Versatility is the name of the game.


stand up paddleboards
(Courtesy Surftech)

Surftech Aleka 11'2" ($1,349)

Surftech’s Aleka takes home our Gear of the Year award for one deceptively simple reason: in nearly all conditions, it shone. Designed for SUPers focused on fitness, it’s lightweight, it’s durable, and it held its own on distance outings, through choppy short trips, and in small waves off the Northern California coast. The Aleka was shaped by legendary board designer Joe Bark and built with Surftech’s combination of interior foam and exterior fiberglass and bamboo layers. With a 29-inch waist, it’s not as stable as some river-focused boards or the multi-person designs we tested, but it achieved a near perfect balance of steadiness, glide, and responsiveness. It doesn’t hurt that it’s poppy and fun to paddle. In surf at the mouth of the Eel River on California’s wild north coast, the Aleka accelerated quickly and caught waves with ease. Rocker in the nose helped avoid pearling in steep shore break, and the board was quick to maneuver. It’s on the lighter side (23.5 pounds) for a rigid 11-footer, and that adds to the nimble feeling. Though the deck pad doesn’t reach the nose (sorry, no hanging ten), there’s enough coverage for the necessary footwork. Surftech uses bio-based epoxy and algae-based foam in the pad, and the smooth texture is comfy on bare feet. Overall, the build and aesthetic remind us that SUP design is very much about the little things.

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stand up paddleboards
(Courtesy Red)

Red Voyager Tandem 15' MSL ($1,999)

Best group vessel

Multi-person paddling is fun! The Tandem—dubbed the station wagon of SUPs by testers—is a 15-foot inflatable that easily carries two or three people plus a pile of gear. Cruising the waters of Lake Tahoe with a few testers on board, the Tandem’s 34-inch width was surprisingly quick to paddle, and its eight-inch deck height kept gear above water in chop. Inflating the board required an efficient eight minutes, and testers appreciated the gear tie-downs at the nose and near the middle of the board. “It’s like road-tripping, but on the water,” said one.

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stand up paddleboards
(Courtesy Jimmy Styks)

Jimmy Styks Strider 12’6” ($749)

Best inflatable

Blow-up SUPs are becoming more popular by the minute, and the Strider is a standout in the category. It’s light at 22 pounds and has five inches of rocker. Testers said the stiff Strider had no trouble popping over waves without sacrificing tracking in calm water, and its medium 30-inch width helped it glide well. We also liked the easy-to-install fin, a standard feature on Strider boards for 2018, which locks in place without tools. The Strider is less expensive than some similar boards we tested—an impressive feat, given the solid construction and high-quality materials.

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Fitness

The Best Pedal-Powered Boats of 2018

Hobie dropped the first pedal-driven kayak back in 1997, but it was 15 years before we took the technology seriously. When we finally placed one of the boats in our test rotation, we were blown away by how capable it turned out to be compared with most recreational craft. Hobie’s patent ran out last year, and competing designs have started to enter the market. (Courtesy Jackson Kayak) Jackson Kayak Cruise FD ($2,399) Jackson Kayak’s Cruise FD rips on Class I and II whitewater, thanks to a sharply cut, rockered bow and best-in-category turning radius. Buy Now (Courtesy Wilderness

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Fitness

The Best Fly-Fishing Rods of 2018

Walk softly and carry the right stick. (Courtesy Sage) Sage Salt HD ($950) The splurge Permit at 70 feet, 20 mph headwinds, guide screaming in your ear. What do you want in your hand? The Salt HD. Sage tweaked the composite of its already whippy Konnetic rod technology to transfer energy more efficiently, for faster casting. Sure it’s expensive. But do you really want to miss your shot? Buy Now (Courtesy Scott) Scott G ($845) The multitool Scott’s G series can do it all, and the company updated it in 2017 with new tapers and lighter materials. The rod is fast

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Fitness

The Best Boardshorts of 2018

Wherever the waves take you, you’re covered. (Courtesy Columbia) Columbia Blue Magic ($40) These shorts are fun and functional. The fabric is a solid color when dry, but get it wet and a pattern appears. Gimmicks aside, Columbia’s shorts were the lightest we tested. They’re also exceptionally ­versatile, offering excellent mobility and UPF 50 protection—a good choice for long days on the river or at the beach. Buy Now (Courtesy United by Blue) United by Blue Seabed Scallop ($68) Three pockets give these shorts the most carrying options of the bunch. The ladder-lock drawstring keeps the waistband snug, and

