Paddle Australia Awards 2020 Celebrate Paddling Community

Australian Whitewater Grand Prix Recognised with President’s Award

The achievements of grassroots sport and Australia’s paddling volunteers were at the centre of this year’s Paddle Australia Awards 2020, which for the first time were held in a digital format last Friday, 30 October 2020, and broadcast live via Paddle Australia’s Facebook page:

Following a challenging year, with many paddling competitions cancelled, the Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed and clubs having to close for months during lockdown, this year’s award focus was on the community level of sport as well as on the people who keep the sport and its clubs going:  the volunteers, the coaches and instructors, the competition officials – i.e. everyone who is the backbone of paddling.

“It’s been an extraordinary year, with bushfires, floods and a pandemic, and I would like to acknowledge the resilience, adaptability and care shown by the paddling community in recent months,” Paddle Australia CEO Phil Jones opened the awards night.

“The vision of Paddle Australia is for a united paddling community and, for some time, we’ve been considering ways to better recognise those many dedicated people that continue to contribute to paddling day in and day out.  Those people without whom paddling would simply be unable to operate.  So, with the support of our State Paddle Associations and the support of our Athletes Commission, we landed on this year’s format,” Jones explained the format of the 2020 awards.

Hosted by renowned sports presenter Louise Ransome, the Paddle Australia Awards 2020 celebrated three National Award categories, with finalists nominated by the six State Paddle Associations following their respective state paddle awards (see below for the full list of State Paddle Associations’ winners).

The Instructor/Guide of the Year Award was presented to Vicky Bonwick of Derwent Canoe Club, while the Club Coach of the Year Award went to Bayswater Paddlesports Club’s Andrew Crowthers.  The inaugural Volunteer of the Year Award was received by Penrith Valley Canoeing’s Eilleen Callaghan (NSW).

The awards show also celebrated the President’s AwardServices to Paddling Award and Life Membership with this year’s President’s Award going to the Australian Whitewater Grand Prix.

Laura White (NSW) was recognised with the Services to Paddling Award, while Martin Finn (SA) and Jeremy Dunn (QLD) were honoured with Life Membership for their long-standing valued service to the sport in Australia.

“These awards are designed to honour the best in the paddling community and highlight the incredible contributions made by volunteers at all levels of the organisation.  Congratulations to all the award winners and finalists.  To our Life Members, Martin Finn and Jerry Dunn, this is a well-deserved recognition for your services and commitment to paddling in Australia.  You’ve joined a group of extraordinary individuals as Life Members,” Paddle Australia President Andrea McQuitty said about the awards.

McQuitty also recognised the challenges of the past year, which ultimately led to the President Award’s honours going to the Australian Whitewater Grand Prix – a whitewater event series, including the Lea Race, Snowy River Extreme Race and the North Esk Paddle Fest.

“Times of adversity do reveal who we really are and across the past year the paddling community has shown its resilience, adaptability and unity, stayed connected, worked collaboratively and showed compassion for those adversely affected.  It’s been a year that has really highlighted how much value paddling adds to our lives as a way of maintaining our physical and mental wellbeing and staying connected to each other and the natural world,” Andrea McQuitty addressed the paddling community.

“In choosing the recipient to the President’s Award this year, I considered all of these attributes and selected an event that excels in showcasing who we are as a paddling community and the benefit of paddling in our lives.  The Australian Whitewater Grand Prix is a series of three races that unifies a normally dispersed community of paddlers.  It’s an event formed through the collaborative efforts of many volunteers.  The races are inclusive of paddlers from both elite and recreational paddling backgrounds, where Olympians compete against weekend enthusiasts, all sharing the same sense of adventure,” McQuitty explained.

“In a year that has brought so much uncertainty on a daily basis, I can think of no better way to conclude the paddling year than to celebrate this part of our paddling community, which lives by seizing the day and turning it into an adventure.  Above all, the event is an expression of the joy of paddling in wild places with your friends,” McQuitty concluded.

The Paddle Australia 2020 Awards digital show can be watched HERE or via youtube here:


The 2020 awards in more detail: 

2020 Volunteer of the Year
The Volunteer of the Year was added to the National Award categories for the first time this year.  With volunteers at the core of any sporting activities, the Paddle Australia Awards recognised one particularly dedicated person with the inaugural Volunteer of the Year Award going to Penrith Valley Canoeing’s Eileen Callaghan.

“Volunteers are such an important aspect of paddle sport in Australia and within the whitewater and freestyle community there is one volunteer who has gone above and beyond to develop every level and aspect of the sport for almost a decade.  From developing grassroots and kids at the pool to supporting the Australian elite freestyle kayak national team, she’s helped to make the sport inviting and accessible for literally everyone.  Eileen epitomises what a volunteer is and she’s a true asset to the Australian paddling community,” award presenter and three-time canoe freestyle world cup champion, head coach of the Australian freestyle kayak team and 2019 recipient of the Paddle Australia President’s Award Jez Jezz said about Callaghan, who was thrilled to receive the award.

2020 Club Coach of the Year
In other State Paddle Association award categories, Western Australian Andrew Crothers received the 2020 Paddle Australia Club Coach of the Year award for his work at Bayswater Paddlesports Club.  Crowthers created a team focussed squad environment, coaching his paddlers across canoe marathon, whitewater, and canoe sprint events as well as conducting talent identification and development, while increasing the squad size significantly.  His development squad was also well represented at the national canoe sprint titles with four athletes making the Paddle Australia Junior as well as the National Talent Development Olympic Hopes and Asia Pacific Sprint Teams.

“He is a capable and adventurous multi-sport athlete who is equally skilled in ocean paddling, marathon, sprint and whitewater and an inspiration to upcoming paddlers in WA.   His coaching style is engaging and holistic and WA is very grateful for the benefit that he contributes to the paddling community,” Olympian, canoe sprint and canoe marathon representative Jesse Phillips (WA) said about Crothers’ work.

“Working with the athletes, helping them and seeing them improve is the most rewarding part of coaching.  I hope to continue helping athletes and growing the sport of paddling in WA and to help out where I can,” Crowthers said after receiving the Paddle Australia Award.

2020 Instructor and Guide of the Year Award
Paddle Tasmania Instructor and Guide of the Year Vicky Bonwick also took home this year’s national award for her extensive work as a club-based Instructor at Derwent Canoe Club.  Bonwick is the initiator and one of the key leaders of the so called “Under 3 Group” which encourages adult paddlers to develop skills for and participate in paddling on easy and moderate grade white water rivers (rivers under Grade 3 in difficulty).

“She spends a lot of volunteer time teaching adults to paddle, making sure that the paddle and safety skills in the group are really good and that the trips they are doing are really safe,” award presenter, Derwent Canoe Club Commodore and Olympian Peter Eckhardt said about Bonwick’s work.

“It’s great to see Paddle Australia recognising some different values other than in sporting results, so I’m really appreciative that this award exists for starters and it means a lot to me.  It’s not only me though, but a whole team effort and it means a lot to see recreational paddling being valued,” Bonwick thanked the honours committee for the recognition.

Services to Paddling
The 2020 Services to Paddling award recipient Laura White (NSW) was introduced by Paralympic Champion Curtis McGrath with White set to represent Australia on the International Jury at next year’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

“Laura White has made a huge contribution to our sport and has always taken the bad with the good.  In paddling she’s gone from one position to the next and has always ensured that the athletes have the best chance to perform.  Next year, she’ll join the paracanoe athletes at the Tokyo 2020+1 Paralympic Games where she will be at the heart of the action as a deputy chief judge at the paracanoe events and I hope to be able to join her there,” McGrath said.

White’s involvement in paddling spans more than 30 years starting from her early days as a 13-year-old volunteer and continuing with White volunteering as an official, event organiser, on technical committees, in team support and as an international official.  In 2019, Laura was elected as Australia’s first paddling official to attend the Paralympic Games.

“It’s utterly thrilling to receive this award.  I’ve always been a water baby.  My mum, dad and I are all officials and have been for many years and we got to enjoy all of this together,” White said.

