TAPS looks for a new director after Mitchell gives notice

The Trade Association of Paddlesports (TAPS) and its current executive director, Chris Mitchell, have decided to part ways. Mitchell's last day at TAPS is Dec. 31.
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The Trade Association of Paddlesports (TAPS) and its current executive director, Chris Mitchell, have decided to part ways. Mitchell's last day at TAPS is Dec. 31.

Mitchell took over the position four years ago with the financial state of the association in disarray. During his tenure, he is credited with restoring fiscal strength, establishing organizational structure and increasing the membership significantly.

According to Ray Fusco, president of the TAPS board of directors, the decision to seek out a new executive director was mutually reached during the recent annual TAPS retreat to Skamokwa, Ore.

"We commend Chris for bringing the association forward to a place that is very healthy and growing, but during our meeting, we realized mutually that for us to move to the next level that the board desires, we needed an ED with a different set of skills," Fusco told SNEWS®.

"TAPS needs to have a stronger presence through better communication with its members. We need to provide more tangible benefits to our members certainly through the realm of professional development. We need to grow our membership and expand our relationship with Outdoor Retailer," said Fusco. "To be honest TAPS needs a facelift and we need to step into a more modern look and feel. Many of the benefits we have to offer are already in place but we do not yet communicate it well to the industry."

Fusco also pointed out that TAPS represents all of North America, not just the United States, and that ultimately, the association needs to become the unifying voice that eliminates the "polarization between the specialty retailer and the larger manufacturers."

TAPS is committed to representing the industry as an objective unbiased organization tasked with meeting the needs of its constituency, Fusco emphasized.

While Mitchell told us that what he sees on the horizon and what the board sees as most important to the industry's future are not necessarily shared visions, which is part of the reason for his departure, he did add that "we have a very inspired board and that my role over the next two months is to ensure that we have a seamless transition from me to the next director, whoever that may be."

One clear direction that TAPS will be seeking to expand on is one of providing a professional development series to addressing the needs of its specialty retailers and outfitter base. The first such presentation in the series was conducted via a seminar held at the most recent Outdoor Retailer Summer Market with Jay Levenson, the published Guerilla Marketing expert.

"That was one of the most well attended seminars at OR," said Fusco. "We're definitely going to be looking to offer more such programs in the future for our membership and the industry."

Under Mitchell's direction, TAPS also coordinated the first-ever meeting of the leadership from the three major kayaking instructional organizations -- ACA, BCU and CRCA -- to discuss the state of the industry and its future instructional programs. Held at the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium, the meeting was seen as a very important first step toward addressing the overwhelming demand for a common standard for paddlesports instruction.

Looking forward into 2005, Fusco told SNEWS® that, "We would like to see more shows like the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium across the country. We are not looking to own more shows, but we would like to foster the development of good, solid shows across the country that are supported by the regional retailers and reps in each area."

According to Fusco, TAPS is in the process of putting together and producing a diagram and brochure that can be used as a template to help retailers and outfitters see how to best put on a successful event.

"We have so much potential and so much work to do," said Fusco. Acknowledging that not everyone has seen TAPS in the most positive light, Fusco added, "If there is any healing to be done, now is the time to do it. We are always going to be a positive, future-looking organization. With renewed energy and some money in the bank, we're ready to step up and serve the paddlesports industry better than ever before."

SNEWS® View: We commend Mitchell for taking the helm at TAPS during a very challenging time for the organization. Neither he nor the organization has really received the credit due them for all that has been accomplished to date. Chalk that up to a lack of communication perhaps. We are certainly impressed with the board and believe that it, with Mitchell's full support, is making the correct move in seeking a change of leadership at TAPS. While we are not saying the association is yet to that point where we believe it can speak for the industry, it does appear as if it is certainly making the right moves toward that end. And the paddlesports industry desperately needs such a voice as we have been saying all along. To become relevant to the entire industry, TAPS must build bridges, repair relationships and become that which it has not yet been able to be -- an association that represents the best interests of the entire paddlesports industry. The next executive director will have to be part inspirational speaker, part diplomat, part business owner, part healer, and have a very thick skin. That person will also have to be part historian and use the past as lessons not to be repeated in the future. While we agree that TAPS can and perhaps should serve in a supporting role helping all the zillions of teeny paddlesport shows around the country coalesce their efforts into producing meaningful regional shows that are supporting everyone, there are many out there who still remember the association's attempt not so long ago to organize and own shows around the country -- a miserable failure at that. We also believe that TAPS will and should have its hands full keeping the industry informed of potential legislative impacts just around the corner in both Canada and the United States. The only way to stave off unwanted governmental oversight is to organize and communicate effectively, as one voice. And in our view, TAPS could and should become that voice. As for Mitchell, he's not going far from the water we're certain of that. He's too committed to the paddlesports industry and the business and passion of instructing paddlers and that is good for all concerned.

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