Staff & Board of Directors

The Nantahala Racing Club is led by a volunteer board of directors who are responsible for setting goals and maintaining the integrity of the NRC mission. A small team of paid staff work part-time to support and activate the Board’s initiatives through fundraising, coordinating volunteers, and by taking care of the club’s administration . To keep the costs of participation low, most programs are led by volunteers.


Sam Gaughan

Executive Director Sam Gaughan has been leading Nantahala Racing Club since May 2016. Focussing on building partnerships with other community organizations in Swain and Graham County, Sam’s goal is to increase participation in NRC programs and events while also increasing the variety of activities the club offers.

In addition to his position as the NRC Executive Director, Sam is the Events Manager for the Nantahala Outdoor Center. In what little time he has left, he enjoys paddling, hiking, and exploring the local area.

Zuzana Vanha Montagne

Zuzana Montagne helping with the 2015 Nantahala Kids Club

Membership & Donations Manager Zuzana Vanha Montagne trained and competed for whitewater slalom under the NRC banner from 2004 to 2008, during which time she also helped to coach and mentor younger members. Zuzana has held various positions with NRC, including race director and coach. She continues to volunteer at various NRC programs and events, and especially enjoys helping with the Nantahala Kids Club and the Junior Olympics.

Zuzana lives in Bryson City, NC, with her husband Michael, who is on the NRC Board of Directors. She enjoys kayaking for fun and fitness, and believes that kayaking as an exceptional way to see the world. Zuzana’s longterm vision for NRC is a flourishing community that provides a healthy outlet for kids and adults to play on and off the water, and supports committed athletes pursuing their competitive goals. The vision includes a clubhouse, a van, a coach, and a busy schedule of events for both youth and adult members.

Board of Directors

Steve Zarnowski

Nantahala Racing Club President Steve Zarnowski presides over an event.

President Steve Zarnowski has been a driving force of Nantahala Racing Club since the early 1990’s. His hands-on involvement with the club has ranged from organizing pool-rolling sessions to soliciting sponsorship, driving policy, and acting as club historian.

Steve is perhaps best known for his roll as The Starter at NRC races on the Nantahala. Many notable paddling personalities in the Southeast can brag to have begun their paddling careers in the pool or on the river with Steve.

Lee Leibfarth

Lee Leibfarth, Vice President of the Nantahala Racing Club, paddling the Nantahala

Vice President Lee Leibfarth is a former competitive whitewater slalom kayaker and a four-time National Junior Slalom Team coach. He spent almost a decade serving on the US National Whitewater Slalom Committee, was competition chair for the ACA Dixie Division, and has worked with NRC since 2002.

Lee has been involved in paddling for over 30 years, and still enjoys sharing his passion for kayaking with others. Lee coaches the NRC youth slalom team on the Nantahala and at training camps and races around the country. He lives in Bryson City, NC with his wife, Jean, and daughter, Evy, who trains with the NRC youth slalom team.

Todd Kaderabek

Nantahala Racing Club Treasurer Todd Kaderabek and family

Treasurer Todd Kaderabek lives in Fairview, NC, and works as a realtor with Beverly-Hanks in downtown Asheville. He first became involved with NRC when his son began developing an interest for whitewater slalom. “That initial interest has blossomed into many lifelong friendships for both of us.”

Aside from his responsibilities as Treasurer, Todd volunteers at NRC races and events. His short-term goals for NRC include building on recent growth and balancing the current budget with future goals, hopes and dreams. His long-term vision for NRC is to provide a framework of support and training that will consistently lead to podium positions for NRC athletes.

Juliet Jacobsen Kastorf

Nantahala Racing Club Secretary Juliet Jacobsen Kastorf leading an adventure kayaking trip in Ecuador

Secretary Juliet Jacobsen Kastorf is co-founder of Endless River Adventures, Juliet and an active member and advocate of the local and paddling communities. Business owner, kayak instructor and international guide, as well as enthusiastic slalom boater, Juliet is a champion of youth paddling in the Nantahala Gorge and the Southeast.

