Homegrown but well traveled

All in a day’s work: Penstock Productions General Manager John Grace films paddler Toby McDermott on the Green River. photo by Nate Elliot

In a conference room at UNCA, three men in smoking jackets wield brandy glasses and watch a globe spin. They are contemplating nothing less than a first-descent kayaking expedition to a river in Peru. Has the Explorers Club moved its headquarters from New York to Asheville? Not exactly: The men are part of the Penstock Explorers Club, and their trip will be a video shoot for the latest issue of Lunch Video Magazine, a kayaking periodical released on DVD.

Penstock Productions is an Asheville-based multimedia company specializing in video production and marketing, and its roots lie in Southeastern whitewater. When they’re not traveling the world in search of high adventure — filming and photographing every thrilling moment and gorgeous vista along the way — the small posse of Penstock employees is hard at work in the company’s Montford office, editing video and setting the standard in the chaotic world of adventure-sports marketing.

Spencer Cooke and Daniel DeLaVergne founded Penstock in 2000 as a whitewater-events-planning company. Most of those events involved rodeo kayaking, a competition in which paddlers attempt the biggest and most consistent tricks while surfing whitewater waves, or hydraulics. For the first year-and-a-half, the company was primarily a liability shelter for cash-purse kayaking events.

“‘Business plan’ was never part of our vocabulary,” says Cooke. Soon, however, the company began to edit and produce kayaking videos. “Video became my vision, our vision, for Penstock Productions,” Cooke adds.

As two of the nation’s most talented paddlers, Cooke and DeLaVergne knew their subject matter well, and they had access to footage of kayaking at its highest level. The footage would eventually become Lunch Video Magazine, which today is Penstock’s most popular product. Better known as LVM, the DVD magazine is released quarterly. Every three months, subscribers receive a new DVD in the mail, with titles like “How I Spent My Summer Vacation (in 500 Words or Less)” and “Hey Man, Watch This.”

Each issue includes new kayaking footage from around the world alongside special updates and trip reports from such far-flung locations as Norway, British Columbia, Uganda and Tasmania. While endorsing the wandering spirit, LVM never forgets where it came from — every issue includes footage from the Green River (near Saluda, N.C.) and other local class V runs like the Raven Fork (near Cherokee), the Toxaway (near Sapphire) and the Linville River (near Marion).

There is, however, no set formula for an issue of LVM. “If you sit down and watch the videos from issue one through the present,” says Cooke, “you see how it progressed and morphed into something new and different each time.” LVM‘s 20th issue, marking its 5th year of production, premiered last month at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company on Merrimon Avenue, in keeping with long-standing tradition.

Cooke sold his half of Penstock in 2004 to John and Kara Weld of Immersion Research, a Confluence, Pa.-based manufacturer of clothing for kayakers. Through his current business, Effort, Inc., Cooke continues to work in video production, as an athlete and sales representative, and as a photographer.

With Immersion Research handling the accounting and distribution for Penstock, DeLaVergne was able to focus on LVM and other media projects for companies like Thule Roof Racks, Teva Footwear, Liquidlogic Kayaks and the Professional Paddlesports Association.

DeLaVergne died this past March after being struck by a train near Black Mountain. Following the accident, DeLaVergne’s parents and the major sponsors had to grapple with the question of what to do with the company. “There were two options: either dissolve the company, or I would take over and manage [it],” explains John Grace, a longtime collaborator of DeLaVergne’s.

They chose the second option, and Grace now serves as Penstock’s general manager. Ashley Strickland, a 2006 graduate of UNCA’s Multimedia Arts and Sciences program and a Penstock employee since January 2005, decided to remain with the company as brand manager. Penstock employs several other UNCA graduates and current students: Anthony Perrone as project manager, and Matt Woodward and Pat Keller as interns. The company strives to carry on DeLaVergne’s passion for exploring rivers around the world and returning with high-quality video footage to share with less-intrepid paddling enthusiasts.

Penstock also produces feature-length kayaking films, such as Grace’s 2005 offering, The 7 Rivers Expedition. The film tells the story of a group of kayakers trying to paddle all seven of California’s class V multiday river trips within a single summer, a feat that had never been accomplished. The paddling crew included several kayakers who call Asheville home and who credit the rivers of Western North Carolina with making them the world-class athletes they are today.

Last year, Penstock expanded into the touring and sea-kayaking realm with a new quarterly DVD called Kayak Journal. This magazine embraces the same principles as LVM — bringing viewers the latest in paddling destinations and equipment — but it focuses on flatwater. The latest Kayak Journal DVD will be mailed out with the next issue of Canoe & Kayak, a paddle-sports print periodical.

According to Grace, Penstock has big plans for the future. “We are evolving into a broader outdoor-marketing company rather than just a video-production company. And this is really where we find Penstock holds the most value for its clients: We have our finger on the pulse of kayaking.”

[Molly Malone lives in Asheville.]

A river runs through them

To find out more about Penstock Productions, visit www.penstockproductions.net. Subscriptions to Lunch Video Magazine and Kayak Journal are available at www.lvmvideo.com and www.kayakjournal.com, respectively. Penstock Productions DVDs can also be found at Diamond Brand Outdoors (on Charlotte Street in Asheville) and at outfitters across the country.

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