The prestigious Excellence in Instruction Award is presented to an ACA member for his or her outstanding contribution to paddlesports education and instruction.
The recipients names are placed on a perpetual plaque that is prominently displayed in the ACA National Office.
2016 - Ben Lawry
Ben has been paddling for over 40 years, and teaching/guiding for over 30. He has taught paddling on five continents and competed on three. Presently he is head instructor/owner of Kayak Camp with his wife, Elizabeth. Ben presented at the National ACA Conference in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and at the National WW Symposium in 2010. Ben presented at the ACA Europe Conference in 2013 and 2014. He has led trips and traveled extensively in South America, South Africa, Europe, Taiwan and North America. Ben splits his time now teaching paddling and working with stores. His work takes him to symposiums, shows and paddling rendezvous all over the United States, Europe and South America. Some how during all this travel he has found time to be an active member of the SEIC and he has been instrumental in the development of new curriculum in several disciplines. As a Technical Instructor, he is involved with kayak design in sea, touring and white water kayaks as well as helping in designing paddles, accessories and clothing for all disciplines. His rich experience has led to an in-depth knowledge of instruction/guiding practices and procedures, a strong commitment to quality service, as well as producing several instructional videos. He has competed in sprint, sea kayak, slalom, rodeo, marathon canoe and kayak, outrigger, surf ski and wildwater events. He presently rides a bike, runs and does the odd multi-sport event.Not a day goes by that Ben isn't thinking about how to make himself and those around him better. Ben has pushed and inspired many of us to go beyond our limits both on and off the water.
2016 - Lyle Phetteplace
Lyle is a currently certified ACA Level 4: Swiftwater Rescue Instructor Trainer and Level 4: Whitewater Kayaking Instructor Trainer. He is also certified as an ACA instructor in Level 2: Essentials of SUP, Level 5: Advanced Swiftwater Rescue, Level 3: Coastal Kayaking, and holds the Adaptive Paddling Endorsement. He is indeed an experienced and well-rounded instructor, who actively uses each of his certifications in his personal/recreational and professional life. Lyle is the owner and operator of a Colorado-based paddling school called Renaissance Adventure Guides. His school employs a multitude of ACA certified instructors, and is well known in Colorado as being a premier paddling educational program. This paddling school offers year round instruction in Colorado and the surrounding states, as well as international paddling schools and certification programs in Central and South America. Lyle is the first ACA Instructor Trainer to offer River Safety & Rescue certification programs in Costa Rica.
In July of 2016, Lyle was recognized and awarded the “Lifesaving Award” by the Garfield County, Colorado Sherriff’s office for a kayak based rescue of an unresponsive woman. He is the only civilian to ever have received this award. He observed the scene from the river bank, and responded immediately and was able to rescue the woman, who had been floating in cold water for almost 5 miles, and who would have likely drowned if she had been flushed through a large rapid towards which she was drifting. Lyle is a founder of the non-profit organization, Epic Experience. Epic is an adventure camp program for adult cancer survivors. The primary adventure activities of this camp program are whitewater kayaking and SUP. As the paddling program director for this organization, Lyle is responsible for maintaining absolute comfort and safety of these individuals, but also for facilitating their thriving in the face of cancer diagnosis and treatment via their experiences in learning to whitewater kayak and SUP. In sum, Lyle is most deserving of this award due to the aforementioned details of his contributions to his local and national/international paddling community. An example of impeccable ethical and honorable character, Lyle has made a life changing impact on so many people who may not have otherwise been able to experience the joy of paddling. He truly does embody the ACA mission, and makes the world a better place to paddle.
2015 - Tom Burroughs
"Tom has an amazing gift of detail when it comes to instruction. Tom is one of the most dedicated individuals I know. Tom will drive hours and days to teach a class to new paddlers or giving updates for instructors. Tom is a vital resource to the paddling community and SWR community."
