An Interview with Joe Jacobi, CEO, USA Canoe/Kayak
31 Oct, 2012By: Juli Anne Patty
In 1992, Joe Jacobi teamed with Scott Strausbaugh to win America’s first-ever Olympic Gold Medal in Whitewater Canoe Slalom. Today, he is the CEO of USA Canoe/Kayak, helping lead the US team to excellence as well as to develop a passion for paddling all across the country.
Chief Executive Officer, USA Canoe/Kayak
Years in industry:
Years in current position:
What is the mission of your organization?
The mission of USA Canoe/Kayak is to enable United States athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence in Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and other international competition and to promote and grow paddlesports in the United States.
One of our newest initiatives is Paddle Now!, a USA Canoe/Kayak national campaign to get people on the water with a paddle in their hand. Positioned to easily align with USA Canoe/Kayak's organizational partners and stakeholders, Paddle Now! combines a variety of strategies to introduce more people to paddling. Paddle Now! Programs will help utilize America’s outstanding paddling facilities to create unique sponsor and group experience; attract new athletes to the sport; and grow the sport’s base and the paddling community.
Nationally, how many participants do you have?
We have about 2,100 members at USA Canoe/Kayak.
How many events are held each year?
We sanction about 300 events per year.
In what regions/locations are they held?
USA Canoe/Kayak clubs and events are spread out around the country. Our events take place on all kinds of waterways, including rivers, lakes, bays, pools and oceans.
As an organization, what do you look for in a location?
Technical expertise and equipment for canoe/kayak racing is a nice convenience but ultimately some of those items can be transported to a community. What I really like to see in a community is passion for water, a desire to increase access to waterways and create new lifestyle opportunities for residents and visitors alike.
A lot of people like the idea of using their waterways for hosting an event, and that’s a great start. It also helps tremendously if you have a paddling community because they have a good sense of how paddlers think, what their needs are and the safety requirements. They make incredible volunteers, too. Kayaking is an intensely individual sport, but it’s an amazing community too.
From an event management standpoint, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
USA Canoe/Kayak is a small organization and does not produce many events. We haven’t reached the scale of USA Triathlon (YET!) where we roll in with our own 18-wheeler that is basically an event in a box. We’re dependent on a community champion who really wants to see the event happen and is passionate about getting people into boats.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing leaders set their community apart on what makes them different rather than what makes them the same. To see Oklahoma City embrace their river, paddlesports and rowing to the level they have is simply amazing.
Please describe how you feel your knowledge, skills and experience have contributed to the success of the sports events in which you are involved.
By age 10, I knew paddling would be a huge part of my life. I’ve been fortunate to compete on the international stage for nearly 20 years, including two Olympic Games, as well as to coach, instruct, serve in leadership positions and call the Olympic Canoeing events for NBC at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Having seen the sports from many perspectives and being able to increase access to the sport while decreasing barriers helps me to contribute to the paddling community’s success.