Clay Wright is a professional whitewater kayaker and kayak designer. He designed the signature “Java” creekboat for Perception Kayaks back in the day and works at Jackson Kayak. Clay has competed extensively – 2005 US National Freestyle Champion, World Squirt boat champion. 1st Green Race Winner, 1st descents in 7 states and 5 countries, inventor of the Loop, 5x and current US Freestyle Team member.

Clay is definitely one of the big hitters in the kayak world and it is a huge pleasure to have Clay take part in the 2011 Unsponsored Q&A series.

When and how did you first start paddling?

Did the Hiawassee in a Canoe at 6 then kayak at 7yrs old, that was 1974? My Mom, Aunt, Uncle, and cousins were all in the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association (TSRA paddling club) and so it was just a normal family outing.

What is your current location?

Fayetteville West Virginia – Gauley Season!

What scares you the most?

Injuries and degenerative joint disease … anything that can make me stop kayaking is pretty scary.

What was your biggest hurdle in kayaking when you started out – finding people to paddle with, nailing the third end, lack of rivers etc?

I was such a little kid even for my age that the kayaks didn’t ‘fit’ at all and I couldn’t reach over the side – not to mention carry – half a canoe. Hip pads were a rolled up sleeping pad held with duct tape, my foot-pegs were a broom handle wedged across aluminum brackets in the bow, and my paddle was a 200+ cm aluminum shaft Norse that weighted 2 lbs+. There was no gear for anyone, especially kids, so I wore a wool sweater under my raincoat with a horse-collar PFD…and got really cold every trip.

What has kept you in the sport?

The multifaceted challenges posed by rivers and creeks across the globe…I can travel for 1st D exploration, pick drops I want to experience and hunt them down, train to compete on a world-class level in freestyle / squirt / creek racing, maybe even surf someday. I love moving with water, challenging my understanding of it on tough rapids, using it’s power to launch me up into the air, and adapting my body to make the most of it’s trajectories…. It’s skiing an avalanche, playing a terrain park during an earthquake, and always a powder day.

Given the choice where would want to paddle?

Everywhere! Had a huge list that’s been whittled down over the years, Norway on top but LOVE Mexico and Chile – and they are warmer and cheaper!

What do you dislike most about the competition scene, the industry and media, and what you’d change if you had a blank cheque or God like powers?

I love the competition scene – not the bickering or haggling over scoring etc but the fact that we progress our skills every single year – it keeps it fresh and incredibly challenging when you know someone’s got a new trick and will be using it against you unless you learn it too. This makes so many rivers more fun – even if they don’t have a 10′ wave on them.

Industry media is a slave to advertising and also to the whims of fashion… Freestyle is in, now it’s out. We are for safety but run photos of people without PFD’s on because it’s cool. These guys have awesome boats but don’t advertise so we’ll write a review about an awful boat and say it’s great instead.. since they bought the back cover…

What would I change?

I would learn to breathe water and teach you all. Then build play-parks at every lock, dam, or hydro facility to make access easier for all. If kayaking was even half as accessible as biking imagine how much more fun we could all have!

What kit are you currently using?

I’m in love with my Jackson Kayaks for sure: Hero and Rockstar is the best boats I’ve ever paddled. Gear – I’m in a IR shorty drydeck all summer, just switched to my NRS / MT Surf drydeck for Fall. I love my Astral Willis PFD and can’t say enough about my AT-2 SL paddle – those black shafts are so smooth! Rocking the Head Trips helmet for the cushy foam and styling colors but slide into an FNA full-face when the gradient drops.

Many Thanks Clay!