Christopher Stec hails from south Louisiana and has been working in the paddlesports industry for many years in a variety of jobs. Prior to becoming the Chief Operating Officer of the American Canoe Association, he worked as an outdoor instructor for the YMCA, a field assistant for Davidson College’s off-campus Biology semester, and a raft guide for the Nantahala Outdoor Center to name a few.
An avid instructor (of course!), he holds ACA instructor certifications in whitewater canoeing, river stand-up paddleboarding and swiftwater rescue. When not on the water teaching or in the office crunching numbers, Christopher sits on several national committees including the National Safe Boating Council, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and U.S. Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety Advisory Council
He is also a poetry writer, an Eagle Scout, an Assistant Scoutmaster, fly fisherman and duck hunter. Oh yeah he also has a family with two kids aged five and three.
I recently sat down with Christopher to find out how he is able to keep so many things in the air at once and what keeps him motivated to go paddling with his family weekends after thinking about canoes all week.
1) How did a guy like you land a job at the ACA?
After essentially failing my first canoe instructor certification course back in 1995, I began to volunteer at the regional level for the ACA. After over a decade of volunteering, and improving my paddling ability, Pam Dillon (Executive Director at the time) actually hired me to work in the ACA’s Safety Education and Instruction Department. Over time I worked my way to the Chief Operating Officer position and now oversee all of the ACA operations in the U.S. and abroad.
2) How long have you been working in the outdoor industry and what got you started?
After canoeing with my high school English teacher, Cabel Tutwiler and the E.S.A. Outing Club (Episcopal School of Acadiana) from the drainage canal behind our school through a south Louisiana swamp to the nearest town, I knew that paddlesports, and the beautiful natural world it leads us to, would play a role in my future. After the last game of my Division I Collegiate basketball career at Davidson College (thank you Coach Bob McKillop for believing in a walk-on) occurred, I was able to devote my concentration to paddlesport. With guidance from notable paddlesport experts Ed Daugherty, Gordon Black, Sam Fowlkes, Bunny Johns, Eli Helbert, Wayne Dickert, Bob Foote and many others, I was fortunate to find both seasonal and then permanent work in the outdoor industry with a focus on paddlesport.
3) What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the daily interaction, either by phone, via email or in-person, with people across the country who share the same passion for the outdoors and the paddle craft that allow them to experience it.
4) What’s the most difficult aspect of the job?
In the non-profit world, there never seems to be enough time or money to accomplish all the things either your members want you to do or that you need to do in order to continue to move the association forward. The hardest thing about this position is to manage your time between family, work and personal time. I have a 5 year old and a 3 year old and an extremely understanding wife, but it’s still a challenge to balance the desire to make a positive difference for all the paddlers you’re working for and spend enough quality time with your family.
5) What are two tips you can give to somebody who wants to work for the ACA?
Besides being a good person, in order to work for the ACA, an individual needs to be well-rounded and exhibit a history of taking initiative. The intricacies of the actual job position can be taught, but you need to already have good people skills. The ability or desire to learn how to paddle is also a plus. Our office is less than a block from the river and we routinely have our monthly staff meeting on the water.
6) What about your job do you think would most surprise people?
I think it would be the extreme variation in skill sets that are called upon on a daily basis. This job position has a wide range of responsibilities, from governmental public policy to overseeing the National Paddlesports Instruction Program to being the primary risk manager for a national on-water insurance program for paddling clubs and instructors that spans class V rapids to open ocean U.S. Coast Guard small craft advisory conditions. The most surprising part of my job, at least for me, is although I have a basic working knowledge of four languages (besides English) we have instructors in 22 countries around the world, and I sometimes spend quite a bit of time using Google translate.
7) What was the coolest thing you remember finding when you were a kid out exploring?
Thanks to my parents, I had an amazing opportunity to attend the 17th World Scout Jamboree at Mt.Sorak National Park in South Korea in 1991. On an overnight backpacking trip, our local guide took us into a cave/cavern on the mountainside. About 50 yards in there was a 10 foot high Buddha shrine covered in gold with prayer offerings from the local village surrounding it. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it was a work of art and a truly unique experience for a teenager.
8) If you could tell something to your 18 year-old self, what would it be?
Continue to pursue your outdoor oriented career path, but take a few finance and business courses along the way! Virtually no matter where you end up, it’s bound to help you down the road, I mean river...
9) Do you travel for work?
Yes, I sure do. I usually travel domestically at least once a month, but most months two to four times. In regards to the ACA’s international presence, over the last few years I’ve been to Austria, Germany, Chile, Canada and China. In regards to funding this work related travel, as a non-profit, we leverage every member’s dollar to its fullest extent and work hard to acquire funding from other sources such as grants and sponsorships to help with the ACA’s outreach endeavors.
10) Any last thoughts?
The ACA is a unique organization as it encompasses all aspects of paddlesports. Everyday I look forward to the opportunity to serve paddlers and ACA members across the country as we continue our mission to improve paddlesport Education, Stewardship, Competition and Recreation for everyone.
More information: American Canoe Association