Just add water. And, in some cases, air.

outside buyers guide
Red Paddle Sport 11’3”. (Red Paddle)

Red Paddle Sport 11'3" ($1,529)

Gear of the Year

The paddleboard industry continues to boom, thanks largely to inflatables. Blow-up boards allow those space-challenged adventurers among us to reach places rarely touched by a paddle, and are no longer too floppy or too bulky to be considered unworthy alternatives. Take Red’s 11-foot-3-inch Sport. Lightweight at 22 pounds, it can handle everything from alpine lakes to open-ocean jaunts. Included battens make it amazingly rigid, more so than any other inflatable we’ve tested. And given that the Sport is a hair under five inches thick, paddlers can keep a low center of gravity, which translates into increased stability. The upshot is you’ll be more confident—one tester calmly cruised the sea-lion-infested waters off California’s central coast in the dark. On the user-friendliness front, Red’s two-barrel pump allowed us to inflate the Sport in about seven minutes. And when the day is done, the board easily burritos up and slips into its roller bag.

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outside buyers guide
Bic Sport Tough-Tec Cross 10’. (Bic Sport)

Bic Sport Tough-Tec Cross 10' ($699)

Best For: Fun and fancy-free flatwater outings.

The Test: Bic’s boards stand out for being nearly indestructible. The company claims that its Tough-Tec construction (a thick layer of polyethylene plastic over watertight EPS foam) can withstand the crushing weight of a small car. We opted not to drive over our board, but bumping the Cross into rocks or crash-landing it on the beach didn’t result in dings. While that brawny frame means more weight than other ten-foot models, the Cross easily floats and turns, handling well in chop and shining on smooth water. The slightly keeled nose helps with tracking and cuts through smaller oncoming waves. For larger paddlers, Bic offers an 11-footer that’s similarly bombproof. SUP yogis: remember to get a full-length deck pad.

The Verdict: An affordable board that can play rough.

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outside buyers guide
Hala Nass 12’6”. (Hala)

Hala Nass 12'6" ($1,499) 

Best For: Convenient all-around performance.

The Test: Another blow-up board that paddles almost exactly like its fiberglass-and-foam counterparts, the Nass carries speed like few other inflatables on the water. The secret? Flexible sheets of ­carbon fiber that boost stiffness and allow the Nass to track gracefully across both choppy oceans and serene lakes. We’d have liked better balance—its six-inch girth sets the paddler pretty high off the water—and all that volume means inflation takes longer than with comparable models, running testers roughly ten minutes. But handy D-rings in the front and back allow for easy loading of gear. Hala also makes a 14-foot model for serious expeditions. 

The Verdict: A ready-for-anything performance board.

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outside buyers guide
Boardworks Verve 11’. (Boardworks)

Boardworks Verve 11' ($1,399)

Best For: Speedy touring for smaller paddlers.

The Test: Despite the push toward specialized shapes, classic touring boards will never go away. The latest offering from last year’s Gear of the Year-winning company is a slimmed-down version aimed at women and smaller paddlers. The Verve’s narrow profile slips through waves, making it excellent for ocean touring and downwind paddling. An elevated foam tail block at the back end of the traction pad allows for agile maneuvering. Four low-profile tie-downs at the nose make packing necessities a breeze. Boardworks’ LiftSUP handle, which pops out of the body for easy pickup while the board is flat, continues to be one of the most comfortable and unobtrusive designs on the market.

The Verdict: A responsive cruiser with plenty of get-up-and-go.

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Travel

The Best Boats of 2017

At some point in the past 20 years, boating got way too serious. Every new model was designed for charging hard in gnarly conditions. Sure, surf kayaks built for aerial maneuvers and creekboats with hulls that plow over waterfalls helped push the sport. But most boaters were left behind. This year we’re giddy to report that the pendulum has swung back to accessibility. Most of the boats we tested had playful designs suitable for intermediate conditions, from Class III whitewater to forgiving beach breaks. Liquidlogic Mullet. (Liquidlogic) Liquidlogic Mullet ($949) The biggest story right now is river play—boats with

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Travel

The Best Women's Swimwear of 2017

Suits of all styles for lounging, surfing, and playing.  Roxy Boheme Life Crop Top (Courtesy Roxy) Roxy Boheme Life Crop Top ($48) and Drop Diamond Mini Bottom ($40) We liked the extra coverage of this halter racerback, which stayed on no matter what we put it through. The knit fabric is comfortable and the style is on-trend, whether you’re bodysurfing or chilling in the hot tub. Buy Top Now Buy Bottoms Now Cynthia Rowley Blue China Print Wetsuit (Courtesy Cynthia Rowley) Cynthia Rowley Blue China Print Wetsuit ($295) It can get nippy in the water, even on hot

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Travel

The Best Surfboards of 2017

We don’t all surf like John John Florence. Most of us need board shapes that are forgiving—more volume here, less rocker there. But you still want one that won’t bog through turns or pearl on takeoff. To that end, these three models nail the delicate blend of performance and usability.  Channel Islands Mini 5'5" (Courtesy Channel Islands) Channel Islands Mini 5'5" ($805) Hands down, the Channel Islands Mini 5'5" was our favorite of the test. It has the speed and drive of a full-bodied fish combined with the rocker and outline of a performance shortboard. That means it works in

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Travel

The Best Surfing Accessories of 2017

Effortlessly cool accessories for a day on the water.  Raen Wiley Rectangular Sunglasses (Courtesy Raen) Raen Wiley Sunglasses ($135) A classic wide silhouette with 100 percent UV protection means you won’t be blinded during a late-afternoon surf check. Buy Now ​ Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax (Courtesy Mr. Zog’s) Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax ($2) Funny name. But good, sticky results. Buy Now ​ FCS Premium Leash (Courtesy FCS) FCS Premium Leash ($27) Surfing at a warm beach sans leash is one of summer’s great pleasures. But if you must tether your stick to your leg, FCS’s seven-millimeter Premium is great for everyday use.

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Travel

The Best Fly-Fishing Tools of 2017

Snag that monster brown you’ve been chasing.  Orvis Battenkill III Disc reel. (Orvis) Orvis Battenkill III Disc Reel ($169) You could blow a mortgage payment on a high-end reel, or you could get the Battenkill. This updated classic has a drag that can haul big rainbows from the Rio Grande. Buy Now Voormi River Run hoodie. (Voormi) Voormi River Run Hoodie ($129) Weather changes fast on the water, so you need versatile apparel. Voormi’s American wool is so breathable, we wore the River Run with the hood up and sleeves down and didn’t roast. Buy Now   Fishpond

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