Rivers merge and become stronger. So what happens when associations representing the paddlesports industry fail to join forces and instead flow their own separate ways?
After last fall’s failed merger between the Trade Association of Paddlesports (TAPS) and the Paddlesports Industry Association (PIA), the paddlesports association picture has become as muddied as a western river in spring. Both previous executive directors have left the heads of their respective organizations, leaving fill-ins to fill in the pieces, while board members grapple with moving forward and continuing to serve their associations’ respective memberships.
PIA executive director Matt Menashes, who had been at the helm eight years, resigned in November and is replaced by acting executive director and long-time PIA board member Ed Councill; TAPS head Michael Pardy resigned his position in January, with Bambi Krieg recently hired to head the association’s marquee event, the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium.
“The last two years at TAPS have been exciting and challenging,” says Pardy in his resignation letter, highlighting such accomplishments as the Lets Go Paddle campaign, Northeast Canoe and Kayak Symposium and continued success of its West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium. “The unification talks have at times been difficult, but we bridged some of the historical apathy between the two organizations and forged important relationships between the two boards. The paddlesports industry is rapidly changing and new energy and new leadership are needed to steer TAPS through these latest transitions.”
The resignations took place shortly after the TAPS board voted on Oct. 27 to terminate the long-running unification process that would have combined the two associations as one, and created a stronger, more centralized voice for the industry. According to sources, PIA’s debt load was the culprit behind the unification’s failure.
“We spent a lot of time and money investigating unifying with the PIA, but ultimately our board voted against unification because of the sour financial situation,” says TAPS Board President Tim Rosenhan. “Even though we saw considerable industry interest in having just one trade association, we could not rationalize doubling dues to our members and absorbing substantial PIA debt. Facing a weak economy, we have had to cut back on our expenses, but our goal is to focus and provide an even better WCSKS for 2009.”
It wasn’t the first time paddlesports organizations have failed to come together. TAPS and OIA had a deal fall apart in 2002; PIA and America Outdoors dropped talks of unification in 2003; PIA and TAPS aborted an effort in 2005; and now they did again.
Insiders at both organizations say things are on still on track as far as servicing members in the years ahead.
“We’re moving forward,” PIA board member Darren Bush told Snews. “PIA has a great base from which to expand our relevance to the paddlesports community. Our outfitters have a deep, abiding sense of community and solidarity that we would love to see expand to the rest of the industry. This is an amazing association, and speaking as a retailer, there is much to learn from the outfitting sector.”
PIA plans to continue doing what it’s done best all along: serving its members, which consist of outfitters, liveries, manufacturers and retailers. “PIA is going through changes,” says Councill, highlighting the departure of Menashes and failed TAPS merge as examples. “Both of these items have challenged our organization and it’s time to regroup from this experience and pay more attention to our members. We need to reassess our overall direction. For the next several months, I will be listening to what they feel PIA needs to do to better meet their needs, while positioning PIA for a better future.”
PIA’s current programs – including an annual tradeshow every November and the National School for Paddlesports Business – are still going strong, as are continuing efforts to grow the industry.
TAPS, meanwhile, is continuing to focus on its core program, the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium. “It’s been an interesting year with ambitious goals,” says Rosenhan. “While we had success with some, we didn’t with others. The West Coast Symposium was a wet success – it was great and fun, but drenching for three days. Weather also affected the new symposium in the Northeast. Our profitability on these symposia is always weather dependent, and we got hurt this year.”
As for the future of these two organizations joining forces, only the river gods can tell. Rumor has it that talks are continuing to see if unification can be resurrected. As Snews puts it, “Forming a new association is still a possibility and is preferable over both entities trying to continue as independent associations. The paddlesports industry deserves and needs a unified voice.”
PL’s take? Let’s get everyone together on a river trip.