA Executive Director

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bluewater, Blackwater, Whitewater

A 10,000 Islands Everglades momentHopefully no one needs reminding about the importance of water. Whether it is viewed as providing life sustaining nourishment or a medium for recreation, water plays a role in everyone's daily life.

From the open ocean or waves crashing onto a beach, to tidal marshes and tannin stained creeks, to the white froth of rapids in a river, the ACA strives daily to make sure we have access to these natural resources. In addition, the ACA promotes responsible stewardship of these water environments as well as proper education before stepping into a boat. For example, always wear your lifejacket while paddling, whether it's on a peaceful lake or navigating the Wilderness Waterway Trail in the Florida Everglades.

There are those in our organization who focus on the thrills of class IV, whereas others spend their time on expeditions off the coast of mainlands and islands around the world. Other ACA members devote their paddling time by taking trips with friends to nearby rivers, maybe even at a local state park. Still others concentrate on educating the public about the joys (and hazards) associated with pushing a boat off from shore.

So, whether you paddle on bluewater, blackwater or whitewater, the ACA is here for you, and has been since 1880.

To learn more about what we do on behalf of all paddlers, visit

Chris Stec on the Selway River, Idaho
Paddle Safe - Paddle Often,
Christopher Stec
Safety Education & Instruction Department

Monday, February 16, 2009

The ACA's on TV Tonight!

Art on the waterTurn on the Tube Tonight...

and join ACA members from across the country to watch Freestyle Canoeing on the Discovery Channel!

Host Dave Mordal will have a segment on the art of Freestyle Canoeing as part of the new Discovery Channel series, Wreckreation Nation.


  • Channel: Discovery

  • When: Today! (Tuesday, February 17th)

  • Time: 10pm (eastern time)

After tuning in, get out on the water this weekend and practice those canoe maneuvers!

Chris Stec on the Selway River, Idaho
Paddle Safe - Paddle Often,
Christopher Stec
Safety Education & Instruction Department

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sugar is Sweet

Did you know that ACA members have an exclusive vacation benefit? It's called Sugar Island, in the heart of the Thousand Islands chain on the St. Lawrence River. You may visit any time during the season, but you'll get to know about the ACA--and the "Sugar Islanders"--more by visiting during the annual encampment, this year taking place July 26 through August 9. Prices are very affordable, but you have to be an ACA member to visit.

The beauty of the island is that it's entirely rustic, and about as primitive as you can get when it comes to camping. Still, the islanders know a thing or two about good times, especially the Thursday night pot luck. You're also within a mile or two of shore, where the Misty Islands Resort provides many amenities (and a place to park so you can drive into Gananoque, Ontario, when you need a dose of urban life, or a few groceries).

For beginners, there's plenty of gentle-water coves to explore. Or you can opt to take a lesson in canoe-sailing from a friendly islander. The wildlife is astounding, and I hear the fishing is great, too.

I visited last year with my family, and my oldest daughter keeps asking when we're going back. I'm just about to make a call to reserve a spot.

Happy paddling!

Martin A. Bartels
ACA Executive Director

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The ACA's Olympic History

ACA Olympian
To move forward we must, from time to time, cast an eye astern.

Historian Daniel Boorstin wrote “trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers”. So, I’d like to share a story written by a longtime member of the ACA, Dusty Rhodes (1913-2007). Dusty is remembered as a great story teller and this was written by him in the early 1950’s.

“After the great Frank Havens returned from the 1952 Olympics all of the Washington Canoe Club paddlers were gunning for him. You see the ’52 Games were Frank’s second Olympics and in his first games in ’48 he got Silver in the C-1 10,000m race but in ’52 he came home with the Gold medal. An Olympic champion right here in the Washington Canoe Club doing workouts with the crew on the Potomac River every day. To many of us, the thought was, that if we could beat him in a workout, it was as good as being an Olympic Champion ourselves! Well one day, I was feeling particularly bold and strong and so I waited in anticipation for Frank to come down that night for the evening workout. We pushed off the dock and did our warm up to the mile rock and I knew that tonight was the night. Many boats were out that night so I was eager to perform well and Frank seemed fast in his C-1. The workout was five sets of five minutes on and two minutes rest. In the first five minutes piece I took off fast and never saw Frank for the rest of the piece. Same for the second piece. WOW! Two down and three to go. The third piece was closer but Frank fell off the pace at the end. The final two pieces went much the same as the first three and as the clock ticked off the last seconds of the final piece I felt a period of silent euphoria and took in the moment. The World Record holder has just been beaten in five of five pieces on the Potomac River by ME, Dusty Rhodes! I knew it wasn’t the same as Olympic Glory but I had to savor my moment in time and smile a little smile to myself for my achievement. Finally, I realized my thoughtless lack of respect and realized I needed to compliment the man who really and truly helped to make tonight’s special moment happen. I turned to Lou, my K-2 partner, and said “Good work out partner, we got him tonight!”

The ACA has a rich history. To learn more visit our History webpages.

Kirk Havens & SonSee you on the river!

Kirk Havens, President
American Canoe Association

Monday, February 9, 2009

The ACA on TV!

The Art of Freestyle Canoeing

That's right, join ACA members from across the country to watch Freestyle Canoeing on the Discovery Channel!

Host Dave Mordal will have a segment on the art of Freestyle Canoeing as part of the new Discovery Channel series, Wreckreation Nation.


  • Discovery Channel

  • Tuesday, February 17th

  • 10pm (eastern time)

We hope you'll tune in.

Chris Stec on the Selway River, Idaho
Paddle Safe - Paddle Often,
Christopher Stec
Safety Education & Instruction Department

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Learning without Computers

Navigating an open water lake crossing

Does anyone know the average grade in school that a child begins to use a computer? My two year old already knows how to, "turn on the computer for Daddy" so we can watch choo-choo trains on Youtube.

In today's world of electronic learning, it is imperative that youth do not suffer from the widely publicized Nature Deficit Disorder. As commendable as the Wii gaming system is at getting youth active while inside, it shouldn't take the place of going outside and throwing a baseball in the backyard. Communicating with others on internet based gaming systems is fine, but it doesn't replace playing soccer outside with the neighborhood kids.

As paddlesports enthusiasts, the ACA encourages you to promote safe and educational water based experiences for today's youth.

In our ongoing effort to meet the needs of the paddling public, both young and older generations, the ACA is becoming actively involved with Youth Development. For the latest information on how to teach paddling to youth, visit our Paddle Safe - Paddle Smart Curriculum for educators.

Join us as we bring paddlesports education to the boaters of tomorrow!

Chris Stec on the Selway River, Idaho
Paddle Safe - Paddle Often,
Christopher Stec
Safety Education & Instruction Department

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Places We Paddle

The lower canyons of the Rio Grande River
Whether it's rapids on a river, surfing a shore break, navigating islands in a tidal bay, to a calm section of a scenic lake. The ACA plays a direct role in safeguarding the venues you paddle in, as well as educating the public about best practices for paddlesports.

Diversity. Some ACA members focus only on sea kayaking, others spend their time choreographing their freestyle canoe routines, others canoe camp, and others compete in local and regional races, downriver and slalom. Other ACA members simply enjoy a calm evening paddle on the pond near their home.

No matter where you choose to paddle (or what type of boat you paddle), the ACA has your interests in mind as we work to fullfil our mission on behalf of all paddlers nationwide.
For more information about where to paddle or the ACA, please contact any of the ACA National Office Staff.

Chris Stec on the Selway River, Idaho
Paddle Safe - Paddle Often,
Christopher Stec
Safety Education & Instruction Department