Chattanooga's Samantha Christen is a flatwater kayaker with industry connections worth shaking a paddle at. She is an American Canoe-certified instructor, a member of the Jackson Kayak Exploration Team and a brand ambassador for Accent Paddles, which basically means she gets to travel throughout the Southeast, educating others on the joys of kayaking and repping cool gear.
The clinics she leads include how to kayak camp, how to paddle with one's pet and how to choose among the myriad of kayaking-related gear — a field in which she is a bona fide expert.
Here, Christen recommends some of her favorite pieces of equipment, and also shares what is on her wish list this season.
Favorite boat: Jackson Kayak Journey
Christen describes it as an all-around solid boat, measuring 14 feet and weighing 61 pounds. "It serves me well for solid cardio and sprint/skills workouts, long-mileage days, and days when I simply want to enjoy gandering at the wildlife on slow creeks and tributaries. It is also crazy-fun in the ocean, and — surprise! — the Journey is safety rated up to Class III big water," she says.
Favorite paddle: Accent Air
Christen says it's perfect for the paddler prone to elbow, shoulder or wrist pain. "At 24 ounces, it is currently the lightest injection-molded paddle in the world. It has a high strength-to-weight-ratio carbon shaft, which means it handles anything I can throw at it, even on pushy water," she says.
Favorite PFD: Astral Buoyancy Company's BlueJacket
Bonus: It comes in green, red or blue. "Blue is the model name, not the color," Christen says, though the option to outfit yourself in your favorite color is not why she gives it high marks. One of the features she loves most is its ample organized storage space — internal zippers; water bladder hooks; attachment points for a light, whistle or other gear; and elastic Velcro straps to keep everything in place. "And did I mention that it's comfortable?" she says.
What's on her wish list: Watershed ZipDry bags
These dry bags feature a unique rubber seal that Christen describes as "zip-top on steroids." "Watershed bags are top-notch, and preferred by everyone I know who paddles, especially those who paddle long distances and/or in extreme conditions," she says. "I'm currently in the process of replacing all of my dry bags because they are old and not so dry. My goal is to convert entirely to this brand."
$120-$460, depending on size and style