Remembering Daniel

Editor’s note: Daniel DeLaVergne died March 8 after being hit by a train in a tunnel near Ridgecrest while scouting a location for a video.

It was standing room only at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company on March 10; they couldn’t let anyone else in because of the fire code. The crowd had gathered to mourn the passing of an Asheville celebrity — expedition kayaker/renowned filmmaker/environmental activist/local hero Daniel DeLaVergne.

The event brought together a who’s who of the outdoors and media-arts communities — world-class kayakers and paddlers, the heads of some of the biggest outdoor-recreation companies, and some of the region’s top media artists. People flew in from all over the world to pay their respects to a man who, in his 29 years, had profoundly affected their lives.

“I absolutely love living here; it’s got so much to offer,” Daniel once said about Asheville, adding, “There is really no place I’d rather live.” And coming from a guy who’d traveled to some of the most remote and beautiful places on earth, that was an impressive statement.

One of the world’s most successful extreme-sports videographers, Daniel chose to base his business here. He was well known for co-founding Lunch Video Magazine — the world’s first quarterly white-water video periodical — and as an international leader in white-water cinematography. He brought technology to outdoor sports, enthusiastically developing content for podcasting, video streaming and his quarterly DVD magazines.

To honor Daniel’s passion for filmmaking and related ventures, Asheville’s Media Arts Project is naming a new grant fund after him. The Daniel DeLaVergne Media Arts Advantage Fund, a joint project with AdvantageWest, will seek to foster regional talent by awarding project funding directly to media artists working in or based in Western North Carolina.

In addition, the 48 Hour Film Project will dedicate its Best Cinematography award to his memory. “Daniel had a gift for unique shots and innovative filming techniques, and I hope his name will inspire young filmmakers to be more creative in their cinematography,” notes project director Katie Kasben.

Daniel was also a community leader. He worked with a variety of local groups, including: the Asheville Film Festival, Mountain Sports Festival, Media Arts Project, Asheville Affiliates, and the Asheville Area Arts Council. The film festival is planning a special tribute to him this year, and the Daniel DeLaVergne Spirit Award will be given each year to a filmmaker whose work explores human potential, nature or adventure.

Daniel was known for his generosity, and he repeatedly donated time and materials for silent auctions and other local events. One of his last efforts was supporting the Jerry’s Baddle relay race this spring, in which he was not only a donor but a favored participant. The silent-auction package Daniel gave was the event’s top moneymaker, helping raise more than $17,000 for the Green River Access Fund and for ALS research.

Daniel’s industry connections also boosted the local economy. He was a strong supporter of local white-water companies like Liquidlogic Kayaks (in Saluda, N.C.) and Astral Buoyancy (in Asheville). Daniel also regularly worked and collaborated with local musicians, production companies and crews.

In 2005, Daniel and three other kayakers were named Adventurers of the Year by the National Geographic Society’s Adventure magazine for paddling the 50-mile run of the Stikine River in British Columbia in a fraction of the time it had taken the few others who’d attempted it. He also helped pioneer some of the best extreme kayaking in WNC, such as the annual Green River Race.

“Daniel possessed a sixth sense for whitewater,” recalls fellow expedition-team member John Grace. “He had a unique carnal knowledge, a deeper understanding of river exploration.” But beyond that, adds Grace, “Daniel was an inspiration to me and everyone he came in contact with. His intellect, demeanor and drive set him apart from any person I have ever met.”

An advocate for improved river access, Daniel worked with our local chapter of American Whitewater, produced an environmental blog through his company Penstock Productions, and made a point of riding his bicycle everywhere when he was in town. He also actively supported the young biodiesel industry. Besides shooting and producing a short film on this exciting new alternative fuel, Daniel helped coordinate and promote the Biofuels Education Coalition’s Oil + Water Project and brought it to Asheville. The worldwide tour stages public, youth-oriented demonstrations of a vehicle fueled by vegetable oil in communities far and wide.

A man like Daniel DeLaVergne comes along all too seldom. He was less talk and more action, and he helped Asheville and the surrounding community in so many ways. No wonder he inspired so many people to show their appreciation and admiration at his memorial.

In a city of exceptional beauty and natural resources, a haven for the adventurous in mind and body, Daniel was a perfect fit. He couldn’t conceive of living anywhere else — and we couldn’t imagine having lived here without him.

[Christine Dobson and Alison Watson were dear friends of Daniel’s who miss him very much. Dobson, a freelance marketing specialist, loves to play in WNC’s whitewater rivers. Watson, a producer, serves on the Asheville Film Commission and the Media Arts Project board.]

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