Juliet was instrumental in creating the Nantahala Kids Club and continues to be a mentor and Lead Instructor with this flagship NRC community program.

Michael Montagne

Athlete Representative to the Nantahala Racing Club, Michael Montagne surfs it up at Amphitheater on the Tallulah River

Athlete Representative Michael Montagne first discovered paddling playing around in canoes as a kid in Pine Mountain, GA. An accomplished juggler and film connoisseur, Michael also has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, and today runs a handwoven rugs business with his wife, Zuzana.

The list of Michael’s favorite rivers is list too long for this small space, but they include gems from the Smokies of Western North Carolina, as well as others from around the world, including: the Ocoee, Raven Fork, West Prong, Gauley, Marshyandi, and the Grand Canyon. Michael sits on the NRC Facilities and Maintenance committee and enjoys volunteering for NRC races and youth programs.

Chris Hipgrave

Nantahala Racing Club board member Chris Hipgrave

Board Member Chris Hipgrave has a long history of whitewater paddling and racing, having completed multiple descents down the Grand Canyon, and represented the United States in international competition as a member of the US Wildwater Team.

These days, Chris races surfskis: “At 21 ft. long and less than 17″ wide, these things are the fastest craft on the water and a real challenge to paddle, particularly in rough water,” he says.  His vision for the NRC is a sustainable, multi-disciplinary paddlesports club with a heavy focus on the introduction and development of new paddlers, especially youth.

Maria Noakes

Nantahala Racing Club Board Member Maria Noakes enjoying a day on the river with her son

Board Member Maria Noakes first tried kayaking on the wild, wonderful Sun Koshi river of Nepal, and it changed her life forever. “The experiences I have had and continue to have, the people I have met, these constantly fuel my passion for kayaking,” says Noakes. Sharing this passion is a priority for Noakes, who enjoys helping with the Nantahala Kids Club, and is a champion for increase freestyle programming within NRC.

During her tenure with the Board, Maria has also pushed NRC to include more whitewater safety programming. She lives in Bryson City, NC, with her husband, Nick Williams, and two sons, Dominique and Mateo, all of whom also enjoy paddling with the Nantahala Racing Club.

Matt Brandon

Nantahala Racing Club board member Matt Brandon at the Nantahala River

Board member Matt Brandon and his family have been participating in NRC camps, races, and training sessions since they were first introduced to the club in 2013. New to the Board of Directors in 2016, Matt has many goals for NRC in the years to come, including expanding NRC’s reach to major rivers and cities in the southeast and creating more opportunities for kids and families to paddle together, recruiting additional volunteers, and expanding programs for adult paddlers.

Matt lives in Fort Payne, AL, with his wife Christy, and daughters Lili and Susanna. In 2016, he is looking forward to getting out on the water in his own kayak more regularly.

Sam Davis

Nantahala Racing Club Board Member Sam Davis

Board member Sam Davis attended Western Carolina University for his undergraduate and MBA. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® and is a partner at TBH Global Asset Management. Sam, his wife Sharlo, and daughters Avery, Hayden, and Reagan live in Nashville, TN. Family passions include canoeing and kayaking, cycling and playing family games. They love vacationing to the mountains.

Sam is a retired whitewater slalom athlete, and his daughter Avery is now a training athlete. His athletic accomplishments include two-time National Champion, Pan-American Champion and several-time National Team Member. Sam enjoys working with kids and loves the water.

Todd McGinnis

NRC Board Member Todd McGinnis goofing off at the Upper Nantahala

Board Member Todd McGinnis has a long history of involvement in paddlesports in the Southeast. A former president of the Georgia Canoe Association, he is a respected leader and organizer in the whitewater community. An avid paddler himself, you might run into him on the river most weekends out of the year, teaching, playing, or trying to keep up with his daughter, Olivia.

Todd lives with his family in Alpharetta, GA. 2016 is his first year with the Board of Directors, but he has already been involved as a volunteer and wrangler for many years.

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