Inspirational Outdoorspeople Celebrated at NZOIA Awards

Eight inspiring Kiwis have been recognised for excellence in outdoor leadership, including an Auckland man who has cycled 50,000km across four continents, a young instructor who has risen through the ranks, and an inspirational role model and mentor to emerging instructors.

The honours were announced last night as part of the 2021 New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association (NZOIA) Outdoor Excellence Awards, which were presented virtually this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This year the supreme ‘Tall Totara’ award was presented to Nelson-based freelance outdoor instructor and kayaker Jen Riley – the first woman to receive the award in 15 years.

NZOIA Chair Gemma Parkin said Ms Riley was a natural born leader and the award recognised the exceptional level of skill she demonstrates in all her pursuits, as well as her dedication to inclusive practices.

“Jen’s reputation in the outdoor sector precedes her. She is one of the few instructors in New Zealand to hold NZOIA qualifications in Kayak, Rock, Bush, Sea Kayak and Canoe disciplines. She has paddled, climbed and canoed all over the globe – from Laos and Slovenia to the Zambezi and Grand Canyon – and she continues to lead outdoor adventures with her skill, passion, energy and an unrivalled stamina.

“Jen is one of those people who knows what she wants and goes out and gets it. Colleagues describe her as an ‘inspirational role model’ to young people, women and girls, and as someone with a strong commitment to genuine inclusion of te ao Maori.

“Male recipients have dominated this award for the last 15 years, so it is great to see a talented wahine emerge to take the honours. Jen is the true embodiment of our Tall Totara award.”

The ‘Emerging Guide’ award was given to Auckland Sea Kayak guide Tom Groothuizen.

Ms Parkin said Mr Groothuizen had achieved some outstanding feats at a relatively young age and the award recognised his unwavering adventurous spirit and patience.

“To say Tom’s life has been an adventure would be an understatement. He has biked 50,000 km across the full length of the Americas, Africa and Asia, has kayaked down the Danube River – a staggering 2,850km – and hiked the full length of Mongolia.

“We are so impressed by Tom’s attitude and enthusiasm. He is smart and keen to learn, putting in a huge number of hours outside of work, including building his own kayaks during periods of COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland. He is also incredibly committed to sustainability, always including beach cleans on his school tours.

“Tom’s passion for the ocean, unique perspectives and dedication to providing fantastic experiences for the people he takes into the outdoors are just some of the reasons he is the deserved winner of this year’s Emerging Guide award,” Ms Parkin said.

The ‘Emerging Instructor’ award was presented to Grace Robertson, who is an Instructor with the Adventure Specialties Trust in Christchurch.

Ms Parkin said the award recognised Grace’s diligence and relentless positivity.

“Grace has rapidly climbed the ranks, becoming an extremely sought-after employee before she had even graduated. Still fresh in her career and at just 23 years of age, Grace has already contracted to numerous companies across New Zealand and has completed multiple sea kayak circumnavigations around D’Urville Island and Great Barrier Island.

“Grace’s peers describe her commitment to recreation as ‘infectious’. She makes huge efforts to support the next generation, often answering questions on social media, offering skill development opportunities, and providing advice for those who seek it. Her past tutors, colleagues and peers all look at her with admiration, highlighting exactly why Grace claimed the Emerging Instructor Award.”

Also awarded was NZOIA’s Tertiary Award’s, given to guides and instructors who have shown outstanding potential during their studies. This year, five people were presented this accolade: Astrid Cotterill-Nagels of Wintec, Shaun Robinson of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Sampson Mollan of Tai Poutini Polytechnic, Matt Hanson of Hillary Outdoors – Tertiary Programme, and William Wright of Ara Institute of Canterbury.

The NZOIA Outdoor Excellence Awards are held annually to recognise the highest achievements of individuals involved in outdoor recreation, education and guiding in New Zealand. The awards dinner was originally scheduled to take place during the 2021 NZOIA National Training Symposium in Canterbury, but this year’s symposium was cancelled due to COVID-19 event restrictions.  

Photos L- R: Jen Riley kayaking in Lodore Canyon, Green River, Utah (Credit: TC Rammelcamp), Grace Robertson rafting with clients, Tom Groothuizen sea kayaking.

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