Each summer for the past five years, the world’s largest audience of paddlers speaks, nominating and then selecting those who inspire adventure, endurance, performance, progression, teamwork and community. And once again, last Thursday evening, the paddling community gathered in downtown Salt Lake City to celebrate the winners of the fifth annual Canoe & Kayak Awards. In addition to the award presentations honoring the Male and Female Paddler of the Year, Paddle with Purpose, Spirit of Adventure, Expedition of the Year presented by Nexen Tire, and Lifetime Achievement, the ceremony also featured the heavily anticipated announcement of the winner of the $10,000 Dream Adventure Contest expedition award presented by Nexen Tire.
After a record-shattering vote that totaled over 25,000 ballots cast, host and paddling-adventure extraordinaire Tyler Bradt opened the evening program by presenting the philanthropic Paddle with Purpose award to Whitewater Healing. Program organizer Jim Coffey accepted the award on behalf of his nonprofit, which enhances the lives of families touched by autism by exposing them to paddling and wild rivers.
The next Paddler of the Year awards went to a pair of Southeast paddlers, both first-place finishers of their respective classes in the 2015 Green Race. A five-time finalist,Dane Jackson finally took home a win in the Male category, while Adriene Levknecht took home the custom paddle award as the event’s first two-time Female Paddler of the Year winner (Levkencht also won the honor in 2012).
For the highly anticipated announcement of C&K’s second annual Dream Adventure Contest, presented by Nexen Tire, C&K Editor Jeff Moag took the stage to frame the huge number of diverse entries of paddlers who cast big ideas of dream adventures around every corner the globe. The winner was no exception, as elated expedition paddlers Evan Garcia and Eric Parker grabbed the winning $10,000 Expedition Award check for their “Patagonian Triple Crown” dream to descend the Patagonia region of South America’s three most infamous rivers — the Rio Baker, Rio Bravo, and Rio Pascua — from their source to the Pacific Ocean, and to raise awareness about the energy development plans which threaten them.
One of the evening’s most electric moments came during Dale Sanders acceptance of the Spirit of Adventure Award for his 10-week solo canoe descent of the Mississippi River, staking his claim as the big river’s oldest paddler to complete the feat. “I might be 81 but I can still jump around and jump up and down!” Sanders yelled after leaping on the stage.
The excitement continued into the presentation of the ceremony’s marquee award for the Expedition of the Year, presented by Nexen Tire. In a burst of emotion, five of six members of the Rediscover North America team were on hand to accept the award for their eight-month, 5,200-mile voyage from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.
The audience did its best to quiet the raucous near-capacity crowd of 400-plus attendees to listen to the closing presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Nantahala Outdoor Center founder Payson Kennedy. Taking the stage, Kennedy, at age 83, humbly accepted the honor in a heartfelt speech in which he deflected personal achievements in favor of recognizing “an incredible group of people who have come together the last 45 years.” In summarizing that group, who helped him build the nation’s largest outdoor recreation company, Kennedy noted the North Carolina center’s connection to 23 Olympic kayakers representing the company, including a final link to Michal Smolen, now representing the U.S. in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
– Read more on the 2016 Canoe & Kayak Awards winners, see photos of best moments from the night, and watch the full video program from the night that was made possible by sponsors Nexen Tire, NRS, Level Six, MTI Adventurewear, andGoPro. Special thanks to Bending Branches for the custom paddle awards.