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History of the ACA
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Evolution of the ACA LogoFounded in 1880 by a group of 15 notable canoeists, the ACA has grown into the nation's largest and most active nonprofit paddlesports organization with 30,000 members and over 300 Clubs and Affiliates across the United States and abroad.


Through friendships forged in the 1870s through canoe sailing regatta's, regional canoe club events, and the canoe cruising and exploration of America's waterways, the ACA was established on the shores of Lake George, NY on August 3, 1880.  Nathaniel H. Bishop, a prominent 19th century canoe explorer, was known as the 'father of the ACA'.  Bishop, along with the first Commodore, William L. Alden,declared in the 1880-81 ACA Yearbook that the object of the ACA "shall be the promotion of canoeing." (For a historic account of the ACA from 1879 to 1883, please click here.)


Original priorities of the association were centered around: camaraderie, racing, poling, canoe sailing and extended waterway exploration.  Throughout the early 20th century, the ACA evolved from a loosely knit group to an incorporated entity whose influence began to reach across the country as well as internationally.  From the 1940s through the early 1990s, the ACA placed significant resources into all aspects of paddlesport competition, from local and national races to winning two World Championships to being the National Governing Body (NGB) for paddlesports for the U.S. Olympic Committee. With strong ties to the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Boy Scouts of America, the instruction program was formalized in 1973 with the advent of the ACA Canoe Instruction Certification Committee. Over the past 40 years this committee has also been known as the Training Committee, the National Instruction Committee and currently, the Safety Education & Instruction Council.


1882 cover of The American CanoeistPublications of the organization began in the 1880's and ranged from Forest and Stream and The American Canoeist, to Canoe, Paddler, Paddle Dealer and currently Paddle eMagazine. We are also proud of our partner publications from Rapid Media.


Today the ACA is dedicated to promoting canoeing, kayaking, SUP, rafting, and safety & rescue as wholesome lifetime recreational activities. We accomplish our mission by providing a variety of programs and public services in such areas as: event sponsorship, safety education, instructor certification, waterway stewardship, water trails, paddler's rights and protection, and public information campaigns. We are affiliated with a wide range of organizations, such as L.L. Bean and the U.S. Coast Guard, which help us to pursue our mission.


The ACA is the nation's recognized leader in the fields of paddlesport instruction and education. There are more than 6,500 ACA certified canoe, kayak, rafting, safety & rescue, and stand up paddleboard instructors in the United States. Collectively, these instructors teach ACA approved programs to over 800,000 people a year.  Internationally, the ACA also has members and instructors in sixteen countries.


From concerns about exploring and protecting America's waterways in the 19th century, to Clean Water Act enforcement in the 1990's, the stewardship and public policy program has always been a vital component of the association. Currently the ACA plays a prominent role in supporting federal and local funding for access and recreation opportunities and has launched a national program for Water Trails. We also provide grassroots support to clubs and organizations across the country.


Competition continues to play a vital role for the ACA.  From our roots in the 1800's to the present, the ACA supports, promotes and organizes paddlesports competitions at the local, regional and national levels. Each year, the ACA is involved with over 200 races and hosts 6 national championships.


The ACA Burgee

Historically and still today, the ACA is the largest national organization of its kind in terms of sanctioning, supporting, and producing paddlesport events. The ACA sanctions nearly 4,300 paddlesport events each year, providing event organizers with comprehensive assistance including insurance/risk management, technical assistance, and event promotion.


For over 140 years, the ACA has been the voice of paddlers across the country. Through the tireless efforts of volunteers, committee members, board members, clubs and staff, the ACA continues to work at the grassroots, regional and national levels to promote fun and responsible canoeing, kayaking, rafting and stand up paddleboarding and advocacy for recreational access and stewardship of America's waterways.


If you have not already, please join us in our continuing endeavors on your behalf.

ACA Historical Timeline:

  • Founded on Lake George, New York - August 3, 1880
  • John Henry Rushton was a founding member
  • Purchased 38 acre Sugar Island - 1903
  • Instrumental in the formation of the IRK in Copenhagen (which later became the ICF) - 1924
  • Incorporated in New York - 1927
  • Women given the right to vote in ACA - November 11, 1944
  • NGB for Canoe and Kayak for the U.S. Olympic Committee - 1960 -1989
  • Canoe Instruction Certification Committee founded - 1973
  • Granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status - 1977
  • ACA Slalom & Wildwater teams win World Championships in Jonquiere, Canada - 1979
  • National Headquarters moves from Golden, CO to Lorton, VA - 1979
  • Susan Chamberlin is the first woman to be elected Commodore - 1980
  • ACA establishes a foundation with funds from the Los Angeles Olympics - 1984
  • Clean Water Act enforcement (24 cases) - 1990's
  • Strategic Tenets of the ACA defined - 2004
  • Removal of the Embrey Dam with U.S. Senator John Warner - February 23, 2004
  • Relocated National Headquarters to Fredericksburg, VA - April 2008
  • Founded the National Paddlesports Conference - 2008
  • Commenced the Stream to Sea Initiative - 2013
  • Launched the Swiftwater Rescue Conference - 2013
  • Started the Adaptive Paddling Summit - 2014
  • Launched the State Director Program - 2015
  • Became the official partner of the International Whitewater Hall of Fame - 2016
  • Applied to become the National Governing Body for Olympic and Paralympic paddlesports - 2017
  • October 22, 2017: Became the National Governing Body (NGB) for the Olympic sports of slalom and sprint and the Paralympic sport of Paracanoe

Additional historical information:

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