We <3 the American Canoe Association (in many ways)!

Two amazing developments happened this month: 

  1. Kelly was named instructor of the month by the American Canoe Association, like a boss (read her profile here in the ACA’s Paddler Magazine
  2. The ACA became an official Fearless Formosa Dragon Sponsor, our highest sponsorship level!

For both of these developments, we are incredibly humbled and grateful. In fact, we wanted to take some time to share how the ACA (not to be confused with the Affordable Care Act) has played a pivotal role in shaping us as paddlers and people (too cheesy already? Bear with us!). 

What is the American Canoe Association?

While a lot of Fearless Formosa followers are ACA instructors or students themselves, many of you likely aren’t familiar with the ACA. The ACA was founded in 1880 to organize and standardize paddlesports (including sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, canoeing, stand up paddleboarding, surfski, and adaptive paddling). Put another way, the ACA:

  • Trains and certifies paddling instructors by standardizing the best teaching theory and techniques
  • Protects and defends access to waterways, coasts, and rivers
  • Increases safety and awareness as more paddlers join the community
  • Hosts key events and competitions that further cultivate the paddling community

It’s kind of like a combination of the Legal Bar Association and the Sierra Club, but for paddlers. Both Kelly and I have taught and taken many many ACA courses as well as instructor trainings. In fact -- Fearless Formosa would never have happened if Kelly and I hadn’t become friends in our 2013 Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayaking instructor development workshop!

We want to take a moment to share our stories with the ACA and how this organization has enriched our paddling practice and beyond. 

Laura’s story with the ACA

Since becoming an ACA member back in high school, I’ve taken two coastal kayaking instructor courses (Instructor Development Workshop and Instructor Development Certification Evaluations), two whitewater kayaking instructor courses, a rolling instructor course, and a whitewater canoeing instructor course all through the ACA. I’ve competed in three ACA races, taking gold in Women’s Collegiate Downriver Solo Canoe (disclaimer: I was one of only two women in that race’s event). I’ve been an ACA member for 13 years now with no plans of stopping. 

 Laura’s early instructing days on Georgia’s Bull River

Laura’s early instructing days on Georgia’s Bull River

Girls Scouts and Sharks: My first kayak teaching experience

I wasn’t always the amazingly flawless instructor you know today. It may surprise you, but, the first sea kayaking trip I ever guided devolved into an all-out shipwreck. Flashback to summer 2004 when I was a junior in high school. I had just returned to my native waters of Tybee Island, Georgia after spending a month on a self-supported sea kayaking trip in Southeast Alaska through my high school (Seattle Academy). It was a life-changing trip that started my sea kayaking addiction. And I went into the rest of that summer thinking I knew everything about kayaking. I worked that summer with Sea Kayak Georgia, an outfitter that taught me so much and really invested in me as a young instructor. One of my first trips was a 6-hour paddle with a large Girl Scout troop. 

Everything that could go wrong happened: I couldn’t keep their attention for the safety talk, none of them retained my mumbled and confusing paddle stroke intro, half of them never learned to hold the paddle correctly for the entire 6 hours, three boats had to be towed due to crying and exhaustion. And, worst of all, they particularly asked me if there would be sharks. Of course, there are a ton of small black tip sharks in the mouth of the river where we paddled, but I told them, “no, no sharks here.” They saw two sharks in the first hour. Crying ensued. Let’s just say, they got more than just their watersports badge that day...

I learned that first summer of teaching that I needed a lot more experience and some professional help. 

 Laura paddling the Falls rapid on the French Broad River, NC

Laura paddling the Falls rapid on the French Broad River, NC

Davidson Outdoors and the ACA

My college’s outdoor program had a huge mark on my life. With Davidson Outdoors (DO), I learned how to effectively co-lead with different personality types, accurately assess risks, teach to different learnings styles, navigate shuttling logistics, communicate effectively, teach for retention, embrace discovery learning, and lead with confidence. Underpinning so much of what I learned with DO was ACA pedagogy. The heads of Davidson Outdoors, Ed Daugherty and Mike Goode, are both seasoned paddlers and ACA-certified instructor trainers. Through ACA courses with DO, I learned not just a framework for becoming a better instructor, but a framework for assessing my own progress as a paddler and an instructor. That’s what I think is remarkable about the ACA, how the pedagogy not only makes you more aware of your teaching but also more aware of your own learning style, strengths, and weaknesses so you can grow independently as an instructor. 

 Laura and her first 7th grade class in Yunnan Province, China

Laura and her first 7th grade class in Yunnan Province, China

After college I taught middle school in rural China for two years. During some of the most trying moments, I called upon my ACA training to become a better teacher off the water. I remember noticing incredible similarities between Teach for America’s pedagogical training (which comprised most of our formal teacher training as Teach for China fellows) and the ACA’s learning theory. ACA pedagogy uses a proven framework designed to help students truly retain what they learn, and it works on and off the water, across different cultures, languages, and continents.

 Laura paddling in Alaska’s Thomas Bay on her first-ever multi-day kayaking trip

Laura paddling in Alaska’s Thomas Bay on her first-ever multi-day kayaking trip

Next Strokes

With every class I teach or shadow, I’m still learning and growing. There’s so much more I’d like to do with the ACA. In the next few years, I want to become a certified level 5 sea kayaking instructor and eventually an instructor trainer. Ultimately, for me, furthering ACA certifications isn’t just about becoming a better instructor or gaining more advanced skills, it’s also about growing my self-awareness and ability to connect more profoundly with a larger, diverse group of people. That’s why I’m incredibly grateful for the ACA’s leadership in paddlesports and thorough support of Fearless Formosa. 

 Kelly and Laura teaching recently in the San Francisco Bay with Cali Collective (Melissa DeMarie)

Kelly and Laura teaching recently in the San Francisco Bay with Cali Collective (Melissa DeMarie)

Ready to get involved?

If you’re ready to dive deeper into paddlesports or even just test the waters, we highly recommend becoming an ACA member and taking courses to match your skill level. 

Or if you’ve ever thought about becoming an instructor, there’s no better place to start than with an instructor development workshop -- it’s one part skills development, one part learning how to teach better, and another part therapy. 

  • Instructor training courses listed here

Big thank you’s to all the amazing ACA instructors we’ve learned from!

From Laura:

Ed Daugherty, Mike Goode, Susan Bean, Steve Braden, Keith Miller, Bryant Burkhardt, Ben Lawry, Bill Vonnegut, Dale Williams, Marsha Henson, Ronnie Kemp, Mike Robinson, Wayne Dickert, Sean Morley, Kristen Podolak, Melissa DeMarie, Preston Orr, Zach Smith, Nick Scoville, Benton Carroll, Sami Hawkins, Lori Turbes and many more :)