American Whitewater refocusing on events, not competitions

American Whitewater's Executive Committee has announced that for 2003 the association will stop organizing and promoting competitive freestyle competitions and refocus the association's efforts on events and programs that promote conservation and river access, as well as help to grow membership.
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American Whitewater's Executive Committee has announced that for 2003 the association will stop organizing and promoting competitive freestyle competitions and refocus the association's efforts on events and programs that promote conservation and river access, as well as help to grow membership. The decision was unanimous.

Risa Shimoda, executive director for American Whitewater told SNEWS that, "We will put more energy into hosting four major river festivals in the next year, including the Potomac Whitewater Festival during the last weekend of May, the Feather Fest in California on June 7 and 8 (a new event for them), the Deerfield Riverfest in Massachusetts on Aug. 3 and 4, and the Gauley Fest in West Virginia on Sept. 20 and 21."

Although American Whitewater has been promoting competitions for nearly 16 years, the decision to stop was not a difficult one says Shimoda.

"Throughout the spring and summer, the financial and human resources we poured into getting 14 different events to work were draining," says Shimoda. "Even though the sponsors were basically happy with the results, when we took a close look at what we and the industry were getting in return, it was not ideal."

According to Shimoda, although each event is required contractually to return a percentage of the proceeds to American Whitewater, a number of events held in 2002 still have not responded. And while this year many events embraced and supported American Whitewater requirements on banner placement to support sponsors, as well as insistence on the adhering to details of event organization -- such as starting the event on time -- some event still balked.

"The icing on the cake were at the Nationals this year, the premier event for this industry, and even though we had killed ourselves working on it, there were only 200 people watching," adds Shimmed.

"Most of our revenue comes via membership," says Shimoda, "and yet we have only 7,600 members, despite all of our efforts on the competition side. What became very clear this year was that for the last ten years, American Whitewater has been responsible for establishing river releases throughout the country, and yet when we are asked to attend the releases, we can't because we are too stretched."

That will change in 2003 according to Shimoda. More and more, American Whitewater volunteers and staff will attend releases all over the country, putting on mini-events like the one they just hosted during the November release for the Tallulah River in northeast Georgia.

"Joe Pulliam (of Watermark) gave us a few dollars to buy hamburgers and hot dogs for members and so we hung a banner, fired up the barbecue and had a great time. If you were a member, you got a hamburger as a perk. We added 50 members that day along and all it cost us were a few burgers, a couple of tanks of gas, and some time," said Shimoda.

"Next year, we will be doing a lot more of that to reinforce our mission of conservation, access and create a mini event around it for fun."

SNEWS View: It's an aggressive, but very smart and natural move for American Whitewater to make. Competitions were not growing their membership base or, frankly, helping to grow the industry by all appearances. And while American Whitewater had sponsorship support, quite a few other manufacturers who did not support AW financially were, apparently, reaping the rewards of visibility simply because they had pro boaters in the water. Now if they want to be part of AW events, manufacturers will have to ante up, as well they should. Because of AW's efforts, boaters can enjoy rivers that, until just a few years ago, were dammed and not suitable for paddling and as AW redoubles its efforts on the event level, more folks will realize that and, we trust, become members. As for the competitions, each will now have to fend for itself, seeking sponsorships, generating promotion -- and that's not such a bad thing. The good ones will prosper and the rest will dry up and fade from memory.

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