The paddling community gathered in downtown Salt Lake City Wednesday 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 2015 Canoe & Kayak Awards. And after 8,500 votes, an all-star cast of presenters announced the deserving winners, nominated by their peers and selected by readers and everyday paddlers.
The Awards' fourth annual iteration featured as stacked a field of expeditions as it has ever seen, with three nominees who either crossed or circumnavigated entire continents, while others claimed harrowing first sea kayak crossings and remote first descents. In the end, Mike Ranta's solo, single-season crossing of Canada garnered the most reader votes to take home the night's signature Expedition of the Year Award presented by Nexen Tire.
In a video acceptance from his home in Atikokan, Ontario, a humbled Ranta offered an open invitation for canoe-tripping advice and assistance, "if anyone ever needs help," hoping to spread knowledge gained on his seven-month, 4,750-mile journey.
That sentiment of giving back ran through the hour-long ceremony, as blind U.S. Navy veteran Lonnie Bedwell took the stage to present the Paddle with Purpose Award. First, Bedwell credited the efforts of Team River Runner (the previous year's winner of the award) in helping him become the first blind person to paddle the length of the Grand Canyon. Then he passed the torch of the evening's philanthropic award to the Nepal Kayak Club.
Club member Nayla Tawa accepted the award, framing the Club's ability to organize with other mountain guides and mobilize "overnight" to deliver earthquake relief to remote regions otherwise inaccessible to first responders. "Active people like to act," Tawa said, before introducing Ang T. Lama, one of the club's crucial organizational leaders, who detailed some of the desperate scenes and situations that the paddlers-turned-relief workers dealt with.
Giving back also defined the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by 2013 winner Rob Lesser to another fellow whitewater paddling pioneer, Reg Lake. To a standing ovation, Lake humbly touched on some of the far-flung exploratory expeditions that he led and took part in, mentioning them in the larger context of how each trip exposed him to a wider network of new friends and connections that has kept him paddling at age 71. "The more I give, the more I get," Lake said.
In that spirit of giving, the Awards featured the introduction of the $10,000 Dream Your Adventure Award Presented By Nexen Tire. Dallas paddler Brian Smith’s dream to sea kayak along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Alaska with his wife Amy, who has battled life-threatening anemia into remission, won the honor. They plan to build their own kayaks and travel with a small team of fellow paddlers including Freya Fennwood, who accepted the check on Smith’s behalf, to monitor seven resident and transient orca pods along the way.
The Spirit of Adventure Award reinforced that everyman sentiment to dream an adventure and then live it, as Keith Lynch took home this year's honors for his experience canoeing home from Montana to Dallas along the Missouri, Mississippi, Red and Trinity rivers, which he said "evolved into a spiritual transformation," having never paddled a solo day in his life before Day One of a 4,000-mile journey.
Honoring individual paddling achievement opened the show as Lesser tipped his cap to paddling's leading edge by announcing the winners of the Male and Female Paddler of the Year Awards. And though Spanish kayaker Gerd Serrasolses and French kayaker Nouria Newman took the honors, respectively, both offered others credit in their success.
"There's so many talented athletes pushing kayaking in so may cool directions," Serrasoles said from a video acceptance sent prior to launching a current expedition in Siberia. Meanwhile, Newman, racing in a World Cup slalom event in Spain, dedicated her award to the late Louise Jull — who had presented the honor at last year's Awards — in a tear-jerking video acceptance.
In addition to Lesser, awards presenters included legendary river explorer Richard Bangs, plus two-time C&K Awards nominee Amy Freeman. The crowd of nearly 300 attendees inside Salt Lake City's Pierpont Place included some of the sport's best athletes and biggest personalities who came together once again to celebrate the best in paddling and in one another. As Reg Lake closed his Lifetime Achievement acceptance, his words echoed the feelings of a silent crowd that, "it all comes down to the people, the sport, and the industry, and doing what we can to keep them healthy."