NOC Stories: New Book on Antics at Nantahala Outdoor Center


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From shooting Deliverance to shooting the chutes at Nantahala Falls, a new book out compiled by former Nantahala Outdoor Center president and board chairman Payson Kennedy describes NOC’s first 25 years in the wild, wooly and wet world of whitewater…

NOC Stories, compiled by Payson Kennedy and edited by Greg Hlavaty, presents a history of NOC as seen through the eyes of early leaders and its dedicated staff. This history spans the years 1972-1997 and approaches the story of NOC’s inception and growth in conjunction with the growth of paddlesports and paddle instruction.

The “father” of NOC: Payson Kennedy

Many people today, says Kennedy, see NOC for what it has become: a seminal Southeastern paddling hub and profitable business. What they don’t know is that it started with a semi-utopian vision: the idea that friends could work together at pursuits they were passionate about, and that this endeavor would not only be profitable for the company, but also life-changing for the employees and guests who spent time at the NOC.

“That’s not something many businesses can say, but in the case of NOC, it’s turned out to be true,” says Kennedy. “If you asked current culture-makers and business owners in the whitewater industry about their formative years, you’d find that many were previous staff members, clinic participants, and visitors at NOC. You’d likely also hear that the NOC was instrumental in refining their skillset and in inspiring them to become pioneers in their field.”

From rafting to river rescue, paddling instruction to Olympic competition, this diverse group shares NOC in common. These stories have become the school’s legacy, and this book is an attempt to collect and make sense of them.

But the book also features a very human element, a tinge of adventure that sets it apart from your standard history text. Its stories are testament to the experiential aspect of working at NOC, that ineffable change that has affected so many staff and that forms the basis for outdoor adventure programs. NOC was, and is, a dream; these are the stories of its dreamers.

NOC Stories, compiled by Payson Kennedy edited by Greg Hlavaty, ISBN 978-1-63404-141-6; Available from Menasha Ridge Press, June 2018, $16.95

About the Authors

Payson Kennedy enjoyed a 15-year academic career at Longwood College, Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Illinois, and Georgia Tech. He worked at the new NOC in the summer of 1972 and then began year-round work at the NOC in June 1973. He served at NOC as President and later as CEO, Chairman of the Board, and CPO (Chief Philosophical Officer) until his retirement from full-time work in 1998. He returned to full-time work at NOC as CEO and CPO from 2004 through 2006. While working at NOC, he also guided regularly on six rivers, taught canoeing and kayaking courses, worked as a ropes course instructor, and led extended trips in Central America, the Cayman Islands, and Nepal. Since retiring from full-time work, he has continued to serve on the NOC Board, guide a few trips on the Nantahala River, and enjoy regular bicycling, working in his pond, and continuing to take adventure travel trips.

Greg Hlavaty worked in NOC Rentals for four years. He believes in combining nature experiences with written reflection, and his essays have appeared in various magazines and literary journals, including Arts and Letters, Barrelhouse, Yale Anglers’ Journal, and Bird Watcher’s Digest. He has taught survival skills classes and led outdoor trips in North Carolina and Alaska, and his writing and teaching are founded on the belief that outdoor adventure and nature connection change people for the better. He lives in Graham, NC, with his family. Find his website at or contact him on Twitter @greg_hlavaty.


For review copies or to schedule an interview with the author, contact Tanya Twerdowsky at 205.443.7986 or


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