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Europe Division

ACA Division EuropeAt the 2011 Europe Paddlesports Conference, ACA Chief Operating Officer Chris Stec presided over the first election of officers for the ACA Europe Division.  This was a historic moment as ACA members from throughout Europe attended a 3 day conference, discussed all aspects of the Europe Division's role, and then elected individuals to serve as the ACA's leadership in Europe.

"We're extremely excited to see the volunteer spirit exhibited by all the ACA members in Europe. We especially would like to thank the eight individuals who have agreed to lead Europe in fulfilling the ACA's mission of Making the World a Better Place to Paddle!" - Chris Stec

The ACA Europe events for 2018:


co-Speaker: Carlo Picchio

Born 1965. University graduate in engineering, Roasting plant director in one of the main Roasting plants in Milan. And that's my real job, which led me around the world a lot. Passionate canoe paddler, mountaineer and outdoorsman, I am active in the western and central Italian Alps. During the years I explored a lot of Canada (Ontario, Alberta and Yukon), USA, (mainly in the 4 corners, California, Wyoming ), North Africa (Morocco mountains and deserts, Libya, Tunisia), mostly with my wife. Recently I reduced my international activity because I prefer to adapt to the needs of my kids (5 and 8 years old, starting to paddle on their own). I always traveled and paddled alone or with friends and family but recently, my wife enthusiastically started a new venture in running an environmental educational program on the lake and mountains around our home. My contribution is as a part time guide for people who like to know our lakes in a way seldom practiced in Italy. My way of traveling has always been inspired by a traditional approach to nature, with respect to local culture wherever I travel, and in particular in my own home mountains and lakes. I feel the need to preserve the environment, the ancient use of natural resources and I really like to confront the way different cultures approach and solve outdoor issues. Canoeing in Italy is very little understood and known, so with a network of friends we are trying to introduce a discrete and intelligent way to live and understand our rich rivers and lakes. I am trying to import a canoe culture where almost nothing exists. So I'm now a member of the board of directos of AICAN, ( the Italian Association for Canadian Canoeing, and locally I'm in charge of the development of canoe activities at "il canneto"(, our operation on the lake near our home. Italy has a great tradition in mountaineering, kayaking is very popular in all its ways (sea, flat water, whitewater)and has official recognition, Canoe is something very little known and completely left alone. Almost no schools exist, and the few have no standards for instructors and methods. I decided that being part of ACA is the best way to start a canoeing educational walk for me and for anybody in Italy that would like to enjoy a traditional, safe, and healthy approach to nature.

co-Speaker: Heinz Goetze

Heinz grew up and resides in Germany but his life takes place on waterways all over Europe, where he gives courses in paddling since 1995. Like many of us Heinz came to paddling by wilderness trips and he fell in love with the canoe as the best vehicle for traveling through the northern lands. A search for professional canoeing instruction in his home country guided him to the ACA. Soon he also discovered the joys of playing around in rapids and the many faces of canoeing as a self purpose. He is now an ACA Level 4: Whitewater Canoe Instructor Trainer, a Level 2: Essentials of Touring Canoe Instructor Traienr and probably Europe's longest-serving ACA instructor. Others know him from several months-long canoe expeditions in the subarctics of Lappland and Canada. For the catholic and the federal state's educational support services he leads the canoeing division of their professional development programs to becoming an experiential educator. Additional teaching fields are outdoor-cooking and trip planning. Being a full time instructor from March to November Heinz brought ACA technique and certification to members of leading outdoor trading and touristic companies, thus contributed substantially to the ACA's growing reputation in Europe.


