Just Add Water
This year's best new whitewater boats and sea kayaks don't so much break the mold as perfect it. Some excel in specific conditionslike throwing tricks at the local whitewater park, or nimbly exploring sea caves with weeks of supplies on board. Others, like Current Designs' Willow and this year's Gear of the Year winner, Jackson Kayak's Fun, manage an even more impressive feat: They'll put a smile on your face regardless of where you are on the water.
Jackson Kayak Fun (54 gal) $995 jacksonkayak.com
1. Jackson Kayak rolled out 11 models this yearmore than all the other domestic boatmakers combined. But our favorite was the completely redesigned 54-gallon Fun, which somehow manages to be a comfy, low-maintenance playboat that's no slouch on performance: It won last year's World Cup.
2. Most boat plugs these days are shaped by computers. Because Jackson's foam plugs are shaped by hand, the Fun's lines are a bit softer, with few sharp edges to catch water and flip you upside down. On eddy lines on the Colorado River, the Fun was as easy to spin flat as it was to take vertical.
3. The Fun's surf-optimized hull is, well, fun. It strikes the ideal balance between slippery and tippy, thanks to a seven-eighths-inch drop chine (the rise of the micro-stairstep between the rail and the planing surface). The boat released easily for spins on small waves on the Arkansas River.
4. The no-hassle fit is a godsend. The cockpit features an air-bladder system (called Happy Feet and Sweet Cheeks, no less). Result: Instead of having to tediously shape foam and adjust straps to achieve the perfect fit, it takes only a few puffs of air to snugly mold the boat to your body.
5. At six feet three inches, the Fun is stubby enough for big aerial loops. But owing to its lengthened waterline and water-shedding, inverted-V-shaped deck, it's plenty stable to take downriver. Plus, like all of Jackson's new performance boats, the Fun is made out of 100 percent recyclable cross-link plastic.