"Tom Burroughs is an amazing Instructor Trainer (IT) His instruction is comprehensive, fast paced and constantly evolving. He will make you earn your certification like no one else. While I have taken numerous classes from him, (CPR, WFA, SWRT, ICW) I still learn something new from every course. His attention to the curriculum and it’s practical application are obvious in everything he does. But, he deserves to be recognized for sticking with his instructors, long after the ICW is done. Not only would he be happy to help with a “broken roll” or to walk any of us through changes in reporting, policy, etc… He would answer the call late at night to help someone change a tire or help a stranded paddler in need. He is the “father” of our entire club (Arkansas Canoe Club) and anyone that needs his advice can call at any time. Tom has raised the standard for instruction in our entire region. I never have to wonder if his instructors are “up to par” when working with them. I am extremely proud to have learned under such a great IT."
His main goal is to share any and all knowledge he has about the water. He gives so much to everyone. Never looks down on anyone for asking questions. He is extremely helpful to all who are willing to learn. Tom enjoys the water with boaters of all types, from beginners to far more experienced paddlers. He lives to teach. He reaches out to the paddling community - in Arkansas and nationwide - and volunteers his services. Folks look to him for guidance and trust him implicitly.
Tom is renowned for his vast accumulation of resources, his accredited expertise, his active presence in the paddling world, and more than anything, his kindness to all.
2014 - Marcel Bieg
"The ACA has provided me with the tools to be a paddle instructor, and the rest of my education has provided me with the knowledge to be a reasonable life instructor. Together, I have been able to use paddlesports as a mechanism for growth." -Marcel Bieg
Marcel Bieg is currently a very active paddlesports Instructor in four different ACA disciplines. In addition, he recently received the Adaptive Paddling Endorsement and will be attending the inaugural Adaptive Paddling Summit in September 2014. Over the past two years, Marcel has volunteered a significant amount of his time, energy, and expertise to lead the SEIC’s Rafting Discipline Committee in a complete overhaul of the entire ACA Rafting program. Besides updating the curriculum, Marcel was also instrumental in organizing and leading the roll out of the revised ACA program at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC, as well as mentoring other Rafting Trainers on the west coast. Marcel is the Director of the Outdoor Leadership Program at San Juan College in New Mexico. He has been instructing and guiding for over 15 years from Alaska to the Florida Keys. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Marcel holds a M.S. in Ex.Ed. from Minnesota State University, Mankato, along with Several Instructor Certifications. He was featured in a 2013 issue of Rapid Magazine and is sponsored by Fluid kayaks.
2013 - Ben Morton
"I have seen Ben grow
from an excited kid with a new kayak, to a glorified River rat, to now… a
dedicated kayak instructor and professional.
He has worked his way from the bottom up with a continuous
smile.”–Andrew Hanson, Owner at Evolve Clothing
Ben spends most of his time traveling around the country to
work for many different paddling schools as a guest instructor/guide as well as
to teach ACA Instructor Certification Workshops. He currently works for the National Outdoor
Leadership School’s Rocky Mountain River Program, Jackson Hole Kayak School,
DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking, Esprit Costa Rica, and CKAPCO (Canoe, Kayak, and
Paddle Company). Demonstrating a strong commitment to his own professional
development, Ben assists and takes courses from renowned instructors like Ben
Lawry, Chris Stec, Trey Knight, Kent Ford, Mike Aronoff, Jimmy Holcombe, Jim
Coffey, Paul Kuthe, Heather Herbeck, Michael Tavares, Fritz Orr, John Garman,
and many others. Ben has not only represented the ACA well in regards to the
instructional workshops and courses that he leads, but also with the outreach
he does at relevant paddlesport events. He has been a great link between the
east coast and west coast paddling communities, and he continues to spread the ACA’s
mission to paddling communities who do not yet have a strong ACA presence.
Ben’s easy-going attitude and on-point instructional methods make any paddler
feel accomplished and successful. He can make any situation a teachable moment
and continuously brings out the best in the paddler’s around him. Ben is at the
forefront of a young, educated, and motivated paddling generation, and he will
continue to be a great ambassador for the ACA’s golden standard of safety and
2012 - Josh Hall
”I am very fortunate to work with and for so many wonderful and professional people. Thanks for the opportunity to share my passion with you.”
