Our Instructors

Meet Your Instructors

Paddling School instructors are active, professional healthcare providers who serve on mountain rescue squads, fire departments, ambulance squads, ski patrols, and more. They are experienced, creative teachers who provide a relaxed, team-oriented, and inspiring learning environment. With wide-ranging life experiences, many are outdoor experts in almost any wilderness setting... 

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ACA Level 5 Instructor, SRT-A, WRT-A

Tosh Arwood

Tosh began his career at NOC in our retail organization as Paddlesports Product Manager. He was then promoted to Paddling School Manager, where he oversees the largest whitewater paddling school in the world. Tosh holds numerous certifications including ACA Kayak Instructor Level 4 and Rescue 3 WRT-A and SRT-A. 

Tosh's life is whitewater. His greatest achievement has been not settling for an "ordinary" life. His career revolves around his true passion for whitewater and he has the ability to share that passion with others. Most recently, Tosh went on a self-support kayaking trip with other NOC guides down the Grand Canyon. His favorite NOC adventure is  Adventure Travel to Chile. 

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NREMT-P, WEMT

Jimmy Holcombe

The legendary Jimmy Holcombe was the very first employee hired by NOC. Jimmy has been an NOC instructor for three decades and pioneered many of the classic southeastern runs. He has numerous first descents to his name and is an expert in C-1, open boats, and kayaks. In 2017, Jimmy was awarded the “Legends of Paddling Award” by the American Canoe Association. 

Anne Sontheimer

ACA Instructor, WEMT

Anne Sontheimer

Anne began her career with NOC guiding on the infamous Wild and Scenic Chattooga River before eventually moving to our elite Paddling School team. As one of NOC’s most experienced instructors, Anne has quite a list of personal accomplishments she passes to Paddling School participants regularly.

Anne enjoys challenging her students directly and giving them the extra push they need to improve their skills on the water. When she isn’t on the water, you can catch Anne on a mountain bike trail and hanging outside her her family and two sons, enjoying the outdoors.

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ACA Level 5 Instructor, WFR

Johnny Ortiz

Western New York native Jonny Ortiz is a NOC guest turned instructor that has made that now calls the Nantahala Gorge his home. Not keen on sitting still for too long and armed with undeniable and contagious energy, Jonny spent the last 9 years chasing whitewater. You’ll often find him attaining upstream, surfing the 2013 Freestyle Wave, or stern squirting his way down local runs. Jonny is a certified ACA Level 5 Advanced Whitewater Kayak Instructor, Wilderness First Responder, and SOLO Wilderness Medicine Instructor. 

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WEMT

Jared "Blue" Smith

Jared Smith, aka “Blue”, has been an active kayaker for 12 years and enjoyed five seasons of instructing whitewater paddling at Nantahala Outdoor Center. He originally came to Western North Carolina from Kentucky to play music, and started raft guiding as a side job. It’s been whitewater and music ever sense, with some astronomy and astrophotography of the side.

You can find Blue teaching all levels of Kayaking courses, as well as Level 4 Swiftwater Rescue Courses.

20190408_TBP_4880-min

NREMT, WEMT

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 fifth season at NOC’s Paddling School. She is certified as a level 4 ACA Kayak Instructor, Wilderness First Responder, River Rescue Certification Pro and has a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Analysis and Planning. When not on the water, you can find Rachel mountain biking and hiking on the local trails.

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RRC-P, WFA

Jae Jackson

Jae is NOC's Paddling School Guest Relations Manager, so she's usually the first point of contact for canoeing and kayaking guests seeking instruction. In staff meetings, she's often put on the spot when NOC's leadership team reads guest comments about her—and they're always top-notch.

Jae is originally from Jacksonville, FL. Before coming to the Nantahala she had a 10-year career in the U.S. Postal Service and has held positions in sales and marketing. She started as a server at NOC's River's End Restaurant, and now her qualifications include Wilderness First Aid and River Rescue Certification-Pro. Her hobbies are paddling (of course!), mountain biking, and backpacking. Jae's favorite advice for students is "to be patient with yourself. It's about having fun!"

20190408_TBP_4969-min

SRT-IT, WEMT

Stephan Hart

Stephan has been with NOC for 20 years and has the ability to guide all 7 of our rivers. Originally from Florida, Stephan is our resident plant expert with a degree in Botany from the University of Florida. Other guides have been known to follow closely to his raft to learn more about the local fauna. But, that isn't all he knows. Stephan is also one of our primary Raft Guide School instructors as well as an instructor for Swiftwater Rescue and Wilderness Medicine Courses.

One of his greatest achievements has been rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, AZ a total of 3 times. In addition, he is extremely proud that the SCC Faculty Team has beaten the student team for the past 5 years in the Outdoorsman Triathlon. In his off-time Stephan enjoys playing the mandolin, plants, cooking and regularly schooling everyone at our weekly Ultimate Frisbee games.

