Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Parting Salute to NOC Legend Wayne Dickert

This June is the last month our beloved Wayne Dickert (“Wayner”) will be working a NOC. The good news: Wayne’s leaving us to become the Pastor at Bryson City United Methodist Church in town, so he’ll be realizing an important personal goal, and will still be nearby. The bad news: much less Wayner on the water and around the NOC campus.

For those only a little acquainted with Wayne’s tremendous contributions to NOC and Southeastern paddling in general, here’s an abridged version of his vast accomplishments.


Wayne began his professional whitewater career thirty years ago on the Ocoee River near his East Tennessee home. In 1981 he started guiding rafts with Sunburst Adventures on the Ocoee River, where he remained for six years until NOC purchased the Ocoee-only outfitter in early 1987. After two additional summers working on the Ocoee Wayne moved to the Nantahala in 1988 to guide NOC paddling and rafting trips.

From the beginning Wayner gravitated to canoe and kayak instruction at NOC. Due to his impressive career as a competitive paddler and his adept teaching methods, Wayner quickly became one of the core instructors in the Paddling School. Originally Wayne spent his non-instruction time from November to February creating custom wooden paddles with Homer King, builder of the legendary Silver Creek paddles. While at Silver Creek, Wayner and Homer designed some of the first curved wooden canoe blades. Less well known was Wayne’s short and fat shallow-river blade Homer nicknamed “the shovel.”

However, in 1993 NOC became one of the primary sponsors of the The Nantahala Racing Club and Wayner found himself immediately involved. Wayne's off season time was consumed by administrative and leadership work for the club. From ’93 to ’96 Wayner maintained his NOC/NRC/competitive paddling lifestyle until he left NOC in ’96 to accept a position at USA Canoe/Kayak as the Development Director—helping the US team field world-class whitewater athletes in international competition.

Wayner returned to NOC full-time in ’99 as the head of the NOC Paddling School, where he remained until 2009. His ten years in this position were immensely effective: his extensive experience in paddling instruction and his notable competitive accomplishments made him a visible and effective leader. Wayner began his slow transition to the church in 2006 when he enrolled at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary to earn a Masters in Divinity. In 2007 he started the River of Life Ministry at NOC, giving paddlers a casual, early-Sunday summer service followed by an optional group river trip. He accepted the role of “NOC Ambassador” in 2009 as he began the transition to church life and finished up school. In this role Wayner helped start the Canoe Club Challenge, worked with the Southeast’s summer camps to get young paddlers on the water and helped the Nantahala area win the 2013 ICF World Freestyle Championships.

During his career in professional paddling Wayner racked up some pretty amazing accomplishments:

  • Two “Best Instructional Video Awards” from the National Paddling Film Festival, one for 2005’s River Runner’s Edge—a project Wayne worked on with Kent Ford, John C. Davis and Phil & Mary DeRiemer –and the other for 2006’s The Kayaker’s Toolbox with Joe Holt.

  • Two National Outdoor Book Awards for the Instructional category for Basic Canoeing (2003) and Basic Kayaking (2005).

  • He was one of the boat designers for the 1992 gold-medal winning C-2 boat nicknamed “Patriot” along with Horace Holden Jr. and the boats’ paddlers Scott Strausbaugh and Joe Jacobi. This boat remains the only US Olympic championship boat.

  • Wayne collaborated (to varying degrees) on the designs of many production boats including the Dagger GT, Dagger Approach, Dagger Mamber, Dagger Juice, Dagger Rx, LiquidLogic Remix, LiquidLogic Hoss and more.

Once a group of Wayne's students were reviewing his bio, and after they read about his accomplishments their main comment was “Whoa, you had a moustache?!”

Some people are just hard to impress.

Competitive Paddling:

Wayne started paddling slalom in the spring of 1981 on the Ocoee River in a Perception Mirage at the old Ocoee Double Header race. He enjoyed it so much that he immediately purchased a slalom kayak. In May of the same year, Wayne borrowed a slalom canoe and, as Wayner says, “it just felt more natural to me.” So, the kayak was gone almost as quickly as it arrived, and Wayne became a C1 (decked canoe) racer. “I was young and stupid; it didn’t matter that [canoeing] was harder.” Wayner preferred the leverage and sightlines of the canoe, and all of a sudden he was training and competing for whitewater slalom and downriver (or Wildwater) events.

