Meet Our Instructors

MORE PADDLERS LEARN FROM NOC’S PADDLING SCHOOL THAN ANY OTHER WHITEWATER KAYAKING SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY. This means NOC instructors have extensive experience working with students and putting paddling theory and technique to work on the river. The exceptional teachers you’ll meet here are complimented by over a dozen affiliated instructors who teach on a seasonal basis. All are fully-trained and have been full-time Paddling School instructors at some point in their careers. Many of the core instructor group have achieved special designation as NOC Master Guides, meaning they were hand-selected by peers and management to complete NOC’s exclusive skills development and advanced search and rescue course.

TOSH ARWOOD

Paddling School Manager Tosh Arwood is now a regular on the Southeast’s classics. Today Tosh spends his winters paddling around the globe and his seasons teaching kayaking and keeping the Paddling School running efficiently. The 17-year paddling veteran loves teaching, and he especially enjoys taking beginner boater to the intermediate stage. Thanks to his experience as a paddlesports buyer Tosh has extensive knowledge of whitewater gear, boats and trends. He also holds numerous certifications including, ACA Advanced Kayak Instructor Level 5, Rescue 3 WRT-A, SRT-A, and Wilderness First Responder.

CHRIS HIPGRAVE

With 38 years of experience, Chris is a whitewater legend. Originally from England, his homebase is now on the Nantahala River in Western North Carolina. Chris uses his expertise to oversee our Paddlesports and Outdoor Schools programs. He is an integral part of NOC’s kayak instruction, events, retail, adventure travel, the Nantahala Racing Club and NOC’s outdoor professional training departments including SOLO Wilderness Medicine, Wilderness Survival and Swiftwater Water Rescue. Chris is certified in CPR, AED, Darkness to Light, ACA Swiftwater Rescue Level 4, ACA Whitewater Kayak Level 4, SOLO Advanced Wilderness First Aid and Rescue 3 River Rescue Certification. Chris does it all.

JONNY ORTIZ

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RACHEL DEAN

Originally from Western Maryland, Rachel got her start in whitewater kayaking on the Youghiogheny River in Southwestern Pennsylvania. She developed her skills as an instructor at Riversport School of Paddling, and is now in her second year at the NOC’s Paddling School. She is certified as a level 4 ACA Kayak Instructor and Wilderness First Responder. Rachel loves empowering female boaters to get out and paddle, so she co-runs the “Wild Women Wednesday” group on the Nantahala River through the summer. You can find Rachel catching sweet air on local runs when she isn’t working at the Paddling School or SOLO Southeast.

ANDREW KOCH

One of NOC’s best competitive freestyle kayakers, and NOC’s leading SUP—or stand-up paddling—specialist, Andrew has been teaching paddling for seven years. Because he enjoys working with kids, Andrew often leads NOC’s Kids’ Week and is involved with the Nantahala Kids Club and the NOC Youth Paddling Team, commitments that go beyond his day-to-day job in the Paddling School. Besides teaching paddling, Andrew is an accomplished yoga instructor, raft guide and surfer. Andrew credits his happiness and fun spirit to his ability to share his love of kayaking during the summer and then travel the world during the off-season.

CASEY JONES

MARK TAYLOR

WILL NORRIS

CURTIS ENGLAND

East Tennessee native Curtis England was introduced to whitewater at a young age. Spending the winter guiding on Chile’s best whitewater, Curtis is dailed in for his 8th year. As an NOC Master Guide on 5 rivers and holds certifications as a Wilderness First Responder, River Rescue Certification Pro, and ACA level 4 Kayak Instructor. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Park and Recreation Management. When not on the river, Curtis can be found exploring other passions such as mountain biking, telemark skiing, photography, and playing bluegrass music.

JIMMY HOLCOMBE

ANNE SONTHEIMER

Anne started her career at NOC two decades ago guiding rafts on the difficult Chattooga River. After moving over to the Paddling School, Anne has become one of NOC’s most experienced instructors, teaching constantly. Sometimes tough, Anne challenges her students directly, giving them an extra push to improve.

ANDREW WILMOT

Andrew has been paddling since age 13 when he started canoeing with his father. He loved the sport so much, he purchased a kayak so he could paddle without a partner. Andrew loves the adventure of traveling to new destinations in search of warm weather, epic whitewater and great company. With 20 years of teaching experience, Andrew has a style that makes learning fun and easy.

JESSE WILSON

 

GARY STUDWELL

Gary’s love of adventure began at his childhood home in Connecticut, were he played in the brook out front. After agreeing to a canoe trip in New Hampshire at the age of 12, Gary’s passion for paddling took hold. He also caught the surfing bug, following it to Florida, Texas, Yosemite and beyond. He eventually landed at NOC for an ACA Open-Canoe Instructor Course and eventually (lucky for us) applied to become a guide. Gary has been a part of NOC’s prestigious Instructor Team since 1990 and now guides on 6 NOC rivers. He holds certifications in Wilderness Medicine and Swiftwater Rescue. But his favorite part about working at NOC? “Living the dream and sharing it by instructing the young and old to have fun outside.”

BLUE SMITH

Jared Smith, AKA “Blue” was raised in central Kentucky in a little town called Versailles. Moving to Asheville NC in 2006 to pursue a career in Bluegrass Music he took a detour to the Nantahala Gorge and while living out of a tent at Pizza by the River, he secured a job as a raft guide to pay the bills. He spent 3 years in Asheville, playing 3 or 4 nights a week in a band called The Bluegrass Lumber Company. He snuck away several times over those 3 years to come rafting, but when he got in a Kayak for the first time around 2008, the game changed completely. The Bluegrass Lumber Company disbanded in 2009 and Blue wasted no time moving back to Nantahala, buying a kayak at G.A.F. and spending endless hours on the river over the next decade. Today he splits his time between sharing his passions of his musical heritage and his love for paddling rivers the world over.

DAN DIXON

One of our more adventurous staff members and a modern-day explorer, Dan is a veteran paddler who has avoided ‘downtime’ by wintering in Ecuador for nearly two decades. Dan’s dexterity on the river, coupled with his relentless enthusiasm, gives him the special quality of putting fellow paddlers at ease, especially when they find themselves slightly out of their comfort zone. Decades of teaching, international paddling, and fatherhood perpetually hone Dan’s instructional repertoire.

Copyright 2017 | Nantahala Outdoor Center