In 22 years of kayaking I have come along way from my wild water bucket helmet, ribbed panel life jacket, borrowed kayak and paddle and a funky thick wetsuit. Looking back to be completely honest I loved that gear. That gear was awesome. It was my gear. It was warm, it kept me safe and more than anything it meant I could join my friends out on the rivers around Yorkshire two or three times a week paddling.

But now 23 years later I look at the gear I now have and wow I couldn’t be more impressed. I have been lucky to be sponsored by several major kayaking companies for many years but I am also lucky to be in a position where I can and have chosen to paddle exactly the gear I want. So here it is my ultimate paddling gear list for 2020.

Helmet – Sweet strutter and rocker (half cut and full face). Custom paint work by Wayne at Advanced Airbrush, Sydney. I also still own my original Sweet Holy Diver which is an incredible helmet although I do still have the scars on my fingers from its super sharp peak!

Pfd / BA – Peak UK custom racer pro – for freestyle this vest is perfect, super lightweight, comfy, sits low so doesn’t interfere on tricks and if I need it to it floats.

Peak U.K. River guide vest – again slimline and super comfy, this BA has added storage space, great size pockets, easy to access knife pocket, add on carry shoulder pads and a rescue belt. It’s funky side strapping system takes a second or two to adjust when you put it on but then once it’s done your set and don’t have millions of random dangling straps.

Peak U.K. – Drydecks. You can’t beat these for comfort and style. Used hard (3-4 times a week) they last you a full season. You can custom them completely which is also an added bonus. But it’s the shape and freedom of movement that really make these my gear of choice. I can’t stress enough how comfy and how much freedom you have in these cag decks.

Shorts – any funky blue board shorts are perfect. Preferably with a side pocket (not a butt pocket) so I can keep my sunblock lip and face stick close. Knee length, quick to dry and lightweight. You will see me in these one and off the water they are my go to item of clothing.

Shoes – Astral Loyaks these shoes are insane I discovered them a year or two ago and was honestly shocked. Decent comfy water shoes that have a good sole but that is flexible enough to comfortably fit in a play boat and that don’t instantly wear out and has enough sole that you don’t feel every rock.

Paddles – Since 2007 I have paddled with British made Mitchell Blades. I have used a number of their designs but my favourites are there Nemesis full carbon cranks. I mostly use their 2 piece splits as they are so easy to travel with and still super strong on the water. They can also easily be extended from short for playboating too long for creek boating which means one paddle does everything and you can set exactly your own feather of choice. These are incredible paddles and I would highly recommend them to anyone. My paddle length of choice is 191cm for freestyle and 194cm for river running. My feather of choice is 30 degrees for all my paddles.

I also have a set of hand made (out of a barrel by Steve O’Kefe) plastic hand paddles and an absolutely beautiful set of custom hand crafted Jimi Stixs (by Jim Snyder). With custom vaneer graphics (by the late Taiki Sugawara) for squirt boating that complete my paddle collection.

Boats – playboating. I have been with Jackson kayak since 2009 and absolutely love their range of play boats. I currently paddle a Murky Water composite small+ Rock Star and a Jackson Kayak Abyss small Rock Star 4.0 which I absolutely love. The ability to switch between carbon and plastic is awesome so is the easy outfitting which means even when I am travelling I can just jump in the same boat anywhere in the world and within seconds have it outfitted perfectly and be ready to throw down.

Boats – River running and coaching. I love the medium JK Zen & the Nirvana. They are both super fast and responsive and with all the volume I need for the runs I like. Plenty of space for all my rescue gear, camera and snacks and great edges that allow you to move around the river with ease when and however you like. This coming season I can’t wait to get into the Zen 3.0 it looks amazing. I can’t wait to get hold of one and test it out.

Squirt Boat – My murky water Slip is amazing. Such a good mystery boat that is also incredible for flat water. My super low cut means it’s not suitable for river running but that’s ok as I’m a park and play squirt boater for sure. As my results have shown this is the best boat for me. I love absolutely love it.

Extras

Nose clip : Smileys this is my must have extra piece of gear. I started as a non nose clip paddler but for the last 15 years + this has made such a difference in my paddling letting me concentrate all my energies on my performance and less on trying to keep water from entering my head.

