Ultra Classic: the Wayne Gentry Interview

At the 1991 Gauley Festival Wayne Gentry released Green Summer, his first whitewater film. While Bob Benner called Gorilla “the most bodacious rapid ever run by the elite eastern hairheads” in his book Carolina Whitewater, Gentry and his crew were dropping some of the biggest whitewater on the East Coast, Gorilla included, on a regular basis. Gentry followed Green Summer with four more audacious movies that helped push whitewater paddling to the next level. Site Zed recently caught up with Gentry for a phone interview. He spoke in the soft, understated Southern accent that his videos are known for. He is releasing all his films on his YouTube channel.

SZ: How many films did you make?

WG: Five. Green Summer was first then Southern Fried Creekin’, Plunge, Vertical Addiction, and Creekin’ in the USA.

SZ: Were they all filmed in the Southeast?

WG: Creekin’ in the USA was filmed all over the country. It was ninety minutes, a bit of an overreach, and filmed from the Southeast all the way to Alaska.

SZ: What kind of video equipment were you using?

WG: We were using Super VHS. It was a Best Buy camera. I just happened to get one for Christmas so I thought I would try it out on the river. We went up and shot on the Green some. I put it together for our friends pretty much. Everybody said, “Man you should put that out.” So we took it up to the Gauley Festival in 1991. We edited with two VCRs with nothing in between them. It was pretty primitive. After that I bought some high end cameras. I would usually burn one or two cameras per film, getting them wet and whatnot. We used the old Man of Rubber drybags. I would just stick them between my legs. As we went along I improved my equipment a little. I had an Avionex  mixer first and then a Panasonic mixer. We never had any computers. They were outrageously priced. The Panasonic mixer was around 1700 bucks I guess. That was the most we spent on equipment.

SZ: Did you have any sponsorship money?

WG: No sponsorship at all, it was all just whatever I made from the last film and whatever was left out of my paycheck. I never made anything off the videos. But that really was not the reason for doing it. It was just fun.

SZ: How many sold?

WG: I’m not sure. It seems like I sold about 1200 Vertical Addiction. That and Southern Fried Creekin’ were probably the two most popular. They sold as far away as Japan. That was pretty amazing.

SZ: What was the scene at the Green? How many people were running it consistently?

WG: Not many. Two or three groups were out there regularly. Tom Visinius and that group from NOC. Woody was always there. He fell in love with the place and he’s still there today. Maybe 25 or 30 people max.

SZ: What was the class V community in general like?

WG: It was a good time jumping in and out of local paddling cliques. Everyone was your best friend. I will never forget going to West Virginia with Roger Zbel and those guys. It was like you had known them for awhile and they were very welcoming. When I did Creekin in the USA people were just as friendly as they could be. Just like, “You are one of us.” Traveling around the country there was no difference in the way people treated us. Everybody was just a part of the family. Especially in the South. There was the Chattanooga crew, the Chatooga crew. It seemed like everybody got along. I don’t know of any conflicts ever. There was some competition of course, people trying to do new runs and whatnot, but there was never any viciousness. Everybody got along real well. It was a lot of fun hanging out with all of them. There were differences in the groups. Woody, Psycho, and the North Carolina crew were different from the Chattanooga crew. The North Carolina group was a little more laid back, cutting up all the time. Psycho was always coming up with something. The Tennessee crew (Tracy Clapp, Clay Wright and those guys) were serious hard chargers. They were pushing hard over there.

SZ: I remember watching Vertical Addiction the first time and thinking, “Holy shit. I can’t believe people do this.” It was way out on the fringe.

WG: Yeah at the time Bear Creek was a really hard run, very difficult. It kept coming at you. A lot of times I was on somebodys tail and they would say “All right. Go down to this rock and take a left then catch the eddy behind the rock on the right.” I had to get good at interpreting what they meant really quick because I was trying to film runs I had never been on before. Thankfully those guys were good at giving instructions as far as how to get set up before they came through. There was some pretty intense stuff over there. And Russ Kulmar and Kent Wiginton were charging pretty hard over on the North Carolina side too.

SZ: You are behind the camera for the most part. Were you paddling all that stuff?

