American Canoe Association, Making the World a Better Place to Paddle


Summer 2015

"Education, Stewardship, Recreation, Competition, and Exploration, those are the five pillars," says Chris Stec, Chief Operating Officer of Subaru partner the American Canoe Association (ACA). Founded in 1880, their mission statement is broad, but as Executive Director Wade Blackwood puts it, "We want people of all abilities to get out on the water," and he repeats the ACA credo: "Making the world a better place to paddle."

Born to Paddle

For Stec and Blackwood, paddling is in their blood. "Back in 1995, Wade and I worked in the paddling program of the same summer camp," says Stec. "We were both counselors." Twenty years later, the two of them help guide the ACA and its 43,000 members. The ACA's efforts range from river cleanups to federal public policy writing.

They develop courses ranging from basic skills – how to roll a kayak, for example – to advanced instructor training such as Advanced Swiftwater Rescue. As the primary certification organization in the U.S., they have certified more than 4,000 paddling instructors in various disciplines.

Clean While You Paddle

The ACA is trying to instill the fact that you need to take care of your waterways.

In addition to promoting recreation and paddle competitions, "The ACA is trying to instill the fact that you need to take care of your waterways," says Blackwood. Nearly 80% of the 6 million tons of debris that end up in marine environments each year come from inland waterways, according to Blackwood. Through the ACA's Paddle Green program, paddlers can get a little stewardship in on a recreation paddle by hauling out random trash in Subaru-branded Paddle Green mesh bags. Bags are available on the ACA website. You can record the contents of your bag via their online form, then properly dispose of or recycle the trash. The ACA compiles this information and passes it on to organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who use it to inform their decisions on future cleanup programs.

Making a Difference

Blackwood calls the ACA members "the driving force" that "steers the organization." Much of the work is grassroots, as in the case of the reclamation of the fenced-off Los Angeles River as a public space back in 2008. The organization supplied some grant money and assisted with public policy writing to open up the river, but the charge was led by Los Angeles-based ACA member George Wolfe and LA River Expeditions. "Those folks have done a fantastic job of bringing that river basically back to life," says Stec.


Subaru values the ACA's work and the partnership has been a perfect fit. Says Blackwood, "Subaru has been instrumental in keeping the ACA getting to all the places we want to paddle, but also carrying that air of responsibility of what it means to be part of that paddling community as well – taking care of your environment and making it easy for people to get outdoors. Subaru has been the car of choice for paddlers.

Learn more about the ACA: