AWA eyes move to Washington

In a brief statement dated Sept. 19, the American Watercraft Association said it plans to move its base of operations from California to Washington, D.C. According to the statement, the move would allow the organization to “greater strengthen and unify the watercraft community, ensuring regulators and legislators have a strong physical presence before them representing personal watercraft owners and enthusiasts.”
The statement failed to say how the move would affect the ever-growing club aspects of the organization, the AWA’s former partner, the International Jet Sports Boating Association, and the deeper reasons behind the AWA’s desire to set up shop in the nation’s capitol.
Powersports Business spoke with AWA Chairman Ron Bills of Polaris Industries, as well as Kirsten Rowe, executive director of the Washington-based Personal Watercraft Industry Association, and Kirk Holland, head of the AWA’s former roommate in Southern California, the International Jet Sports Boating Association.
Move Makes Sense
According to Bills, the primary consideration behind the move was simply to place the organization deep in the heart of the legislative community in Washington, D.C.
“When you really think about it, to grow an organization that is really to band user groups together, to combat unfair legislative efforts against watercraft, most of the legislative bodies — the Park Service, the EPA — most of those headquarters are in Washington D.C,” Bills explained. “And so what we really thought is that we have kind of a sister organization being the PWIA, that does kind of a similar charter but is focused on pure legislative efforts in Washington. We really want the AWA to be a group of users that we can communicate the key legislative issues to, we can keep them abreast of what’s going on in each of their states or municipalities, and we can form a group that’s really strong at fighting unfair legislation against the sport we all know and love.”
Where and who will staff that office has yet to be decided, although the search is currently ongoing and expected to be completed long before the first of the year.
According to Bills, the organization will likely set up office space in the same building that houses the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA), eliminating the costs associated with a stand-alone building while placing staff literally down the hall from boating industry groups often fighting similar issues.
The organization also is expected to add a full staff, giving the AWA what Bills referred to as “voices in Washington,” rather than place responsibilities solely on one individual. Bills confirmed that former AWA front man Stephan Andranian has left the organization, opting to stay in California and open his own law practice, rather than move his family to Washington.
“I’m really excited about it,” Bills said. “I think we’ll look back at this in the next few years and think, ‘Why didn’t we do this sooner?’”
Bills also dispelled any rumors that board members were deeply split on whether or not to separate the organizations, indicating that all five board members — Honda’s Michael Beaubien, Kawasaki’s Roger Hagie, Sea-Doo’s Fernando Garcia, Yamaha’s Mark Speaks, and himself — were 100% unanimous in their approval for the decision. “You don’t make decisions like this overnight. I really believe it’s the best thing we ever did for the industry and you’re going to see some tremendous growth out of this, in AWA membership as well as IJSBA membership.”
Kirsten Rowe, executive director of the PWIA, welcomes the arrival of the AWA to Washington. “From the PWIA’s perspective, I think it’s great,” said Rowe. “I think it’s going to allow for a lot closer collaboration and coordination on some broader boating issues, because the NMMA is in D.C. as well and you’ve got some other recreational-based industry groups that are in D.C., so AWA will be able to participate in those groups. “I think (the AWA will)be able to do just some grassroots work and initiatives that they haven’t been able to do before for PWC users, or do issues that are broader, recreational access issues.”
Rowe quickly dispelled rumors that the AWA would become a part of the PWIA, a notion that several industry insiders had alluded to in off-the-record conversations with Powersports Business.
“The two organizations will be separate organizations, but I anticipate that they will be working closely. Just from the simple issue that you don’t have a time-zone lag, you’re going to have the opportunity of being in D.C., whether it’s around the block, down the street or whatever, and I think that is just going to foster better communication and just more working together. We’re all here, all together, and pardon the pun, all in the same boat. I’m hopeful that it’s all going to work … at least that’s the way I’d like to see it work as PWIA executive director.
“Both groups have separate identities and represent different aspects of the industry. The AWA hopefully will be able to take stances and take a harder line on some issues that the PWIA can’t take.”
Working with the IJSBA
As far as how the split would affect the AWA’s former sister organization, the International Jet Sports Boating Association, Bills went on to say that the split would ultimately improve both organizations, allowing the IJSBA to focus solely on racing, rather than juggling racing, legislative issues, club responsibilities, and even putting out a magazine.
“I think that where we had combined the two created some conflicts of interest internally to the organization,” Bills explained. “Yes, there is some overlap in consumer events and things like that, but the intent is purely at heart that we want to do a good job of growing the IJSBA and we want to do a good job, and an even better job, of growing the grassroots organization being the AWA. When you step back away from it, other than the historical perspective of the AWA/IJSBA always being in California, I believe wholeheartedly that the IJSBA belongs in California, but I believe if we really want to do the best job possible for watercraft consumers to fight negative legislation and pull groups together, it’s got to be in Washington D.C.”
In a brief statement to Powersports Business, IJSBA Director Kirk Holland assured racing members that the IJSBA would not be affected by the move, and would continue with business as usual. “The IJSBA has been running independent of the AWA since the AWA was created in 2000,” said Holland. “This move won’t have an effect on the IJSBA. The IJSBA is going to remain in Southern California with the same IJSBA employees.”
According to Holland, Jet Sports magazine will go with the AWA to Washington where it will get a new editor and production staff (likely an outside contractor). Pages of the magazine will still be devoted to the IJSBA’s racing activities. Bills indicated that there would remain a link between the two organization’s web sites, and that racers would be required to be AWA members in order to compete at IJSBA-sanctioned events. In regards to Jet Sports, Bills said the AWA would like to improve both the look and the content of the publication, with a more appealing mix of legislative issues and consumer event coverage.
Club Aspects Not Forgotten
Despite what at times appears to be a laser focus on legislative efforts, Bills said the club aspects of the AWA will not suffer. In contrast, he argues that club opportunities will grow as more members are drawn in by the legislative efforts and then exposed to the recreational activities the AWA plans to continue and even expand. “I don’t think the club side is going to suffer at all,” said Bills, “I think the club side is going to grow. With this leadership out of Washington, DC, I think we’ll be able to get more voices on the AWA team, more subscribers to the AWA, and with that we can sponsor and grow more consumer events.”
Regarding consumer events, he said the AWA’s goal is to be an umbrella organization for consumer event promoters, attracting new members through fun, family-type events and then exposing members to pressing legislative concerns.
“We should be able to do it where the AWA is leading the charge on pulling these events together, rather than a manufacturer or magazine. If we can get to the point where we can energize promoters to do consumer-based events in local areas under the AWA charter, and get everybody involved in the AWA and be able to have a venue where we can also talk to them about things like how you combat unfair legislation at the municipal level, we’ll be able to do a lot more educating as well.”

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