Joshua Hall began his career with Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission in 1996 as a summer camp counselor for the Adventure and Teen venture camp programs. Over the next two years, while working for Charleston County School District, he continued his relationship with CCPRC's outdoor program as one of the first part-time Climbing Wall Assistants and a facilitator of the Challenge Course. In 1998 Joshua began his full time career with CCPRC as the Outdoor Program's Youth Coordinator and Camp Director. In 2002 he became the Water Coordinator and was a member of the team that worked to get CCPRC's Outdoor Program Accredited by the Association for Experiential Education (AEE). CCPRC is the first, and still the only, park and recreation to be accredited by AEE. In 2005 Joshua was promoted to the Manager for the Outdoor Program, a position he currently occupies.
Joshua is most happy when he is teaching in the outdoors and sharing his knowledge with both youth and adult. He is a past Board of Director for the American Canoe Association (ACA) and chair of the ACA's Coastal Kayak and Stand Up Paddleboard Committee.
As the current chair of the agency's East Coast Paddlesports & Outdoor Festival, he has continued the tradition of establishing this event as the premier paddlesport event, not only on the east coast but the country as a whole.
Josh's favorite places to paddle are section 4 of the Chattooga River and the North End of Folly Beach, South Carolina.
2011 - Janet Burnett Cowie
"I believe that everyone can enjoy the water. The key is to find out what makes people comfortable and celebrate their successes at all levels." -Janet Cowie
As an instructor of paddlesports, not only does Janet Burnett Cowie teach the skills of kayaking, but she often plays the roles of life coach, fear manager, and motivational guru. "My hope is to keep it fun, exciting and challenging," she says about her passion. "I want everyone to come away with something: maybe a desire to become a better kayaker, or maybe just the satisfaction to have accomplished something they did not think they could do. I want to help people learn that whitewater kayaking is more than just what they have seen on the extreme channel. It's a sport to be enjoyed by all skill levels and demographics."
Janet Burnett Cowie has been whitewater paddling since 1983, when she joined the University of Massachusetts Outing Club on a Spring Break paddling trip. The sport quickly became her passion, and after graduation, she balanced her career as a business professional with her weekend paddling hobby. She finally decided to turn that passion for whitewater into her life's work. She joined the Zoar Outdoor family in 1996 and helped build their budding whitewater instruction program into one of the premier kayak schools in the country. With her people skills and infectious enthusiasm, she has been a driving force to facilitate this program's success. Janet is an ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor Trainer Educator, Level 4 River Canoe Instructor/Level 3 River Canoe Instructor Trainer and Advanced Swiftwater Rescue Instructor. She helped to organize the first Whitewater Symposium at Zoar Outdoor in 2003 and again in 2009, and continues to be involved with the Whitewater Symposium movement. She received her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts and currently lives in Rowe, MA with her husband and son.
2010 - Laurie Gullion
"Laurie has established herself as one of the finest instructors of water sports in the profession." - Professional Colleague
Having taught canoeing and kayaking at the collegiate level for close to 30 years, Laurie puts a considerable amount of thought and preparation into making sure that her students are not only exposed to paddlesports, but learn, no matter their individual learning style. Laurie also teaches through her writing having written several canoeing books, including the original ACA Instruction Manual (The Red Book!). Other titles she has contributed to include Canoeing and Kayaking for Persons with Disabilities and Canoeing: A Woman's Guide. From one of her University of New Hampshire students, "Laurie is the best professor I've had. She's the Chuck Norris of the UNH Outdoor Education Program. Lauire Gullion doesn't get frostbite, she bites frost!" In addition, she has completed 11 whitewater canoeing expeditions to Artic and sub-Artic rivers in the United States, Canada, Norway and Finland - paddling almost 10,000 miles in remote regions since 1980. Her latest endeavor is a significant research project on the history of women's involvement in canoeing.
2009 - Tom Lindblade
"Tell me and I will forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I will understand."
