Many in the kayaking world know David Hughes by name, but few know his story. David spent his childhood on a farm in rural Tennessee where his parents still live today. He comes from a family of preternaturally gifted athletes who were instilled with grit and work ethic from a very young age. David’s relentless drive to succeed combined with his athleticism lead him to become an NCAA Division I wrestler. Soon after graduating college, David was in his first year as a Georgia public school teacher and head wrestling coach when the Georgia Associated Press voted him “Wrestling Coach of the Year.” David continued to find mainstream success through his tireless drive and patient coaching methodology, but he soon became consumed with another passion – whitewater. David quickly realized his talent as a teacher and coach not only transferred to the sport of kayaking – his skills were in demand. David instinctively combined his increasing notoriety as a kayak instructor with his academic background, ultimately leading him to start a traveling high school for kayakers, the New River Academy, which he directed for more than a decade. New River Academy produced 4 World Freestyle Champions and as many Olympians under David’s leadership.

As the founder of Pucón Kayak Hostel (PKH) and Patagonia Study Abroad (PSA), David continues to be active in teaching and coaching kayaking to all ages and ability levels. In addition to managing daily operations at the hostel, David oversees kayak program development and staff training. On most mornings you will find him up with the sun, drinking a cup of fresh drip coffee and leading a custom cross-training workout with guests or students. David is most happy when he is sharing his knowledge and experience with others, which in reality translates to running lots of shuttles, writing blog reports, answering questions, drawing maps, and entertaining guests with tall tales of remote canyons, epic waterfalls, and flawless tango dance moves. David believes that achieving a harmonic work and life balance is the key to happiness, which his infectious optimism makes difficult to dispute.


Version 2It’s hard to get Tosh Arwood to open up about himself — he has a laser-like focus on other people. His stoic selflessness is undoubtedly part of the reason he is so well-liked, respected, and effective in nearly everything he does. An accomplished kayak instructor, Tosh holds numerous certifications in addition to being an ACA Level 5 Advanced Whitewater Kayak Instructor, ACA Level 4 Instructor-Trainer, ACA Level 4 Swiftwater Rescue Instructor, Rescue 3 International Advanced Swiftwater Rescue Technician, and a Wilderness First Responder. But Tosh brings much more to the proverbial table than credentials and experience.

Tosh is rare among kayakers of his caliber in that he has managed to kayak in some of the most sought-after locations in the world while simultaneously running one of the largest and best-known kayak school programs at Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). The level of commitment to professionalism and discipline needed to pull this off is unfathomable for most people, and Tosh makes it look easy. As part of a new partnership between NOC and Pucon Kayak Hostel (PKH), Tosh’s role will include wintering in South America, where he will help manage, lead trips, and teach kayaking for PKH alongside select members of his guide team from NOC.

And reluctant as though he may be to discuss himself or his achievements, if there’s one thing Tosh readily opens up about — it’s Chile. The newly forged NOC-PKH partnership not only provides year-round employment to top-quality paddlesports staff, but it provides Tosh with the opportunity to integrate his passion for instruction with his passion for one of the most extraordinary kayak destinations on the planet. Pucon Kayak Hostel is proud to welcome Tosh to the pristine waters and magical landscape that captured his heart many years ago. We look forward to exploring rivers like the Rio Futaleufu and Rio Claro together, and sharing those experiences with our guests.


kayak_jessiepalguinrace_2013_dh-300x200Jessie Rice Hughes began kayaking at an early age on the Potomac River near Great Falls, VA. Her addiction was immediate and became a driving force in nearly every decision she has made since. An accomplished collegiate athlete and honors student, Jessie believes it is traveling and kayaking that taught her the most valuable lessons she needed to be successful in life. Jessie has worked part-time as a kayak instructor and extreme-race competitor for many years. She has raced in nearly every extreme race in North America, finishing in the top 3 in the Green Race, Homestsake Creek Race, Gore Canyon Race, Great Falls Race, Gorge Games, Russellfork Race, Upper Yough Race, Oh-be-Joyful Race, and Upper Gauley Race.