Paddle Australia Life Members
Life membership is the highest honour that can be bestowed by Paddle Australia and this year two recipients were recognised for their long-standing valued service to the sport in Australia.

South Australia’s Martin Finn, who has been involved with Paddle South Australia regattas since 1992 and with Australian championships in sprint and marathon as a key official, was recognised for his 30 years of dedicated service.

“This is another milestone of my life.  I spent 20 years in athletics before I got involved with canoeing and I got very much involved right from the word go,” Finn said.

Paddle Australia’s “marathon man” Jeremy Dunn (QLD) was also honoured for his services as a dedicated volunteer on club, state and national level since 1994 as well as for his officiating at World, National and State championships across canoe marathon and canoe sprint events.

“It’s very unexpected and one I thought I shouldn’t have received until a few years yet because I still consider myself young and there is a long way to go not only with canoe marathon in Australia but also with Paddle Australia and its development across the States,” Dunn said.

And about his love for the sport of paddling he added, “the best thing is seeing people achieve and the hard work people are doing and to get out and about and enjoying it with everybody else.”

President’s Award
The President’s Award wrapped up the Paddle Australia Awards 2020 with the Australian Whitewater Grand Prix this year’s recipient.

“We are very honoured, everyone here at the Grand Prix,” event founder James Thorpe said, who accepted the award on behalf of the Australian Whitewater Grand Prix organising group.

“I guess, I’m accepting this award collectively.  I started the event many moons ago with an extreme race on the Lea in North West Tasmania and it has grown since then and gained a lot of traction and now we have a triple event both on the Lea, the North Esk in Tasmania and then the Snowy Race in New South Wales,” Thorpe said.

“I think the event will become a main stay of whitewater paddling in Australia.  It’s become a really collective gathering of our whitewater community which has always been the ethos behind organising the first ever race and the races after that.  It’s not about the race, the racing is just a sideline to the community aspect and the social aspect of these three races and I think they will become a mainstay; events like these really bring the community together.”

Paddle Australia Awards 2020 Winners 

2020 Club Coach of the Year

  • Andrew Crothers, Bayswater Paddlesports Club, Paddle WA

2020 Instructor / Guide of the Year

  • Vicky Bonwick, Derwent Canoe Club, Paddle TAS

2020 Volunteer of the Year

  • Eileen Callaghan, Penrith Valley Canoeing, Paddle NSW

Services to Paddling 

  • Laura White, Paddle NSW

President’s Award

  • Australian Whitewater Grand Prix

Life Members

  • Martin Finn (SA)
  • Jeremy Dunn (QLD)

2020 Paddle Australia Awards Finalists 

Club Coach of the Year

  • Tony Hystek & Bob Turner, Paddle NSW
  • Jason Keating, Sunshine Coast Paddlesports Club, Paddle QLD
  • Andrew Crothers, Bayswater Paddlesports Club, Paddle WA
  • Alex Boyd, Fairfield Canoe Club, Paddle VIC
  • Matt Dalziel, Derwent Canoe Club, Paddle TAS
  • Dale Thomson, Onkaparinga Canoe Club, Paddle SA

Instructor / Guide of the Year

  • Geoffrey John Emery, Swan Canoe Club, Paddle WA
  • Garry Brannan, Bendigo Canoe Club, Paddle VIC
  • Vicky Bonwick, Derwent Canoe Club, Paddle TAS
  • Jim Townsend, Adelaide Canoe Club, Paddle SA
  • Laura Stone, Sydney by Kayak, Paddle NSW

Volunteer of the Year

  • Eileen Callaghan, Penrith Valley Canoeing, Paddle NSW
  • AKC Course Instructors, Ascot Kayak Club, Paddle WA
  • Delia West, Sunshine Coast Paddlesports Club, Paddle QLD
  • Anna Taylor, Ballarat Amateur Canoe Club, Paddle VIC
  • Russell Horton, Tasmanian Canoe Club, Paddle TAS
  • Kerry Sax, West Lakes Canoe Club, Paddle SA
Previous articlePaddle Australia Awards 2020 Nominees
Next articlePaddle in Pink Raises over $4600 for McGrath Foundation