2014 Canoe & Kayak Awards winners go the distance

By: Dave Shively /

_SCH6479
C&K Editor Jeff Moag, left, hands off the 2014 Expedition of the Year Award presented by Nexen Tire to winner Aleksander Doba and award presenter Mick Hopkinson

The paddling community gathered in downtown Salt Lake City Thursday night to celebrate the past year’s most inspiring paddlers, adventures, and expeditions, as well as the sport’s most worthy philanthropic causes at the 2014 Canoe & Kayak Awards presented by NRS. And after 9,200 votes, an all-star cast of presenters announced the deserving winners, nominated by their peers and selected by readers and everyday paddlers.

In a year defined by expeditions that went the distance—across Baffin Island, down the entire Amazon, through the Caribbean—it was Aleksander Doba’s 5,400-mile voyage across the Atlantic Ocean that earned the third annual Awards ceremony’s marquee Expedition of the Year Award presented by Nexen Tire.

Doba, the bearded adventurer from Poland, crossed the Atlantic again (this time by plane) to accept his award in person to the night’s most raucous cheers.

“I’m not old, I’m 68 years young,” an ecstatic Doba joked in broken English before fellow Polish friend and exploratory kayak legend Piotr Chmielinski took the stage to translate Doba’s feelings of gratitude.

Distance also defined the night’s Spirit of Adventure award, which went to Janet Moreland, the first woman and first American to paddle her country’s longest river system with her 3,900-mile, 223-day “Love Your Big Muddy” source-to-sea kayak journey down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

“Don’t give up on your daydream!” Moreland implored the audience, hoping her adventure would inspire others.

_SCH6325Spirit of Adventure presenter Piotr Chmielinski hugs winner Janet Moreland.

Moreland wasn’t the only female winner to inspire the packed crowd of 300. Sage Donnelly, a 14-year-old phenom who’s made her mark in freestyle, downriver, and slalom competitions, took home the Female Paddler of the Year Award presented by Shred Ready.

On the men’s side, race savvy also carried weight for voters as reigning Green Race winner Pat Keller took home the Male Paddler of the Year Award presented by Shred Ready amidst a stacked and tightly contested field of nominees.

A pair of heart-felt presentations bookended the evening. First, expedition kayaker and decorated marine veteran Cody Howard presented the philanthropic Paddle with Purpose award to winner Team River Runner. Then to close the evening, Idaho whitewater icon “Rapid” Rob Lesser—the recipient of last year’s Lifetime Achievement Award—presented the 2014 honor to the late Jaime McEwan.

In a stoic yet emotional acceptance speech to close the ceremony, McEwan’s 1992 Olympic slalom partner Lecky Haller paid tribute to friend he described as a true “renaissance man,” who taught him “to feel good about your performance even if you don’t win the race.” Lecker closed the speech thanking McEwan for his “lifetime of service to our little way of life,” bringing the crowd to its feet in standing ovation.

In addition to Lesser, Howard and Chmielinski, awards presenters included whitewater pioneer Mick Hopkinson as well as two stalwart chargers continuing to push the sport forward in Evan Garcia and Louise Jull. Nominees as well as some of the biggest personalities in the sport came together once again to celebrate the best in paddling and in one another. — Dave Shively

Special thanks to the sponsors: NRS, Nexen Tire, Shred Ready, Level Six and Danuu Paddle Gear.

- Stay tuned to CKAwards.com and CanoeKayak.com for full video coverage of the night.

Male Paddler of the Year

Pat Keller
Pat Keller
Age: 28 | Asheville, NC
Known For: Inspiring the old-school renaissance, firing off first D’s, and dominating at the Green Race-all while holding down a day job
This Year: Pat claimed his second Green Race title last fall with a 6 second lead. After kickflipping his way down Oceana at Tallulah Fest, Pat joined Steve Fisher on an expedition to New York’s High Peaks Wilderness, where they successfully navigated the 950 foot-per-mile Upper Hanging Spear Gorge, as well as 70-foot Hanging Spear Falls.

Female Paddler of the Year

Sage Donnelly
Sage Donnelly
Age: 13 | Carson City, NV
Known For: Competing with the pros as a pre-teen in both freestyle and downriver extreme races.
This Year: Sage became the Jr. Womens Freestyle National Champion in 2013, won the Under 14 Slalom Age Group championships in both K1 and C1, and took 2nd place at Steep Creek Championship and 3rd at the Freestyle Kayak Event at the GoPro Games.
What’s Next: Another year bigger and stronger, Sage is sure to be a dominant force on the junior circuit and a contender that grown women can’t ignore.

More on Sage: Story | Video | Website

Spirit of Adventure

Janet Moreland
Love Your Big Muddy

Adventurer: Janet Moreland
What: An inspiring source-to-sea on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers
How: Moreland became the first American and first woman to paddle the full length of America’s longest river system. Moreland’s 3,900-mile, 223-day one-shot source to sea kayak expedition embodies the Spirit of Adventure.

More on Love Your Big Muddy: Story

Expedition of the Year

Olek Doba
Transatlantic Kayak

The Team: Olek Doba
What: 67-year-old Polish adventurer’s never-say-die journey from Portugal to Florida
How: As the challenges mounted-relentless storms, a broken rudder and a communications gear failure that left him isolated for 47 days-Aleksander “Olek” Doba just kept paddling, grinding away at the 5,400 miles between Portugal and Florida.

More on Transatlantic Kayak: Story

Paddle with Purpose

Team River Runner
Team River Runner

The Cause: Kayaking as therapy for wounded warriors and their families
The Instigators: Joe Mornini & Mike McCormick
The Method: Give active duty service members and veterans the chance to find healing and discover new challenges through whitewater. Military members wounded in battle often endure months of surgeries, physical and readjustment therapies and intense life changes. Established in 2004 in Washington D.C., TRR offers wounded veterans a chance to improve their health, happiness and connection to nature. TRR works in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports, USA.

More on TRR: Story | Website

Lifetime Achievement Award

Jamie McEwan
Jamie McEwan

About: The late Jamie McEwan (1952-2014) never set out to be a hero. But after bringing home an Olympic bronze medal from Munich in 1972, he helped spark a whitewater revolution. Holding true to a passion for running wild rivers, McEwan went outside the outside the gates to make first descents in Bhutan, Mexico, Canada and Tibet, only to return to the Olympics 20 years later, narrowly missing the podium, but witnessing the progression of a sport that he helped shape.

More on Jamie McEwan: Story | Website