If you've ever driven past the Ocoee River and watched the many boaters heading downstream and thought, "What an adventure," you're not wrong.
"Every trip down every river is different every time and has something so special about it," says Leigh Boike, vice president of Nantahala Outdoor Center.
If the river speaks to even a small part of you, Nantahala Outdoor Center has the team to help you get your feet wet. The full-service outfitter offers everything from guided whitewater trips for adventure seekers and families, to private instruction for those wanting to hone in on kayaking and build their skills in true water sports.
"Millions of people go whitewater rafting with us with a guide once or every summer, or take other adventure experiences on their vacations," Boike says of NOC's largest draw. "Sometimes those rafting experiences inspire our guests to pursue more challenging water-based activities like river paddlesports, and NOC offers skilled instructors to help them begin their own personal river story."
As the "leader in outdoor adventure," NOC's paddling school — voted "Best Place to Learn" by Outside Magazine — brings over 40 years of experience into every class, making it no surprise that they have "taught more paddlers than anyone else."
"We started with a lot of Olympic paddlers in the paddling school, which morphed into how we could teach basically anyone that wanted to learn how to canoe or kayak," Boike says, noting that as time has gone on, NOC has continued to evolve its techniques and equipment to keep up with students' goals. "If they are already into kayaking as a sport or leisure activity, they can come to NOC to keep developing their skill level with our intermediate and advanced courses."
Boike's own love of the water began early in her childhood and eventually led her to NOC's individualized instruction programs. At first, she was just a student. "I knew I had to work for this company," says Boike, who is entering her 23rd season with NOC.
Boike would vacation with her family nearly every other summer on the banks of the Nantahala, and quickly discovered that NOC offered things that others simply did not, both as an outfitter and an employer. One of those things is the cornerstone of any business: location. Nestled amid the undulating landscape of Bryson, North Carolina, NOC stands apart because it connects to the banks of the Nantahala River, making it the perfect launching point for some of the most iconic rivers in the Southeast for both watercraft and paddlers of all levels.
NOC's paddling school offers everything from two- or five-day group clinics to a full variety of private instruction. There are options for anyone and everyone. "If you're wanting to learn one specific skill, like how to roll, or you want to master a particular section of river, we can gear instruction to whatever the guest wants to work and hone in on," Boike explains.
NOC also offers youth instruction and summer kayaking camps for kids, curriculum for colleges, universities and primary schools, even programs for nonprofit groups for those with special health conditions to experience paddling for empowerment and therapeutic means. All instruction, courses and events typically run in NOC's main season March-October, but Boike notes that there are some year-round private options for those who are committed on that level.
"That is the scope of paddlers we have," she says. "We have people who've never seen a boat all the way to those on the Olympic level, and we're able to adapt to a lot of different abilities as well. From Class V paddlers to those with different physical disabilities, we've worked the gamut of that and take all of those challenges as opportunities to learn with our guests."
Like any new venture in life, a tryout is the best way to see if you want to go a little further than proverbially dipping your toe in the water. NOC also offers a one-day Intro to Whitewater Kayaking class to help people decide if they want to invest in equipment and more tailored instruction. Most new students to the sport are looking for paddlesports as a new challenge, a great form of exercise, and as another way to be out on the river, and NOC is ready to take them on their next adventure.
"Choosing a professional to have this experience with is the best way to start because kayaking and paddling can be challenging to learn," says Boike. "Our professional instructors have the training and expertise to meet students where they are, focusing on individual skill development and the type of equipment that's right for them, and really walk them through the whole process."
Boike says the skills she's gained during her own instruction and tenure with NOC have helped her teach her children paddling skills which they have been able to use on family trips together. She even met her husband through NOC and says that family atmosphere is the backbone of the company.
To learn more about NOC, its paddling school and instructional events coming up this season, visit noc.com or find NOC on Facebook.
"NOC is going to give you an incredible experience and the memory of a lifetime," Boike says.