Past Chair - Franziska Pokorny

I live in Ilanz, a small town in a mountain valley in Graubünden, Switzerland. A few kilometres from here the river Rhine springs and makes its way towards the Northsea on a journey of over 1200 km. It was here, where the mighty Rhine is still young and frolicsome, when in 1990 I started my career as a raft guide. I hadn't paddled seriously before, I was unsuspecting but filled with enthusiasm for this adventure. And it was here, where I first saw people in open canoes riding down the river. I had by then already experienced my first attempts in a kayak, which was so la la, but then, when I paddled the first time in an open boat, I was hooked. A view years later and after some ACA courses in France I became an ACA instructor. With ACA I learned another view of how to teach canoeing, and that there are other options than competition and power. I wanted to pass on this ACA philosophy of paddling and the ACA way of how to instruct. What especially fascinates me in canoeing is the variety: I can be out for days or weeks with all my equipment and I can reach areas which I couldn't possibly on foot or with other transport. Or I can play and get wet. As Ratty, the main character in The wind in the willows says: "There is nothing, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats". That is true. (Although: I had to learn, that there is another option having a lot of fun: mess about on a SUP!) Besides, I know no other sport where you can go back to the beginning, start all over again learning about techniques and have so much fun with it. Thus, four years ago, I became an ACA FreeStyle Canoe Instructor. With FreeStyle I started to fully understand what paddling is about.What I try to teach my students besides a good technical fundament is to have respect for the water and for nature. To listen to the water and to try to understand. To know their own power and possibilities and to recognise their limits. How to use the dynamics of the water. To have confidence. To "mess about" with no fear but with respect. There is another beautiful aphorism: "Water is a friendly element for those who are familiar with it and know how to treat it". It is from the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – who must have been a paddler!


Past Chair - Raphael Kuner

I am 42 years old and live in Grenzach-Wyhlen, near the Swiss border together with my wife Lydia and our three kids. About 20 years ago I got in touch with canoeing. My first tour was in winter on a small river in Germany. It was freezing cold but I was hooked. The following 10 years I paddled a lot with my family and my friends. In the meanwhile I owned my own canoe and some others too - in 1998 RAFFTAFF was born, my canoe-rental-company. In 2002, I decided to become ACA Instructor. Open Canoe Flatwater was my first certification with Heinz Götze and Jörg Wagner as my IT‘s. In 2003, I added the Moving Water certification. The next several years I spend a lot of time with guiding and teaching, building up my company. Since 2010 I am a Level 3: River Canoe Instructor Trainer. The first ACA Europe Conference in Vienna was my motivation to add some more qualifications to become an all around instructor. In 2011, I added the Level 4: Whitewater Canoe Instructor certification with Eli Helbert as my IT, the Level 4: Swifwater Rescue Instructor at Landmark Learning with Justin Padget as my IT, Level 2: Essentials of Kayak Touring Instructor with Gerhard Grimm and Jeremy Oyen as ITs and the SUP Instructor with Chris Stec. My passion is teaching people and helping them out into the great outdoors. And I enjoy messing around in my canoe, my kayak and on my board. As a paddler I prefer the more technical stuff. Safety is always my big personal theme. Since I‘ve started paddling in a sea-kayak and on a SUP, my paddling areas are quite extended. It‘s always hard to decide which craft I should choose today .. :-)


Thomas Kantor - Treasurer

Thomas was born 1970 in Vienna and lives with his wife and 2 little kids (3 and 5) near a small river in Seibersdorf, Eastern Austria. He was fascinated by Open Canoes since age of 19 and started his ACA career 2002 with a flatwater tandem course led by ITE Gerhard Grimm. On the search for skills development he soon found himself in an IDW and ICW for Flatwater Canoeing and found teaching people with an accompanying teaching style to become a great passion. Thomas currently holds a Level 4 Whitewater Canoeing Solo and Tandem, Level 2 Essentials of River Safety and Rescue Certification and Canoe rolling endorsement. 2013 he had the opportunity to teach three Austrian and Hungarian ACA River Canoe Daytrip Leader classes for a water tourism development project. His passion is in the outdoors, on the water and off the water, together with people he is accompanying. He holds a certification as Systemic Trainer and finished the basic education as Wilderness/Survival Trainer with focus on Nature Mentoring. His passion for the water and it´s wildlife inspired his mentors to give him the nickname “Eisvogel” (River Kingfisher). Thomas is sure, our most important skill as instructor is our awareness and being open-minded for the teachings of the Earth, the water and our course participants. Thomas studied economic engineering, worked as technical designer, robot-installations project manager and now as Sales Engineer for a producer of heavy buses, with focus on Hybrid drivetrain technology.


