The paddling community came together on Thursday night, for the first time ever, to celebrate the year's best and most inspiring paddlers, movies, expeditions, and philanthropic efforts during the inaugural 2012 Canoe & Kayak Awards, presented by Zeal Optics, in downtown Salt Lake City. And after 12,000 votes, an all-star cast of presenters announced the deserving, reader-selected winners.
It was a notably big night for the Southeast, as … drumroll, please … two of the region’s brightest young talents took home the Male and Female Paddler of the Year Awards.
To raucous cheers, North Carolina's 23-year-old Adriene Levknecht took home the top women's honor while Atlanta’s Isaac Levinson, 22, finished top among the men.
"I didn’t think I had a chance with all the other paddlers on that list and the other up-and-coming guys that weren’t," Levinson said. "It just shows the support of the industry, and paddlers out there going out on a limb to say, ‘This kid charges.’"
Levinson and Levknecht are currently the reigning men’s and women’s Green River Narrows Race champions, respectively. Liquidlogic head designer Shane Benedict accepted the Female award on Levknecht’s behalf, noting how she was unable to attend, working as a paramedic “saving lives” in Greenville, S.C.
The Southeastern accolades continued with Movie of the Year, where Asheville, N.C.’s AMONGSTiT won for ‘Canoe Movie 2: Uncharted Waters.’ Shon Bollock from Shasta Boyz Productions won the Reel of the Year category for his GoPro Highlight Reel from ‘Slippery When Wet.’
In one of the most-anticipated awards of the evening, for Expedition of the Year, Jon Turk and Erik Boomer won for the pair’s grueling and unsupported, ski-assisted 1,500-mile paddle around Canada's Ellesmere Island.
After receiving the award from presenter Scott Lindgren, Turk first thanked Boomer, and then the “20 polar bears and the one walrus, for not eating us.”
Boomer added later how, “on the trip, we were asking ourselves, ‘Does anyone realize we’re out here?’ It’s just amazing to get that recognition that we didn’t realize that was there from the people that connected with our journey.”
Jim Dolan, founder/president of Heroes On The Water, accepted the Paddle with Purpose philanthropic award alongside Kody Wilson, an amputee veteran of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and now chapter coordinator for the growing Heroes program that takes wounded veterans kayak fishing.
"Man, I just got a papercut compared to the guys I’m able to take out paddling now," said Wilson, putting his injury in perspective.
The final award of the evening, for Lifetime Achievement, added another layer of emotion to the gathering. In a stirring presentation recapping his conservation battle to protect the Grand Canyon (and to continue rowing wooden dories down its fabled waters), Martin Litton was given the honor. NRS's very own Bill Parks took the stage and presented Litton as a “take-no-prisoners environmental activist” who stands as one of America's greatest unsung conservation heroes who made a difference, “not only for paddlesports, but also the world.”
To a standing ovation, Litton, at “95 and half years old,” humbly accepted the award, silencing the crowd of nearly 400 attendees as he elaborated on the importance of maintaining free-flowing rivers, "not just for fun, but for inspiration—what they do for our spirit.”
The Canoe & Kayak Awards video program featured film clips from the year’s epic cinematic efforts, including a debut of Steve Fisher's trailer to ‘The Grand Inga Project’—which is as mind-blowing as the rumors claim—as well as new work from Male Paddler of the Year nominee Tyler Bradt, plus clips from Andy Maser's ‘The Craziest Idea,’ Forge Motion Picture's ‘Of Souls + Water: The Nomad,’ and Cloud Level Media's ‘Black Canyon: The Next Generation.’
In addition to Fisher, Parks, and Lindgren, awards presenters included paddlesports fixtures like American Whitewater Executive Director Mark Singleton and whitewater kayaking icons Rob Lesser and Risa Shimoda. Nominees as well as some of the biggest personalities in the sport came together in one of the greatest nights in paddlesports history to celebrate one another. "The sport would not be what it is today without the people in this room," said C&K Editor Jeff Moag.
Special thanks to the sponsors: Zeal Optics, Kru Vodka, NRS, Shred Ready, Necky Kayaks, and Body Glove. Stay tuned to CKAwards.com and CanoeKayak.com for full video coverage of the night, or follow us on Facebook.com/canoeandkayak, or Twitter @CanoeKayakMag(#CKAwards).