Meet Our Instructors
Founder & Instructor/IT
A long-time resident of Northeast Tennessee, Scott has a deep affection and appreciation for the mountains and rivers of the region that he calls home. A former Army Infantry officer and graduate of Airborne and Ranger schools, he went on to successful corporate careers before deciding to combine his passion for the outdoors with his love of teaching to found NOLI. He is the former Safety and Education Chairperson for the Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts and carries advanced instructor certifications in whitewater kayak and swiftwater rescue through the ACA and ITRA. He is also a Level 5 Instructor Trainer for Swiftwater Rescue and a Level 4 Instructor Trainer for Whitewater Kayaking. He has been instructing for over 15 years, during which time he has taught hundreds of adults, youth and rescue professionals. Additionally, he teaches wilderness survival, wilderness navigation and Leave No Trace.
Kayak & Rescue Instructor
Debbie Briscoe is a native resident of TN and has enjoyed the outdoors most of her life. She started kayaking more than 20 years ago and strives to help others to break into the sport to enjoy it as much as she does. She has been a trip leader for beginner trips and weekend kayak outings with the Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts Club and is currently the Class I-II/ Touring Trip Coordinator. Deb is an ACA Level 3 River Safety and Rescue Instructor and plays a leading role in our flatwater safety classes. In her spare time you can find Deb kayaking, hiking and hammock camping and she enjoys campfire Dutch Oven cooking and multi day kayak camping expeditions.
Canoe & Kayak Instructor
Brad has been drawn to the outdoors since childhood. From playing in the creek behind his childhood home, his interests grew into hiking throughout the Southwest, Grand Canyon, and Colorado Wilderness, technical rock climbing, and whitewater canoeing and kayaking. Being outside has always been a source of renewal, reflection, and recreation. Brad holds a degree in Forestry, and he worked several seasons for the Forest Service in Wilderness and Recreation management. He then made a professional shift and has been in private chiropractic practice since 1999. He is also a second degree black belt and instructor in Aikido, and an ACA certified L3 kayak instructor. As an instructor, Brad enjoys making the complex, simple. Skill progression is built on strong fundamentals!
Minta grew up in the shadow of the Smokies in Knoxville, TN, but has decided to call Johnson City and the surrounding area her new home. Minta has been playing outside and finding rest in the woods from a young age and has a passion for inviting others to safely recreate outdoors with her—because teaching someone else to love and care for what she loves and cares for is fun! Her current mainstays are kayaking on the Nolichucky, open water swimming on Watauga Lake, downhill skiing and ski instructing, and escaping to the Appalachian Trail whenever she can. In 2018, Minta completed a thru hike of the AT as a Trail Chaplain with The United Methodist Church and will happily answer to her trail name, “Blueberry.” When she’s not outdoors, Minta is a second year medical student at ETSU Quillen College of Medicine hoping to pursue a career in primary care working alongside the underserved right here in Appalachia.
Although Rob has been a canoe/kayak camper, backpacker, fisherman and wildlife photographer for most of his adult life, those activities have become even more important over the last 15 years. A former competitive cyclist and trail runner, Rob continues to feed his competitive side by occasionally racing flatwater kayaks. His outdoor volunteer experiences started with habitat improvement workdays for the Nature Conservancy and he has 40 years of experience planning and leading bike and running trips/races, as well as hiking, backpacking, and paddling trips. He believes strongly in encouraging trip participants to explore wild places, to share their collective knowledge, and to improve (and gain confidence in) their skills. When he's not out enjoying the outdoors Rob is the interim chairperson of the Department of Medical Education in the Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.
Jerry Smith has been in the outdoors all of his life hiking, fishing, foraging, and mountain biking. His true passion, however, is whitewater kayaking. After starting as a raft guide in 2015 he quickly transitioned into a kayak and fell in love with whitewater. Jerry has served as the president of Appalachian Paddling Enthusiasts since 2019 and, prior to that, held the safety and education seat. Jerry worked for the city of Elizabethton, Tennessee until 2019 where he served as a firefighter/engineer and quickly found his way to further give back by becoming a wilderness first aid/CPR instructor. Jerry also received his state of TN fire instructor certification and his fire officer certification. Jerry's background gives him a unique perspective and passion for outdoor education. When Jerry isn't instructing for NOLI you can find him on many of the local kayaking runs or mountain bike trails or just walking in the woods. Jerry has been with NOLI since its beginning but had a brief sabbatical in 2021 for personal reasons. He is excited to be back instructing and hopes to be a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about assisting those in need in the wilderness setting.
