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... 


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. 



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. 


ACA Instructor, WEMT

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. Anne challenges her students directly, giving them an extra push to improve. She is certified in Wilderness EMT, CPR, AED, and ACA Whitewater Kayak Instructor Trainor Educator. 


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. 



Jared "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. 



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.



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!"



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.



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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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.



Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor began kayaking about 15 years ago in the mountains of North Carolina. Growing up in Asheville, NC, Mark was inspired to pursue kayaking after watching his first Green River Race. When he was 12, he joined the Nantahala Racing Club and has since traveled to Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia to chase his kayaking passion. When Mark isn’t kayaking, you can find him fly fishing, camping – really anything outdoors!



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.



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!


Rescue 3 International, WFA

Kesha Thompson

Kesha is no stranger to whitewater paddling; in fact, she has 31 years of experience. Her home river is the challenging Green River, where she took first place in the women's division of the 2000 Green Narrows Race. Kesha puts her experience to good use as one of NOC's Paddling School instructors. She describes her job as “inspiring people to love whitewater.” Even when she isn't working, Kesha can be found kayaking.

Not only is she a leader on the water, Kesha is also an active member of the nursing community. With a B.S. in Nursing and Biology, a pending RN License, Rescue 3 International Certification, and Wilderness First Aid, there isn't much that Kesha can't handle.

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