Great Britain Representative - Greg Spencer 

Greg is the Chairman of the British Open Canoe Association, and works almost full time promoting open canoeing for independent adventure, exploration, journeying and self-development. When not helping others with anything from river running to marathon racing, he can often be found canoe sailing: a passion which saw him coordinating Gavin Millar's pioneering 1,000 mile adventure sailing expedition around the British coastline in 2012. Over the last 5 years Greg has led British involvement with the annual Open Canoe Festival in France. He has also led British involvement at the annual "Kringelfieber" style-canoeing symposium in Germany. More recently, he coordinated an expansion of American Canoe Association involvement at the recent English Canoe Symposium. In October 2015, he will be coordinating the 6th ACA Europe Symposium in London. With his Instructional hat on, Greg has worked across Europe and in the US. His students have included Instructors from Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and the UK. In other voluntary roles Greg is Head Coach of his local Canoe and Rowing Club, Area Coaching Representative for British Canoeing, a member of the Yorkshire Regional Development Team and Membership Secretary of the Open Canoe Sailing Group.

Switzerland representative - Patrick Frehner

Mountaineering/Expedition Guide, licensed Raft Guide; ACA Level 5: Advanced Whitewater Canoe Instructor, Level 4: Whitewater Kayak Instructor, and a Level 4: Open Water Coastal Kayak Instructor. I learned my job as an airplane mechanic, studied engineering in medicinal technic, worked as a commercial pilot at the age of 22. Left the job and worked over 20 years as Tour Manager / Tour Operator and Expedition guide worldwide. Since 1998, I'm back in Switzerland leading my own canoe and outdoor riskmanagement school. Consultant in setting up eco tourism in Switzerland and in risk/safetymanagement on ISO 9001 for outdoor companies. I was paddling when I immigrated to Canada in 1990. My focus on that time was more on expeditions where paddling, trekking and climbing was in combination. As a mountain guide I led expeditions all over the world, paddling was only on the side. In 1998 the passion of paddling took over and I came back. Since then the paddle is my second hand and a part of my "living out of it".









Belgium representative - Kris Van Autenboer

Whitewater canoe, flatwater tours, rafting and now Stand Up Paddleboarding, Kris owns and operates Canoe Adventure in Belgium. Kris is also the host of the upcoming 2012 Europe Paddlesports Conference.










Netherlands representative - Wouter Kieboom

As enthusiastic canoeist Wouter was one of the first three ACA instructors in The Netherlands as he became a L2 instructor in solo and tandem canoeing in 2001. Intrigued by FreeStyle canoeing Wouter visited the USA several times, taking classes from most of the top freestylers and instructors. He developed himself into an enthusiastic ambassador of FreeStyle and introduced tandem FreeStyle in Europe. In 2006 he became a L3 (FreeStyle) instructor in both solo and tandem. Canoeing is to him not a professional business. He spends as much as possible of his free time on the water in a canoe. Not just FreeStyle, but also white water and marathon canoeing. He is still very passionate about exploring all the different possibilities of the open canoe, and likes to share his enthusiasm and knowledge with other paddlers.


Austria representative - Gerhard Grimm, Sr.

In addition to being an ACA Instructor Trainer for canoeing, Gerhard is also a Level 2: Essentials of Stand Up Padldeboarding (SUP) Instructor. He works for Natur-Pur Alpin & Kanuschule.






Not pictured:

Sweden representative - Torbjorn Soderholm

Germany representative - Sebastian Stetter

Denmark representative - Martin Strunge

Slovenia representative - Natasa Vugrinec



ACA Mission

Founded in 1880, The American Canoe Association (ACA) is a national nonprofit organization serving the broader paddling public by providing education related to all aspects of paddling, stewardship support to help protect paddling environments, and sanctioning of programs and events to promote paddlesport competition, exploration, and recreation.

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