For Devon Barker, a world-class surf and whitewater kayaker from McCall, Idaho, you could say that kayaking is in her blood. She is, after all, the progeny of the founders of Barker River Trips, a rafting company based in Lewiston. Barker always loved being on the river, but she didn’t start kayaking until her sophomore year of high school, when her older brothers handed down some used gear. “I fell in love with it immediately,” she says. “I love the ease of it-you can just go.”
Barker was a full-time school teacher in Nez Perce, ID, until she met some traveling members of the U.S. Kayak team at one of her local playboat spots, where kayakers congregate to paddle repeat rides on a single feature or group of features, rather than running the whole river. She joined up with another female amateur, took a leave of absence from her teaching job, and gave herself a year to make the national team. Seven years, two national championships, one world championship, and a handful of assorted accolades later, she’s traveling the world as a champion kayaker and youth mentor.
Kayak: Jackson Kayak’s Star model. “It’s pink, to make sure people know I’m a girl while I’m out there.” It’s the first kayak made specifically for shorter women paddlers, designed by Mr. Jackson himself for his daughter. “I like that I get to look girly out there because I hope it gives other girls, who might have been intimidated by all the guys in a competition, the chance to say, ‘if she’s out there doing it, maybe I can, too.'”
Paddle: Warner Carbon Kevlar Double Diamond paddle. “I used to have a lot of aches and pains from using a paddle with too large a shaft diameter,” she says, but Warner’s small shaft paddle has alleviated the problem.
Helmet: “A glitter helmet from Grateful Heads. It’s called the Edge, and they make them custom for us in any color we want,” Barker says. Hers is sparkly blue.
In colder weather, she also uses the Mystery Helmet Liner from Northwest River Supply. “It’s like a swim cap but made of the special NRS mystery material so it’s incredibly warm.”
Clothing: “The very best piece of gear I have is my dry top,” she says. “It’s the first one I’ve had where the arms are the right length and the torso fits.” She wears the Flux by Northwest River Supply. “It’s designed really well, in addition to the fact that it keeps you completely dry.” Northwest River Supply makes most of Barker’s paddling attire. “They were huge supporters of me from the beginning and they continue to be huge supporters as well,” she says. A Moscow, Idaho company, NRS saw potential in Barker even before she’d entered a single competition. Now, she gives them feedback on how to improve their gear, and the women’s kayak outfitting market in general. “We’re working on getting women-specific skirts,” says Barker. Included in her NRS wardrobe are several pieces from the Wavelite line, the Hydro Silk Rash Guard, a dry suit, and splash pants.
Gloves: Mambos for cold weather. They look like mittens but they attach to the paddle so as to allow skin to shaft contact while keeping the hands warm. “It’s amazing how far gear has come-you can paddle all the time and be warm, even in the dead of winter,” she says.
Life jacket: In competitions, Barker had been wearing the Lola life jacket by Patagonia, but for her recent trips to the Nile, the Quebec River, and the swollen local Idaho rivers, she donned the P. Vest, which has more float to it.
Sunglasses: Smith Optics. “They make quite a few models that fit under my helmet, which is really key in a sport where you have so much glare from the water.” Barker prefers the Sequel model for paddling, and the Method model for lounging around the river.
Gadgets: Her Sony 3chip video camera. “I record up to an hour a day for video analysis.”
The one thing she hates kayaking without? Nose and ear plugs. “You definitely don’t have to have them, but they’re so helpful for your overall health.”