Today, Jessie is a product developer and information architect with more than fifteen years of experience in the software industry. She is an advocate for improving the lives of underprivileged, disadvantaged, or underserved communities with advanced technology initiatives.  Jessie travels back and forth between Chile and West Virginia throughout the year and continues to kayak and smack-talk about the glory days every chance she gets.


kalob grady_in it to win it at adidas sickline_2015Pucon Kayak Hostel is pleased to announce Kalob Grady will return to Pucon as head kayak coach for Patagonia Study Abroad for the 2016-17 season. Kalob will follow-up his successful first season as head coach this past spring. It will be Kalob’s second time in Chile since 2014 when he participated in Patagonia Study Abroad’s fall program as a student and assistant coach under Olympian Pablo McCandless.

Kalob’s accomplishments since attending PSA have been impressive. He was a returning member of the Canadian Freestyle Kayak Team where he placed 9th on his local feature during the World Freestyle Kayak Competition this past August. Additional success followed quickly when Kalob earned a top 15 finish (out of more than 150 competitors!) at the Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championships in Oetz, Austria. Kalob also placed in the Top 10 at the 2015 North Fork Championships, 1st place overall at the Ottawa XL, and raced to a 1st place finish at the Montreal Eua Vive boatercross, securing a 2nd place overall finish.

Kalob spends his summers eating poutine and kayaking in one of the greatest playboating destinations in the world – the Ottawa River in Canada – where he is an instructor for the Ottawa Kayak School Keeners Program. A new addition to Team Jackson Kayaks, Kalob spent the past offseason on the White Nile in Uganda, where he began training for World’s with members of the Canadian and American National Teams. Kalob also attends University at St. Lawrence College where he is studying a degree in Business Marketing.   

Incoming students will undoubtedly benefit from Kalob’s unique coaching style, which combines technical skills development with newschool panache. Kalob is the product of an open-minded generation of kayakers. He explores new concepts and moves in a systematic, disciplined way. Kalob is both dynamic and poised – whether on a steep creek or big water feature. We’re pretty sure he has superpowers. And we’re just glad to be along for the ride.

If you want to follow Kalob’s journey through Patagonia and read stories about his new class of students, please be sure to like our Facebook page. The new semester starts in October, so look for updates soon. Until then, please join us in welcoming Kalob back to the program!




As an East Tennessee native, Curtis was introduced to whitewater at a young age. Now with two decades of paddling experience, exploring rivers has become one of his greatest passions. Curtis began teaching kayaking with the University of Tennessee Outdoor Program 10 years ago and fell in love with introducing new paddlers to the sport. Curtis is now in his 7th season with the Nantahala Outdoor Center, having joined their prestigious paddling school after gaining extensive rafting experience as their Nolichucky River outpost manager. Paddling school guests have described Curtis as always smiling, inspiring confidence, giving encouraging feedback, and having an upbeat attitude – making him a perfect fit for our team.

As a 6 time consecutive Green River Narrows Race competitor, Curtis’ specialty is technical steep creeks. He still finds time for play boating, SUPing, or going for ‘downtime’ in his squirt boat. Curtis has completed 3 expeditions through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado including one as the Trip Leader for a winter self support kayak trip. Although he now calls Western North Carolina home, paddling continues to take him many places around the country and beyond including Colorado, Idaho, Ecuador. 

Curtis is an NOC Master Guide on 5 rivers and holds certifications as a Wilderness First Responder, Whitewater Rescue Technician, and ACA level 5 Kayak Instructor. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Park and Recreation Management. When not on the river, Curtis can be found exploring other passions such as mountain biking, telemark skiing, photography, and playing bluegrass music.


PKH_RioNevado_MarkTaylor_airslide_2016We love Mark. Really, we do. He’s like a man-child. Our man-child. And love him though we do, he’s in trouble for not sending us his bio yet. I know it’s because he’s busy providing world-class kayak instruction on the Nanthala this summer – I mean – chatting up the ladies and looking for food – I mean – running the Raven’s Fork and Green on the daily because he’s BOSS. 

Mark is the best and you can definitely consider yourself lucky if you find him on one of your trips or as your instructor. He’s tireless, has big muscles, is an incredible kayaker, and can catch a salmon using an empty beer can, some fishing line, and a fly he tied himself from dog hair. I’m serious. But if you’re Mark and you’re reading this – send me your bio or at least call me so I can get the deets. xoxo.