The ACA California Executive Council created the California Paddle Heroes Award to recognize and honor members of the California paddling community who prioritize and consistently:
Help share paddlesports by making others feel excited, welcome, and safe
Help protect and conserve public waterways and access to those waterways by paddlers
Are motivated by a deep love of the out-of-doors and paddlesports, celebrating paddlesports as their career, hobby, or passion
The California Executive Council has named Gary Ananian, Melissa DeMarie, José H. González and Keith Kishiyama as its first four recipients of the ACA CA Paddle Heroes Award.
Alex Morris, California State Director of ACA, is excited about the opportunity to honor members of the California paddling community.
“California has a rich and expansive paddling community that literally ranges from SUPs in San Diego to ocean and river kayakers in remote northern reaches of our state,” Morris said. “From time to time, key paddlers show exceptional leadership in community building, sharing of paddle-sports, or creating legacies form which future paddlers benefit. Our ACA California Paddle Heroes award recognizes four such impressive individuals. We're fortunate to have such effective paddle heroes leading and 'bracing' our sport with their generosity, vision, and paddling contributions.”
The award recipients have each contributed to the California paddling community in different ways.
Gary Ananian founded Kern River Conservancy in 2013, with the goal to teach visitors Leave No Trace and how to enjoy public lands and wild rivers responsibly and have fun at the same time.
The group has recruited and retained hundreds of volunteers over the years by simply keeping volunteers engaged with free whitewater rafting river cleanups and day hikes to waterfalls and natural slides.
“The key to our success is to inspire the visitor and excite the volunteer,” Ananian said. “It’s to create a positive stewardship experience for the community and build a champion partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.”
Fueled by a love of the water and exploration, Melissa DeMarie traveled around the world for many years as whitewater guide and instructor. Seeking to share her passion and encourage more women into the sport of kayaking, Melissa founded California Women's Watersport Collective in 2015. Designed as a community-building organization, Cali Collective offers a holistic approach to learning and is committed to empowering women to be confident both on and off the water through developing skills and cultivating personal connections.
Jose Gonzalez grew up surfing and paddling in Puerto Rico. He worked for Outward Bound for 12 years, teaching sea kayaking and sailing expeditions. He has a USCG 50 Tons Captain’s license and is not only certified as a Wilderness First Responder, but also teaches wilderness medicine courses for NOLS Wilderness Medicine. He has competed in multiple SUP races including the HanoHano, Battle of the Paddle, Malibu Downwinder, Carolina Cup and Pacific Paddle Games.
During the past 5 years he has taught more than 25 ACA SUP Level 1 & 2 Instructor Certification Courses (ICW) in different parts of United States including Southern California, Maryland, Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Puerto Rico. Jose is a brand Ambassador for SIC Maui, Croakies and for Hornet Paddles.
Keith Kishiyama is a long time California paddler and currently lives by the South Fork of the American River. He is best known for organizing the class 5 Cherry Creek race. Keith is instrumental in organizing the North Fork Feather Fest races which includes the Tobin class 5 downriver and Indian Jim slalom races.
Keith also maintains the only permanent slalom course in the state of California at the Nugget, which is just upstream of the popular Chili Bar put in on the South Fork American. The Nugget is also the home-base for the newly formed Coloma Lotus Junior Kayak team, and Keith is one of the volunteer coaches.
A few of Keith’s Class 5 highlights include: Upper Cherry Creek of the Tuolumne, East Fork of the Kaweah, South Fork of the Merced, and the Middle Fork Feather’s runs - Devil’s Canyon, Bald Rock, and South Branch.
The 2019 recipients of the ACA CA Paddle Heroes Award were given a Kokotat gift certificate and a formal ACA CA Certificate of Recognition.