Whitewater Zombies

A massive toxic waste spill has flooded the creeks and rivers of Transylvania County in North Carolina. Anyone coming into contact with the polluted water exhibits “zombie-like” behavior (pale skin, excessive moaning, eating of human flesh), so authorities are urging people to stay indoors. But the water levels are up, so naturally, kayakers go boating.

That’s the premise of Night of the Living Donkey, the latest film from pro kayakers-cum-movie makers Spencer Cooke and Joey Hall. Several years ago, Spencer Cooke broke new ground in the kayak film industry by helping to create Lunch Video Magazine (LVM), a video-based paddling magazine you could subscribe to and have delivered straight to your home. Today, after selling his share of LVM, Cooke is hoping to shake up the industry yet again by eschewing the standard paddling porn formula with his feature-length movies and giving kayakers what they really want through his new website: free, high-quality paddling movies.

“The same old kayaking movie keeps getting made over and over,” Spencer Cooke says. “All the antics in both videos, including the zombie scenes, are my way of breaking up the formula. To me, without the fun stuff in between the paddling, kayaking videos lose their luster. I do enjoy watching kayaking, don’t get me wrong, but I’d much rather watch some paddler doing some cool rapids, surfing some nice waves, and then see them pull down their pants and sit on a birthday cake.”

Cooke hasn’t filmed that particular scene yet, but he has filmed pro kayakers getting eaten by zombies, a paddler giving a public service announcement while wearing a penguin suit (“Kids, don’t hug strangers. Even if a stranger is wearing a penguin suit, don’t hug him.”), and interviews with the great Heehaw Jones, a fictional “uber pro boater” who is so overwhelmed by his own awesomeness, he’s convinced himself he’s the first kayaker ever to paddle China. Scenes like these are spliced together in Cooke’s two most recent films, Enter the Donkey and Night of the Living Donkey. Long-time LVM boater Chris Gragtmans also helped produce Enter the Donkey. The Donkey films manage to avoid the stale paddling porn formula by infusing kayaking footage with Saturday Night Live-style vignettes. Night of the Living Donkey even includes a thread of plot: zombies are attacking boaters. It is the world’s first kayaking horror film.

“The concept was completely ridiculous, so we had to do it,” Joey Hall says. “A lot of people aren’t gonna get it, and that’s cool. As much as we like entertaining people, we like irritating them just as much. It’s kayaking. It’s supposed to be fun.”

Cooke says the vignettes were as much fun to film as the paddling footage and believes they’ll make a lasting impression on the viewer. “Ask people what they remember about Enter the Donkey or Night of the Living Donkey, and they’ll say Heehaw Jones, penguins, cat whisperer. Even I forget what paddling footage made it in the movies.”

Cooke and Hall wanted to breathe new life into the paddling porn formula with the Donkey series, but Cooke hopes to break entirely new ground with his website Rapid Transit (rapidtransitvideo.com), which hosts short paddling films produced by professional videographers hand-selected by Cooke himself. Forget the shaky paddling films you see on Youtube; Rapid Transit features high-quality shorts produced by some of the best up and coming filmmakers in kayaking. And you get to watch them for free.

“Thanks to our sponsors Mion and Riot, viewers watch nicely produced kayak shorts for nothing,” Cooke says. “Some videos may be two minutes, others may be ten, but they’re all free. You can even get the featured videos onto your iPod if you subscribe to the free video podcast.”

Cooke hopes that by gathering several different producers on one site and eliminating the $25 price tag often associated with paddling films, he can create a new hub for kayaking films and fill a much-needed niche in the industry, just as he did by creating LVM.

“With Rapid Transit I’m doing something completely different than LVM, but it will have just as big of an impact,” Cooke says. “It’s a completely new concept. And let’s face it, if kayaking videos are free, paddlers are interested.”

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