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Looking back as a kid growing up on the coast of Maine it seems like a natural progression becoming a sea kayaker during my teenage years. Whether it is racing, rolling, surfing, or touring, we have such a diverse coastline you can really get it all. After a few years of guiding and instructing I had grown accustom to the sea kayaking culture and developed a mentality that there is only one true shape of touring kayak. It is 17 feet long, 21 to 22 inches wide, had a day hatch and a skeg; there was no point in purchasing anything else. Since the Jackson Journey doesn’t fit this description, I had initially cast it aside as boat unworthy to paddle.

Fast forward 10 years and I was given this great opportunity to paddle in Tennessee with other Jackson Kayak Exploration team members in and around Chattanooga. On our last day, we had planned a trip led by Samantha Christen down a beautiful 10 to 15-mile section through the Tennessee River Gorge and the boat of the day was the Jackson Journey. I admit I was apprehensive at first because the boat was “not my style”. Just the same, I put a smile on my face, jumped in the water and hoped for the best. Not only was this boat a comfortable fit, it handled very well. It was initially stable, I wasn’t banging my elbows on the boat and without a skeg, it tracked beautifully. I had previous experiences in the Journey playing in current and surf where it did not perform as I had hoped, but now given the opportunity for a second chance I was pleasantly surprised.

I feel very fortunate that I could travel to a new region and paddle “as the locals do”. It has given me the chance to broaden my boating horizons and use the tools I found in another part of the country and adopt some of them back in Maine. My trip in the Journey helped me rethink my limited view of the touring world and has taught me some valuable lessons. I want to share a few of those lessons and my experience with the Journey in comparison to my current paddling style:

• Everyone has their own style. My biggest takeaway from my trip to Tennessee was that my style of sea kayaking does not correlate to rest of the world. Rock hopping, surfing tidal currents, and trying push 30-40 mile days out on the ocean is not for most paddlers. Most paddlers are the folks that want to grab a boat, a lunch and head out to enjoy just being outside. Whether it is seeking a days’ worth of bird watching, natural photography, or the best method to get to their favorite swimming hole; it is all paddling, and it should always be fun.

• The Journey is an ocean ready sea kayak. Now I am not recommending a first timer purchase this boat for 10-day trip with multiple open water crossings. What I can recommend is that if you are the paddler that is accustom to wide rivers or lakes and want a boat that you can spend a day or two island hopping off the coast of Maine; this boat can totally be for you. It has front, rear and day hatches, it is rudder ready and has all the applicable safety rigging you can find in a standard sea kayak.

• This is a GREAT beginner boat. Anyone who is excited about paddling can jump in a Jackson Journey for the first time and feel stable. It is a great transition from your standard recreation boat into the touring and exploration world. For guiding 2-hour and ½ day trips on the Maine coast, I want to start stocking this in my quiver.

• Speed is all relative. It sounds simple I know but it is true. When choosing a boat, I’m initially drawn towards the one that gets me from point A to B faster than the last guy. Once I hopped in the Journey with 4 other folks in Journeys speed became a non-factor. I could enjoy the scenery, a good conversation all while stashing away everything I need for the day. As fun as fast is, I find the more time I can spend in a boat, the happier I become.

• This is a Jackson Kayak. Is this a shameless plug? Absolutely not. The attention to detail in their boats is subtle and to the untrained eye may seem unnecessary, however there are some highlights to this boat I haven’t found in a “standard” sea kayak. Features such as the water bottle holder inside the boat in front of the seat, the standard JK Sure-Lock adjustable back band, and the sweet cheeks. This is a company that pays attention to the paddler and cares so much about their employees you receive only a great product.

– Justin Varney