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SRT-AI, SRT-IT, WFR, CPR, AED

Will Norris

Joining the NOC family in 2001, Will honed his leadership skills guiding rafts on our seven commercial rivers – all along building his kayaking skills to match. Will became part of our instruction team in 2004 and enthusiastically teaches kayaking, canoeing, SUP, rowing, and our annual spring raft guide school. A Rescue 3 International swiftwater instructor as well, many of his weeks are spent “in” the river teaching recreational paddlers, fire/rescue professionals, and elite military teams essential rescue skills. Will’s students appreciate his emphasis on interpretive knowledge; he studies the river environment and sees it as an integral part of the river paddling experience. He is certified in WFR, CPR, AED, and ACA Swiftwater Rescue. 

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AEMT, WEMT

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.

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WRT-P

Johnny Horton

Jonny is one of NOC's most sought-after guides. He currently holds the NOC record for checking out on all seven rivers in just four seasons. After serving as a trip leader on the French Broad, Jonny was promoted to the Chattooga where he eventually became a Head Guide. Jonny now serves as Assistant Manager of NOC's French Broad Operation. Jonny also serves as a Guide-Trainer for NOC's Raft Guide School and Rescue 3's Whitewater Rescue Technician Course. With hobbies ranging from carpentry and building to hiking and boating, Jonny does it all!

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MS

Curtis England

Curtis loves everything involving whitewater and the outdoors. With degrees in Sports & Leisure Management and Parks & Recreation Management from East Tennessee State University, his life is the outdoors. His biggest achievements include competing in the 2012 Green River Narrows Race and kayaking Class V Linville Gorge, NC. In his off-time he enjoys mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, telemark skiing, playing the guitar, and banjo.

Claudia Behringer

Kayak L4

Claudia Behringer-Smith

Claudia has been enjoying exploring the water in a kayak since she was 4 years old when her dad first introduced her to ocean kayaking! Now an avid whitewater kayaker, she has been with the NOC team since 2020.

Claudia is passionate for working with kids - having been a camp counselor for a local outdoors camp. She adores teaching Summer Kayak Camps at NOC and helping young adventurers discover and hone their skills!

Mike Hurndon

ACA Level 4 Kayak and Swiftwater Rescue

Mike Hurndon

Mike, aka “Ranger Mike” has been with Nantahala Outdoor Center for 5 seasons and has been enjoying Whitewater Paddling for over 12 years. Mike grew up surrounded by lakes and rivers as a youngster and has passed his love for water sports to his kids, Max and Micayla, who began kayak-camping when they were around 2 years old. Both of his children have now traversed the entire Grand Canyon by kayak.

Mike is an ACA Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor and certified in Advanced Wilderness First Aid, CPR, ISSA Personal Fitness Training, and ACA Level 4 Swiftwater Rescue. Mike also has his Private Pilot License.

Sarah Ruhlen

Level 5 Canoe, ACA Level 4 Kayak

Sarah Ruhlen

Sarah, known as “Cubes” to our awesome friends in the First Descents program, joined us from nearby Bristol, TN. She has over 20 years of experience in whitewater sports, having begun paddling with her parents at a young age and eventually moving into formal instruction when she was able to become certified. Sarah is our youngest Level 5 Canoe instructor, a Wilderness First Responder, and holds her ACA Level 5 Canoe and ACA Level 4 Kayak certifications.

Sarah is entering her 8th year at Nantahala Outdoor Center and credits NOC’s adventure hub as the place she has formed some of the best relationships of her life.

Eli Castleberry

ACA Level 5 Kayak, Swiftwater Rescue

Eli Castleberry

Eli, known as “River Jesus” by his comrades for a myriad of reasons, travels all over the world in search of the next big adventure and never truly has an “off season”, leading kayak trips at Pucon Kayak Retreat in Chile during the winter months in the US. Eli grew up on a lake and spent every possible day out on the water, developing his love for natural waterways at an early age.

Eli has been with Nantahala Outdoor Center for four years and is an ACA Level 5 Kayak Instructor, Swiftwater Rescue Instructor Trainer, Wilderness First Responder, and CPR and AED Certified.

Kyle Silber

ACA Level 4 Kayak

Kyle Silber

Kyle has been with Nantahala Outdoor Center for five years, and credits the healing power of nature and whitewater with the upward trajectory change in his life. He grew up taking plenty of flatwater kayaking trips, his love for river trips growing as he did. Now, Kyle is seen as a mentor to many at NOC and beyond, something he finds an incredible honor.

Kyle is a Wilderness First Responder and ACA Level 4 Kayak certified. Many days you can catch him scoping out the Tellico River with his trusty dog, Dagger.

Sarah Ruhlen

Level 5 Canoe, ACA Level 4 Kayak

Sarah Ruhlen

Sarah, known as “Cubes” to our awesome friends in the First Descents program, joined us from nearby Bristol, TN. She has over 20 years of experience in whitewater sports, having begun paddling with her parents at a young age and eventually moving into formal instruction when she was able to become certified. Sarah is our youngest Level 5 Canoe instructor, a Wilderness First Responder, and holds her ACA Level 5 Canoe and ACA Level 4 Kayak certifications.

Sarah is entering her 8th year at Nantahala Outdoor Center and credits NOC’s adventure hub as the place she has formed some of the best relationships of her life.

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