Tom Lindblade has been a Counselor/Therapist and Experiential Educator for over forty years. He began his experiential career working in summer camps while in college in the early sixties. Then he completed a Master's degree in Counseling and a post graduate certificate in Gestalt Therapy. Throughout his career he has been able to combine his skills as a therapist, career counselor and experiential educator.
For twenty five years Tom taught in and coordinated the Field and Experiential Learning Program at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. As coordinator, Tom facilitated the development and marketing of hundreds of interdisciplinary and experiential courses and since retirement in 2000, continues to teach at COD in an adjunct capacity. He developed and led field studies which have taken students to fifty countries and many wilderness areas of North America. Tom has visited Southern and Eastern Africa eight times, and has led students on expeditions to Europe, Asia, North, Central, and South America.
Since retirement in 2000, Tom has become active as a volunteer, and serves on the Board of the Association for Experiential Education. Tom's other contributions, service, and accomplishments are many. Currently serving as President and Safety Chair for the Illinois Paddling Council, he formerly served as Secretary, Director and Safety Chair. He is the Training Director for Prairie State Canoeists and the Kishwaukee River Water Trail Reach Steward for Illinois Water TrailKeepers. He is author of numerous articles on paddlesports and is a frequent guest speaker at local paddling events. He has videographed many of his paddling trips as well as paddling instruction venues.
If you have had any formal canoeing instruction in the Illinois area, it is likely that Tom was involved. He has held an unwavering commitment to inspire both new and experienced paddlers to improve themselves and the environment in which we all live.
Tom is an Instructor/Trainer for the American Canoe Association and continues to train Canoe Instructors for various organizations. He has a life long love for waters and for paddling. He spends as much time as possible in one of his five boats, and in recent years has become intrigued with the combination of travel, paddling, and digital video, with more than 100 videos posted on You Tube.
Tom has been married to Peg for twenty seven years.
2008 - Randy Carlson
Randy works at the University of MN Duluth Recreational Sports Outdoor Program where their mission is to serve the students, faculty, staff and community with programming that promotes healthy, active lifestyles and a connection to the outdoors. Randy's focus is on Kayaking, Canoeing, Surfing, Stand-Up Paddle Boarding, Snow Kiting, Water Kiting, Telemark Skiing and a little bit of Maple Syrup Production!
He ha sbeen involved with the American Canoe Association since 1984 and has focused on adventure sport programming in Northern Minnesota which involves: site assessments, program development, risk management, equipment selection, promotion, staff training and monitoring the progression of their customer services.
Over the years Randy has been able to form the UMD Kayak & Canoe Institute, help develop the ACA Coastal Kayak Curriculum, and travel throughout the continental U.S., Hawaii and Austria to offer ACA Instructor Certification Workshops. He currently serves as an ACA Instructor Trainer Educator for Whitewater Kayak, Canoe and Coastal Kayak. In the winter his focus is with the Professional Air Sport Association and Snow Kite Instruction.
In total, as an Adventure Sports Educator, Randy is striving to promote exploration of the earth's natural settings where interactions with the forces of nature can be achieved and people can make strong connections for life.
2007 - Robin Pope
Robin currently presides as the President of the ACA Board of Directors and is the chair of the Safety Education & Instruction Council. He is a Level 5: Advanced Swiftwater Rescue Instructor Trainer Educator and a Level 5: Advanced Whitewater Kayaking Instructor Trainer Educator. In addition to his Board and SEIC responsibilities, Robin volunteers a significant amount of time teaching a range of paddlesport courses. He is an active and long time member of the Carolina Canoe Club and resides in western North Carolina where he is teaching his son the art of kayaking.
2006 - Gordon Black
Need we say more!
2005 - Sam Fowlkes
Sam has been involved in paddlesport for 35 years. His connection with the American Canoe Association began in 1977 when he certified as an ACA Whitewater Kayak Instructor while working at the Nantahala Outdoor Center as a guide and instructor. He has been an ACA Whitewater Canoe Instructor Trainer since 1981. He is presently an Instructor Trainer Educator in Swiftwater Rescue and Whitewater Canoe for the ACA. For the last 10 years his focus has been on swiftwater rescue instruction and instructor training. Sam's interests lie in making rescue techniques adaptable and relevant to paddlers.