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Fitness

The Best Women’s Swimsuits of 2018

Swimwear that exudes style and capability. (Courtesy Patagonia) Patagonia Women’s Nanogrip Nireta Top and Bottom ($75 and $69) The Nanogrip offers support for athletes who like to be on the move, whether it’s playing beach volleyball or paddleboarding rapids. The high-neck top and bikini bottom have a slip-resistant lining that keeps each piece in place no matter what you throw at it, and the red print really pops. Top Bottom (Inga Hendrickson) Seafolly Jagged Geo Action-Back Tri Top and Multi-Strap Hipster Bottom ($92 and $90) This company, based in Sydney, Australia, knows what it’s doing. The suit’s bold geometric design

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Fitness

The Best Surfboards of 2018

It’s south-swell season. Make sure you have the right board. (Courtesy Superbrand) Superbrand Siamese Twin ($705) The modern fish isn’t new—credit the 1997 film 5'5" x 19¼" with reinvigorating the quick and stubby design. But it could be hard to surf if your name wasn’t Wardo, AI, or Corey Lopez. Enter the Superbrand Siamese Twin, which blends a fishy outline with high-performance rails and a four-channel bottom. The result catches waves easily and skips down the line, but won’t bog or slide out through bottom turns or mid-face wraps. It’s a playful small-wave board for the masses. Buy Now

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Fitness

The Best Sun Protection Gear of 2018

Because sometimes you don’t want to catch some rays. (Courtesy Nau) Nau Twisted Long Sleeve Shirt ($115) This wears like your favorite breezy cotton button-front, but with fabric that includes built-in sun protection and an ultralong cut that blocks rays from easy-to-miss areas. Men's Women's (Courtesy Electric Stacker) Electric Stacker Ohm+ Sunglasses ($180 and up) When it comes to eye protection, go big or go home. The Stacker’s removable side blinders cut peripheral glare and shield you from wind and sand, while the oversize lenses reduce brightness on both land and sea. Buy Now (Courtesy Avasol) Avasol Surfer’s Barrier

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Fitness

The Best Hawaiian Shirts of 2018

Vintage aloha style gets technical. (Courtesy Patagonia) Patagonia Pataloha ($119) The Pataloha performs well with soft organic cotton, a comfortable athletic fit, and buttons made from coconut. (Hey, they’re cute!) The bright patterns are just short of outlandish. Buy Now​​​​​​ (Courtesy California Cowboy) California Cowboy High Water Tropic ($135) The High Water is the hunting vest of Hawaiian wear, with a specialized pocket to stash your beer and a water-resistant slot for your phone. Our favorite part: the bottle opener tucked discreetly into the hem. Buy Now (Courtesy Reyn Spooner) Reyn Spooner Ino Kai ($108) Honolulu-based Reyn Spooner makes a

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Fitness

The Best Water Shoes of 2018

Slip-ons and lace-ups for your soggiest adventures. (Courtesy Hari Mari) Hari Mari Dune ($45) Softer and more flexible than many of its rivals, the Dune babies your feet with cushy rubber and a memory-foam post that won’t dig between toes. But don’t let the creature comforts fool you: thanks to a heavily siped outsole, footing was steady atop paddleboards and slippery rocks. Men's Women's (Courtesy Astral) Astral Loyak ($85) The handsome canvas upper may give the Loyak a shot of street style, but there are performance chops here, too. The stretchy mesh tongue and forefoot expedite evaporation, should water rise

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Fitness

The Best Water Accessories of 2018

Tried and true gear for river, lake, and ocean play. (Courtesy Buff) Buff UV Multifunctional Headwear ($25) Get wet and wild without worrying about sun-damaged skin. Buff’s simple tube-shaped designs are popular for a few good reasons: they’re versatile, they’re unobtrusive, and they shield your head and neck from getting burned. Plus, the graphics are flashy and totally on-theme. Buy Now (Courtesy H20) H20 Audio Surge+ Bluetooth Waterproof Headphones ($100) Water and electronics don’t mix—most of the time. H20’s Surge+ Bluetooth headphones are an exception. Select the ear-tip size for a snug fit, then play hooky and use the

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