News staff writer

January 28, 2006

If you’re Snowball, Nate Herbeck’s white Persian cat, you could find a dozen crannies within your owner’s bedroom that would offer you solace.

His bed.

His leather-upholstered footrest.

Or the carpet, next to a sock.

But if you’re Snowball, you prefer the cold, metallic surface of Herbeck’s laser printer.

That piece of technology offers you an aerial view of your owner as he works away on his computer.

There, Herbeck has for months, been carefully, tediously piecing together his first commercial film: “Liquid Insanity.”

It’s a film about kayaking. And it’s told in the genre that has described so many kayak films: No story-line or character development. No plot. Very few quotes. Just quick clips of paddlers kayaking off waterfalls and into seething rapids.

Yes. A video collage of kayaking. I know you’ve seen it before.

But Herbeck gives you two or three reasons why you might want to give his debut film a 40-minute look:

It’s as local as you can get. Herbeck filmed nearly all of the shots right here, in the Columbia River Gorge. He shows the after-work runs such as the Class V Little White Salmon and the Green Truss section of the White Salmon at every water level worth putting in on.

The paddlers – Ryan Scott, Heather Herbeck, Todd Anderson – are locals too.

If you’re new to Class V whitewater or the Gorge, this film will serve as a visual guidebook, detailing through dramatic sequences the runs, lines and consequences of the Gorge’s best whitewater.

Heather Herbeck

But the best reason Herbeck gives to watch Liquid Insanity is … his wife, Heather. Halfway through the film, you see her, standing on a snowy cliff-edge at Punchbowl Falls in a black bikini. A second later, she’s falling, legs kicking, nose plugged, 68 feet to the frigid West Fork of the Hood River.

If you’re a seasoned cliff jumper, you won’t like her entry into the water. She falls with her lower body slipping in front of her. But, who could blame her. She’d never jumped off the cliff before. Heck. She’d never jumped off any cliff before.

And because of that, she spends a few unbearable moments in the river, looking for a way out, while Tao Berman, the first to jump, belly-laughs – on film – about her misery.

The second clip that makes this film a local classic is that of Heather kayaking over the 60-foot double falls of the Upper Lewis.

In the clip, you watch the 29-year-old fitness director attempt to scrape her way over to the right side of the 30-foot waterfall, where the deep water is.

But she doesn’t make it.

Instead, gravity thrusts her down and over a rooster-tail rock which catapults her kayak into a front flip.

She lands upside-down in the micro-pool above the second 30-footer.

Not even a second later, she falls off the second falls, head stuck underwater.

What you don’t see is that while she’s trying to roll, she smacks a rock with her head, knocking her unconscious and into a concussion.

The sequence won first place at Immersion Research’s annual and national Big Gun Show competition for the best video footage of carnage.

That earned her a $1,000 check, which is now framed on her and Nate’s bedroom wall.

If you don’t like bikini-clad women jumping off snowy cliffs into frigid rivers or pony-tailed kayakers running double drops upside-down, you’ll probably appreciate the nostaligic perspective of what makes the Gorge one of the best places in the world to be a kayaker.

Herbeck’s film doesn’t feature star paddlers like Tao Berman – from whom he rents his room – or expedition-style first descents, such as those which filmmakers Eric Link and Scott Lindgren feature in their films.

Herbeck’s theme is more nostalgic; sort of a video album of local kayaking and local kayakers.

And he displays that theme at the film’s introduction with rare footage of Celilo Falls, when it still roared.

He acquired this footage by pointing his video camera at the television monitor, while it played the Hood River County Library’s historic film of 40-foot Celilo Falls.

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