WG: Yeah. With Green Summer I said, “I’m not going to put myself in here at all.” I just felt self-conscious about putting out a video to say, “Look how good I am.” The purpose of the video was to show off the Green and the people that were doing this top end stuff. I put myself in a few just to kind of say I was there. But I have never been one for self promotion. I did not want to be the focal point of everything. I wanted the rivers and the other paddlers to be the ones who got the credit. It was just a personal thing. I didn’t want people thinking I was just out there showing off, trying to show everyone what a great paddler I am.

SZ: Were you on the all the trips? Some of that stuff, like the Toxaway and Whitewater, was on the extreme edge of what was considered runnable.

WG: Several of them I was. Sometimes I wasn’t just because I had a nine to five job and catching the water was difficult. Plus Kent and Russ kind of liked to sneak off and not tell people where they were going and that type of thing. They are great people. Some of that stuff I was not on. A lot of Creekin’ in the USA I was not there for because I couldn’t  get all over the country. I had people from West Virginia shoot some of that. I did as much as I could. They would call me from Chattanooga Wednesday night and say, “It’s raining like crazy up here we think Bear will be running tomorrow.” I would call in the next day and say, “I got to take the day off.”

SZ: What were you doing for work at the time?

WG: Computer programming.

SZ: Where were you living?

WG: I lived in the Atlanta area so I was driving a lot.

SZ: What was it like chasing water back then?

WG: It was pretty difficult. When we were doing Vertical Addiction we had a list of creeks we wanted to get. And the Chattanooga guys would call me to tell me, “We think it is going to be in tomorrow.” Usually they were right on. So it was just that and watching the weather on the TV. That’s all we had to go by.

SZ: How did you know each other?

WG: A lot of us knew each other from the Ocoee. That’s where everybody got to know each other. During the summer everyone would tend to migrate over there. That’s where I met Woody for the first time. It was a central spot and we would just kind of go from there.

SZ: What roll do you think your films played in the progression of creekboating?

WG: I’m a little blown away that people still even care compared to the stuff they are doing today. I never really thought about it much. A lot of people have told me that the videos were a big influence on them which makes me feel really good. Without them saying that I never thought much about it.

SZ: There is a whole generation of paddlers that are around 40 now that grew up watching those and it kind of showed us what was out there. Those videos planted the seed.

WG: One reason we made the movies was just to show everybody what was out there and how awesome and beautiful those creeks and rivers were. We were the only people who could get in there. That was the main purpose, but it does make me feel good that people saw that and it inspired them to push harder and do the things they are doing today.

SZ: Are you still boating?

WG: I am paddling some. I am hoping to retire in a couple years and I am trying to get back into it. We had six kids so we were pretty busy for awhile. The four oldest are grown, so we just have two little ones now.

SZ: Do they paddle?

WG: I have one son who really likes it. He paddles a good bit. We go out together four or five times a year.

SZ: What do you think about GoPro?

WG: I can tell you I used to dream of a remote control helicopter with a camera and now drones are everywhere. Same with GoPro. I used to think, “How can I get a camera on my helmet”. I like the footage. Sometimes I think it’s better from the bank but it does give a good perspective. I wish we would of had them when I was filming. I would have giving anything for something like that. We were using big cameras with four or five batteries and tapes. It was pretty heavy, a good fifteen pounds when all was said and done.

SZ: Do you have plans to release the other videos?

WG: I hope to release Plunge next week. I want all of them out there. They need to be somewhere other than my basement. That old VHS tape does not last forever.

By Adam Herzog

Adam Herzog is a fun hog based out of Asheville, NC. When he's not on a trail or river he can be found stuck in traffic.

3 replies on “Ultra Classic: the Wayne Gentry Interview”

Thanks for catching up with Wayne! Video changed the sport in a way photos never could. You got to see the approach, the strokes, the angles and impacts.. I used ww videos like a school textbook of creeking technique, like I still do today.

Nasal dushe! Yall remember that line? What about “when it starts to rain you know what I’ll be thinkin’, gonna quit my job and go and do some creekin'”? Wayne’s videos were great. They are as important to kayaking as “The Search For Animal Chin” is to skateboarding. That’s saying a lot. Thank you for spreading the stoke!

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