Although Viki has been canoeing since she was a kid, her most intense period of boating has been since 2012. Since then, canoeing has taken her to the most amazing places: the Southeast’s finest class 3 and 4 creeks, the jungle rivers of Costa Rica, the rivers of the Colorado Rockies and the Middle Fork of the Salmon. She's passionate about sharing the art of canoeing with folks who are just getting started, as well as helping experienced canoeists gain the skills and confidence they need to run harder whitewater and creeks. Teaching, for her, is a way to help create learning experiences for others, to share what she's learned, to honor those who have done the same for her, to grow the sport and to show gratitude for the amazing ways boating has helped shape her life.
Jess fell in love with kayaking while “tubing” during a summer camp activity at Buffalo Mountain Camp in Jonesborough, TN. She thought the leaders in boats were having a lot more fun than she was. So in 8th grade (the first year she was eligible) she signed up for Kayak 1 camp and the rest is history. Thanks to many amazing role models and mentors she was first certified as a kayak instructor at age 18. She worked at camp for 10 years leading river and ropes activities and signing up for any training classes she could find. Seven years in retail after camp meant not much time or energy for outdoor pursuits and all those trainings and certifications lapsed. She made her retail escape in 2018 and is now self-employed, which makes it possible to focus on spending quality time in the water. She re-certified as a level 4 kayak instructor in 2021 and loves to help other people fall in love with whitewater kayaking!
Kayak, SWR & WFA Instructor & ITE
Robin is one of the leading ACA instructors and trainer educators in the country, having taught or mentored countless individuals in paddling and rescue over three decades. He is certified as an instructor trainer educator in swiftwater rescue (level 5), river kayaking (level 5) and prone paddling (level 3); and as an instructor in coastal kayaking (level 2) and canoeing (level 1). He is also certified as a lifeguard. He currently serves as Chair of ACA’s Board of Directors, secretary of ACA’s Safety and Rescue Committee and as a member of the US Coast Guard’s National Boating Safety Advisory Council. Robin lives with his family in Sylva, NC, where he works as a physician assistant for Mountain ENT. His work as a PA allows him to follow his avocation as a paddling and aquatics instructor.
Bill has always been a boater. He built his first boat, a hideously ugly raft, when he was 10 years old, and floated it in a polluted farm pond in Kansas. And loved it. When he found out about kayaking, it was 1979 and it was hard to find kayaks or gear for sale. He didn't know anybody who paddled a kayak so built his own boat out of fiberglass and his paddle out of a two by four and some plywood scraps. His mom sewed a sprayskirt for him and he hit the river. Fun? Oh heck yeah! Safe? Oh heck no. But here is something he found out: the better your skills are, the more fun it is on the water. The more you practice safe boating, the more fun it is to boat. Bill enjoys helping folks learn how to boat safely and well. Fun? Oh heck yeah.
Ryan is from Blountville, TN and started kayaking in the summer of 2007 on the Watauga River. Shortly thereafter he started paddling the Nolichucky river with the Appalachian Paddle Enthusiasts and as his experience progressed he decided he wanted to share his skills with others who were interested in learning how to paddle. So he pursued his Level 4 Whitewater Kayak Instructor certification through the American Canoe Association in 2013 and has been teaching ever since. He's excited to be instructing with NOLI and always looks forward to passing on his skills to new boaters with an emphasis on safety and fun!
Dr. James Luna
Dr. James Luna grew up in east Tennessee enjoying all things outdoors: hunting, fishing, golfing, tennis, biking, canoeing, camping, and hiking. Going to college and medical school in large cities with flat land and muddy water cemented his desire to be in a small town near the mountains. He and his wife of 21 years, Kim, met during residency in NC and later relocated to Montana. After the birth of their first of 5 children, they made the decision to return to TN and moved to Kingsport in 20o2. When they outgrew that house, they moved to a farm on the lower Watauga River in 2012 where they raise cattle, chickens and children. His interests include kayaking, woodworking, blacksmithing, farming, and watching his kids grow. James has been an ER doctor for almost 30 years and enjoys the unpredictable and challenging nature of his job, where no day is the same as the last. He received his MD degree from the University of Tennessee in 1991 and completed his emergency medicine residency at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. He has served as the Director of Emergency Medicine at Holston Valley Medical Center and is currently an attending Emergency Physician at Mountain Home VA in Johnson City, TN. James is the NOLI Medical Director and advises our medical-related courses.