Sam has also been on the teaching faculty of Western Carolina University for the past eleven years schooling students in water-based sports education. Sam's other ACA leadership positions include: 12 years as Dixie Division Divisional Instruction Facilitator, 4 years as SEIC Vice Chair (1996-2000). He served as Chair of the Safety, Education and Instruction Council from 2004-2007 and is a 5-year member of the Board of Directors of the ACA.
In addition to receiving the Excellence in Instruction Award in 2005, he was a recipient of the ACA Joe Pena Volunteer of the Year Award in 2002.
Sam is also a Rescue 3 International Instructor Trainer, a WMI WFR and a NC EMT-B.
Sam gives special attention to providing a multi-level educational experience. Providing professional level training for colleges, universities, agencies, outfitters, summer camps and clubs for 30 years.
2005 - Bruce Lessels
Bruce has been kayaking and canoeing since 1975 when he happened into an AMC whitewater instruction course which inspired him to make paddling his pastime, vocation and excuse for leaving work early! He competed in slalom C-1 for the US National Team from 1984 to 1989 and won an individual bronze and a team gold medal at the 1987 World Championships. He has run Zoar Outdoor, an outdoor center that includes one of the nation's top paddling schools since 1989, bringing his work and his passion for paddling together.
2004 - Greg Wolfe
Greg is an Instructor Trainer Educator in River Canoeing, the SEIC River Canoeing Committee Chair and Co-Instructional Facilitator for Ohio-Penn. He became an ACA Instructor and Instructional Facilitator for the Ohio-Penn Division in 2000. From 2001 through 2005 he served as the SEIC Secretary and Chaired the Curriculum Committee. He was elected the Ohio-Penn Division Vice Chair in 2002 and served as Division Chair until 2005. Greg worked with the Marketing Committee in 2003 while serving on the ACA Board of Directors. He was responsible for the development the OCCK (Ohio College of Canoeing and Kayaking program), a contributor to the River Canoeing curriculum and drafted materials used in the current ACA Instructor's Manual.
A retired university professor and department head, he is currently a photographer in Cincinnati. Greg is a twenty-five year volunteer, river kayaking and canoeing instructor, for the Sierra Club Miami Group. He holds a BFA in Graphic Design and Photography from the Kansas City Art Institute and a Masters degree in Education, IST/Photography from Indiana University, Bloomington.
2003 - Mike Aronoff
Mike has paddled various craft all his life and loved every minute. His paddling credentials include ACA Instructor Trainer Educator in River Kayak, Open Water Coastal Kayak and Whitewater Canoe, Instructor in Swiftwater Rescue as well as a British Canoe Union Sea Kayak Coach. He is an Adjunct Professor of Kayaking at George Mason University (River/Sea) and teaches kayaking classes for the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Loyola and the College of the Albemarle. He is the owner of Canoe Kayak and Paddle Company, the first ACA Pro School. CKAPCO provides instruction, certification and trip leading for Kayak and Canoe at all levels.
2001 - Pamela Dillon
Pam, ACA Executive Director from 2002-2007, has been an avid paddler since the early 1970's. An ACA Instructor Trainer in canoe and kayak, she also served as an Instructor Trainer Educator in both disciplines.
Appointed as Chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft in 2007, she returned to her roots where she began as a State Watercraft Officer in 1977. With ODNR she assisted in the development of the Ohio River Rescue Training program, the first state-sponsored training program of its kind in the United States. Pam served as Chairperson of the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC) from 1991-1993. She was named to the National Boating Safety Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2005, she received appointment to the National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) and was reappointed for a second term through 2009.
Pam has received recognition for her work from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, National Safe Boating Council, the National Water Safety Congress, the Professional Paddlesports Association, the United States Power Squadrons and as well as numerous federal, state, and local awards.
2001 - James Patton