Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Member's Perspective

From Doug Davis, Owner of River City Canoe & Kayak in Louisville, KY

Why Join the ACA?

As a board member of the American Canoe Association, this is a question I am often asked: Why join the ACA? And looking back on it over the years it is a question, which I begrudgingly admit, at times I have struggled to find an answer for. So during the board meeting last week in Savannah while sitting through budget presentations and votes on changes to educational curriculum I tried to take time and really reflect on this, and in essence ask myself, "why am I in the ACA?

1. Advocacy. Whether you know it or not there are municipal, state and federal agencies every day making decisions on issues which can impact you the paddler very profoundly. Things such as federally mandated life jacket wear. It seems a new standard is being discussed to mandate life jacket wear for all boaters on boats under 26' in length and all paddle craft. Now as an ACA instructor I am very much a proponent of life jacket wear anyway, but do we want it to be mandated? Another issue that has been coming up more and more frequently lately is mandatory boat registration similar to the system in Ohio right now, where its mandatory to register every boat you own. How many canoes or kayaks do you own? Do you want to pay additional money to register them all? What if the money was going to paddler programs around the state? Mandatory boater education is the third big change that seems to be gathering more steam at the national level. Imagine having to take a class in order to canoe or kayak, just like you had to take a driver's ed class to drive. Is this something you would be for or against?

Another area of advocacy that the ACA can represent paddlers in is advocating on paddlers behalf with boat manufacturers or vendors. Curious why Europe has huge paddling clubs and cheaper club boats to support it? This is an area where we can represent paddlers voices. Have you as a paddler or parent ever noticed that other than the three whitewater boats on the market for "small framed" paddlers (ie kids), there arent any kids size recreational kayaks or youth sized canoes? And we wonder why its hard to get kids involved in paddle sports.

These are all areas where the ACA wants to hear your voice and your opinion and be able to serve as your representative when these important policy decisions are being made.

2. Education, Instruction, Training. I have seen some great club based paddling training programs in my time and I have seen some horrible ones. I have seen some great company or corporate based paddling training programs in my time and I have seen some really bad ones. Inevitably the great ones all have the ACA education guidelines as the foundation for their system. The ACA is continuously reviewing and updating their teaching methods, protocols and updating the curriculum of the kayak, canoe, rafting, and swift water rescue programs on a continual basis. Most of this hard work is carried out by staff member Jeremy Oyen and the hardworking volunteers on the Safety, Education and Instruction Council (SEIC). This is hard and thankless work, but Jeremy and these volunteer council members are continuously working to make sure the material being taught is the best in the country if not the world, and is up to date and relevant. Taking an ACA course provides a strong foundation to begin a lifetime of enjoyment and fun as a paddler. Becoming an instructor is a great rewarding way to use your experience to help others become interested in our amazing sport!

3. Fun. I will be the first to admit, this is one area where we are really trying to improve our reputation and deliver on our promises. Do I have fun as an ACA member? Of course! It never fails that I can be on nearly any river, any where in the country and see someone I know from the ACA. It really makes it feel like you belong to a local paddling club, but one that stretches from coast to coast. I have fun working with other paddlers and seeing their faces light up the first time they ferry across the rivers currents in their kayak, or pull off their first kayak roll! But we need to do more, so within the coming year the ACA more than ever will be emphasizing paddling events, local competitions and other ways to inject the fun back into the ACA. Events and bringing paddlers together to have fun and socialize will be a big big part of this effort, and the ACA will be looking for local members who want to help organize local activities in their areas.

It's these three core reasons why I am an ACA member, volunteer and board member. There are so many more areas the ACA tries to help the paddling community from providing insurance for instructors and member's boats, to member only trips and adventures, to discounts on gear and even Subaru's. But its advocacy, education and fun that makes the ACA what it is to me. Hopefully my sharing my reasons for joining the ACA will help you decide that the ACA is right for you as well. The ACA really is run by paddlers for paddlers. See you on the water!

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