Elbow pads : I literally don’t paddle anywhere without my super comfy, flexi and effective G Form elbow pads. These have been part of main paddling gear since 2012 and are vital at keeping me performing at my best. One small knock to my elbow can destroy a full weeks paddle so these super comfy and flexible elbow pads allow me to train hard and make mistakes without having to deal with the pain and discomfort of an elbow hit. What’s awesome is they are so lightweight you don’t even feel like your wearing anything. Would I wear them for a major creek? I’m not sure, I would probably put a set of hard shell elbow pads on then but for general river running, easy everyday creeking, river running, surfing and freestyle they are perfect.

Thrusters – Jackson kayak happy seat and thruster combo : the JK happy seat system is awesome. The extra control it gives to my paddling is insane. Being able to use my thighs as well as knees and hips to control the boats edges makes a massive difference to the performance of my boat. Plus the extra pop you get from a thruster is awesome. I personally trim the Velcro straps down on the happy seat so they are about 8-10cm long so there is just enough there to hold it in place but not a lot of excess floating around and so if I ever needed too I could remove it and exit my boat without any issues. I have used the JK thruster too but currently use a space hopper called ‘Charlie’. The main reason I use the space hopper rather than the thruster is it’s blue and has a funky face on it which make me smile every time I paddle. If you do use a space hopper / beach ball please be super careful and make sure you can easily remove it in an emergency. Both quickly and with just one hand. Safety first – big air and control second.

Footrests – Jackson kayak booster seat pads and foam footrest : I really like foam I find it a lot more responsive than some of the other systems and so easy to shape. Also the foam seat pads are super lightweight and easily add that little boost to give me the extra control I need.

Ear plugs – Surf Plug ear plugs : I have been an advocate for ear plugs for many many years after seeing several friend go through the painful process of having their surfers ears drilled out. I always wear my earplugs. Pool sessions, flat water, surf, squirt, freestyle, creeks. I use my super dooper custom moulded ones for freestyle and surf as they are so effective and keep everything out. Then I have doc pro plugs which I use for coaching and river running where I need the balance between being able to hear and keeping the water out. So I generally have two sets hanging off my helmet plus a spare set in my kit bag. Surfers Ear is not cool!!! Neither are ear Infections and such a simple bit of kit can prevent both. It’s really worth the investment.

Sunscreen – Jason Tree – Factor 50 sunblock face stick. My lips and face have taken a lot of abuse over the years from being on the water so much. About 5 years ago I came across the Jason tree sun screen range and fell in love with their sunblock factor 50 face stick.
It goes on quite thick but is skin colour so no one can really tell you have it on but the protection it gives is amazing and it lasts for hours. Plus is smells good and even tastes ok so is perfect for protecting your face and for saving your lips from sunburn and blisters. It’s also the perfect size to fit in a PFD and is not to expensive.

Throwline – Peak UK Throwbag. Perfect for the river and an essential piece of kit. Wether it’s the 20m or 25m make sure you have a well kept, good condition, long throw rope. This is literally a life line that may well save you or the friends you paddle with. Don’t underestimate the importance of safety gear and professional rescue training out on the river.

Astral Dyneema Throw Rope – is perfect for in the back of my play boat. Super lightweight, small and compact. This is ideal for play situations wether on a man made courses or relatively safe river runs where you don’t want to carry the weight of a full throw bag. This compact throw bag is awesome.

River Knife – Gerber Ez Out River Folding Knife: This knife has been an essential part of my kit since 2004! So simple and easy to use and with the Gerber quality guarantee I can’t recommend it enough. You never know when you’ll need a rescue knife but I can guarantee when you do you won’t have time to think about it. Slalom lines on a white water course are as dangerous as fishing line on a river. Invest now in a knife you can trust and carry it always.

Kit / Gear Bag – Alpkit – Dry Dock 50. Everything I need for kayaking fits perfectly into my Dry Dock 50. A semi dry bag made from dry bag material it keeps your gear dry on the way to the river and your car dry on the way home. The only thing that’s not dry is the zip system. It’s easy to carry as a duffel or back pack which is perfect when your kit is heavy and soaking wet. With a small pocket on the front for spare nose clips, ear plugs, cash and snacks. I can’t say how amazing this bag is, making traveling easy and keeping everything together and safe.

So this completes my ‘what’s what!’ to my collection of gear that will be taking me on adventures all over the world in 2020. The result of well over 20 years experience, extensive testing and research in the river environment. I hope you find your perfect kit that allows you to maximise on fun whilst staying safe and comfortable out on the rivers.

Claire O