Though he made the US C-2 Mix team in ’82 and raced in the West German Nationals in ’83, Wayne didn’t began winning consistently until 1984. In ’84 Wayne was the top ranked downriver canoe racer in the US (after winning the Pan-American Cup), and he remained one of the top downriver competitors through ’89 when he “retired” for the first time.

However, retirement didn't last long and it was less than a year before Wayne and Horace began toying with the idea of a forming a slalom C-2 team, a development that resulted from an informal, why-not-try-it whim paddling session. Horace and Wayne’s casual paddling session was surprisingly competitive and ’92 Olympic coach Fritz Haller started encouraging and coaching the new C-2 team.

At the 1996 Olympic Team Trials Wayne and Horace actually defeated their coach Fritz Haller and his brother Lecky, with four solid runs on the Olympic Course at the Upper Ocoee. At the Olympics Wayne’s team placed 11th after a misjudged maneuver on the first run resulted in a technical penalty and after Wayne dislocated his thumb before the second run. Despite this, Wayne maintains that his biggest disappointment from the Olympics was that the US didn’t get two C-2 boats qualified so he could have competed again with his friends Fritz and Lecky.


Despite having spent a good part of the past 30 years on the water, Wayne is still one of the NOC employees you’re most likely to see on the river. Many employees split time between the river and nearby hiking or biking trails, and some see the river “plenty” during the work day, and head for the house or to town after hours.

Not so for Wayner. He’s probably the colleague most likely to lobby you into spending a lunch break on the water, or to work through lunch and leave for a 4pm “on the river meeting”. You’re likely to see him working with aspiring athletes at the gates, surfing on the Surf School wave, or scouting the falls with a young paddler.

We asked him two questions to wrap things up:

Q: What’s your favorite part of paddling?

A: Teaching Beginners. I enjoy seeing beginners fall in love with the sport. I even like it better than working with advanced paddlers who know what they’re doing. I’ve always liked the beginners the best.

Q: What’s your favorite river?(It’s got to be the Ocoee right?)

A: Well, yeah the Ocoee would be there because it’s been such a big part of my life: I got married there, started working and paddling there and competed in the Olympics there, but my favorite river is the Tallulah actually. It’s just so beautiful and the rapids are so fun.

So, that about sums this recap up. Note that this story doesn’t really have an ending; Wayne still loves boating, and you’re likely to see him out and about whenever he gets a chance. We expect they’ll be keeping him pretty busy over there at Bryson City United Methodist, but hopefully after things settle in a bit we’ll start seeing Wayne back on the river—though we're not expecting him at any future Sunday releases on the Tallulah.

Thanks Wayner.

Editor's Note: Join us at the first 2011 Canoe Club Challenge (on the Nantahala Saturday June 18th) and thank Wayner for his contributions to paddling. We'll be throwing him a big going away party after the event!


  1. Wayner has been a great advocate for paddling in general and NOC in particular. He is an all-around nice guy and a friend of everyone he meets. It has been great getting to know him over the years and wish him great success at the Church in Bryson City, we mail well visit there when we are in the area.

    See you soon Wayner!!

    -Terrell Anderson

  2. Wayner - you ROCK! Thanks for all of your enthusiasm and dedication to whitewater over the years.

  3. Wayne, thanks for being a man of integrity and giving selflessly to so many for so many years. There are many more whose path (or current) await your leadership, partnership, and spirit. Bless you in your next of many endeavors at BCUMC! - Rimes

  4. great article, would love to hear more about Horace also...

  5. Hey, just saw this as I was looking at the goings on for 2012 at the NOC. I know Wayne from the 95', 96' timeframe when Oakwood Homes was a sponsor of the NRC. I was with Oakwood and worked and paddled with Wayne. He is a truly awesome individual and Master Paddler to say the very least. I know he will be missed at the NOC. To you Wayne Dickert!
    Joe Johnson