Monday, August 8, 2011

Outside Magazine Picks NOC as the "Best Whitewater Kayaking School"

Thanks to Greg Melville at Outside magazine for selecting NOC's Paddling School as the "hands-down best whitewater school in the country." Melville was writing for the "Adventure Adviser" feature and answering the question "What is the best Whitewater Kayaking School?"

Previously the magazine has noted NOC as a "Top School"and a "Best Place to Learn" in its "Zero to Hero" feature that runs early in the calendar year. This feature encourages outdoor enthusiasts to pick up a new pursuit as part of their new year resolutions.

Upon hearing the news Jon Clark, Director of NOC's Paddling School, commented "It's great to be recognized by an authority like Outside. Our instructors are always refining their techniques, developing new programming and simply working hard to help their students improve. I'm proud that we're contributing to the tradition of excellence this school has built over decades."

For a list of NOC Paddling School programs, including a brand new Stand Up Paddleboard program, click here.

Congratulations to Jon and all the NOC instructors!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Three Generations of Nantahala Paddling

While working on a company history board for Slow Joe's Cafe last week, one of my favorite NOC questions came up: what NOCer has the earliest run of the Nantahala? Here's what I know.

The earliest confirmed run was by Aurelia Kennedy, namesake of Relia's Garden and one of three company co-founders. (The other two being her husband Payson Kennedy and their friend Horace Holden.) Relia first paddled the Nantahala in 1954 with a group of fellow counselors from Camp Merrie-Woode and other counselors from nearby Camp Mondamin. The trip was a wedding present from her friend Ramon Eaton.

Relia and Ramon ran the river in a wood and canvas canoe, and Relia remembers being impressed by Ramon's ability to stand in the boat and scout the rapids. According to Ramon, Relia was the second woman to ever run the river behind one of Frank Bell's relatives. (Frank Bell or "Chief" was the founder of Camp Mondamin and the early pioneer of Western North Carolina whitewater. Frank Bell's, the Class IV on the French Broad is named after him.) Relia was 19 on her first Nantahala trip, and she would marry Payson in September of the same year.

This isn't the earliest NOC first descent of Nantahala Falls,
but it may be the "youngest". Just shy of her first birthday
Jennifer Holcombe runs the Falls with her brother Andrew
and mother Cathy in 1984.

The only current NOCer boasting a descent in the 50's is NOC CFO John Burton, who ran the river in 1959 with his buddy Frank Shell. The tandem was on a canoe trip led by John Delabar, the namesake of Delabar's Rock rapid about midway down the Nantahala. Unlike Ramon's wood and canvas canoe, John was in a tougher aluminum Grummun canoe. It is rumored that Delebar's Rock is so named because Delabar destroyed two wood and canvas canoes on the rock in one trip. If that's true, it's understandable that Camp Mondamin would have been early adopters of the more durable aluminum boats.

Cathy guides Payson's Godmother Teresa Greenfield down
Nantahala Falls in 1993. The trip was to celebrate Teresa's 80th
birthday. Teresa wanted to do something special, as her mother
flew in an open biplane to celebrate her 80th.

Payson's first Nantahala run came five or six years after John's. He and Relia were in the area and they ran into their old friend Ramon embarking on a trip with a camp group. They asked if Payson could tag along with the group in a one-person canoe. Ramon obliged and that was the first of countless Nantahala runs for Payson. By 1971 he would be quitting his "day job" as a librarian at Georgia Tech and running rafting trips and paddling instruction on the Nantahala and the Chattooga.

Payson and Andrew compete in open boat nationals in 1992.
This is not a first, but it's a good homage to the
the original Nantahala watercraft.

Payson and Relia's daughter Cathy (our current Director of Rafting Operations and likely the Nantahala's all time leader in river trips) first ran the Nantahala sometime in the late sixties with Payson. She also was in an aluminum Grummun canoe, and her trip was memorable because it was raining on the Nantahala. As it often does, the river fogged up in the rain, and Cathy remembers her fatherwho was wearing glasseshaving to ask her where to go. Cathy remembers thinking: "Shouldn't dad know where we're supposed to go?"

In the summer of 1981 Cathy's very young son Andrew Holcombe (the third family generation on the Nantahala) rafted the river with his mom and dad. Cathy recalls Andrew sleeping through most of the trip. Cathy's second daughter Jennifer would also log her first trip before her first birthday. Unlike their mother and grandparents, Jennifer and Andrew were in a raft, not a canoe, but they wouldn't have been able to make the trip at such an early age in a canoe. Note that on commercial trips the youngest permitted age is seven, but there are no rules on private family trips.

After hearing all these stories I'm reminded of why there's a tandem canoe in the NOC logo. It's such a central part of how the Nantahala was first run and even today it's likely the best canoeing whitewater in the Southeast, especially in a tandem boat.

By special request Andrew Holcombe guides Wendell through
Nantahala Falls on his first run after years of driving buses by the rapid.

While the Kennedy's family paddling history is impressive, by now there are probably many NOC guests who have had three generations of family run one of our rivers. Let us know with a comment or an email ( if your family is one of these. We're always interested in getting our guests' stories on paper and meeting other paddlers.

My first run of the Nantahala was in 1999, and it's not terribly romantic. I had already paddled the Ocoee and a few other rivers closer to my home, so while I was impressed with the river, it wasn't a totally new experience for me. To be honest, I was really excited I could get a club sandwich at River's End and do another lap on the river in the afternoon.

I've grown up a bit since then, and now I really enjoy sharing the Nantahala with guests on their first whitewater trip. Hopefully they'll share it with their friends and families and start their own whitewater traditions.