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An epic kayaking first descent, illustrated.

Nothing new on race day. That is the cardinal rule of triathlon. Don't scarf down a breakfast burrito race morning when you've been training on oatmeal. Don't wear compression socks if you've never put them on before. And don't swim in a wetsuit you haven't taken for a considerable test…

Why It’s CoolOnly Riot could build a six-foot-eight kayak and call it anything other than a dedicated playboat. The Turbo’s speed and quick-curve abilities will please big-wave adrenaline junkies, while a high bow rocker and forgiving hull design provide downstream stability in rowdy rough stretches. » Riot deserves a most-innovative-outfitting…

A REC BOAT WITH MOJO With its behind-the-seat gear hammock and adjustable, ergonomic seat, the Bliss looks like your run-of-the-mill beginner boat. But because of its shapely lines and dual hull channels, it handles and tracks better than any other rec model we tested. I kept pace with boats twice…

An Updated Classic With its fully adjustable pull-through straps, comfy (and burly) footbed, and impressive grip on slippery surfaces, the Z2 has been a perennial favorite of boatmen. This updated version has a slightly beefier outsole and is made from a more durable rubber mixture. chacousa.com…

This spare bikini is perfect for petite women—or French beaches. The top is narrow, with removable pads, and the bottom’s cut is slim in the back. $76; www.raisins.com…

A RIVER RUNNER WITH ATTITUDE Backing off from expert-only playboats this year, Riot released a mellow river runner. The Thunder is responsive and relatively fast, and it tracks well across currents. “It will go about anywhere you want to take it,” one tester said, “and it’s great for catching hard-to-reach…

The Big Easy More than 30 inches wide, with a pontoon-style hull, the open-decked Commander is the perfect stable platform for gear-intensive outings—even if that gear is a good book and a well-stocked cooler in the gaping stern tank well. As a canoe/kayak hybrid, it's not quite stable enough to…

High-Performance Softboard Not long ago, the words “soft surfboard” would’ve drawn jeers from core surfers. Now comes the ultralight Y-Quad, a truly high-performance softboard designed by Tom Morey, inventor of the boogie board. The semihard slick-skin deck and bottom suggest a glassed board, but the soft rails and boxy tail…

CREEK SPECIALIST The Habitat incorporates the trademark roominess of Wave Sport’s previous creekboats, but its new hull design is carvier, more forgiving, and not as flat-bottomed (read: you won’t crush your spine boofing). At just over eight feet, it was fast enough to cut across eddy lines on the Colorado,…

Designed by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s son, Fletcher, the quad-fin Quark is one of the lightest, greenest, most durable boards we’ve seen yet. Its fishlike characteristics include a nearly 20-inch width, high flotation, and mild swallowtail that make even the mushiest surf entertaining. Meanwhile, the Quark has mucho acceleration…

Why It’s CoolSharp edges and the swallowtail make a hero out of the i:3, the best carver in this collection. » For towing a swimmer, I found the sturdy rescue clips to be a reliable biner-snap away, putting this kayak on the A-list for instructors. » Good hull speed and…

NEW-SCHOOL PERFORMANCE In the span of two days at San Diego’s Mission Beach, we put this 1970s-style Tudor singlefin through both thigh-high sets and overhead walls. The 2.5-inch-thick foam kept us moving on the small stuff and got us into big waves earlier than on a shortboard. One tester noted,…

Adjustable Flex The Lost Rocket has a pump to adjust the air pressure inside its EPS foam core and change how it rides. It’s no gimmick: For clean waves, boost the psi to add stiffness and speed. On smaller, junkier waves, let some air out for a damper feel. The…

A wide chest band and ample cups suit a range of sizes and hold everything securely in place for pickup volleyball. $72; www.watergirlusa.com…

SMOOTH AND STEADY Liquid Logic consulted a flotilla’s worth of southeastern kayak instructors when designing the river-running Remix. The result is a boat that’s about as user-friendly as they come: No edginess, no surprises, and easy to keep upright in squirrely water. And if you do flip? “It’ll literally roll…

Light and Tough The 13-foot Revolution is part of NRS's new series of urethane boats. With ample rocker and sporty tubes, the Revolution doubles as a high-performance whitewater paddle raft and, as an oar rig, a stable deck for fishing and lounging. We put the 13-footer pictured here to the…

Fish-style surfboards—’70s-era shapes with a pair of keel fins and a deep swallowtail—have been enjoying a comeback, and San Diego shaper Chris Christenson makes the ultimate catch. This five-foot-eleven-incher is a highly evolved shortboard, equally at home skating knee-high waves or threading overhead tubes. The straight rails held the…

FAST STICK FOR BIG GUYS If you’re a shortboarder stuck in a longboarder’s body, the Moby Fish may be the choice for you. Because this seven-foot-plus funboard is 22 inches wide, nearly three inches thick, and made with floaty EPS foam, it paddles like a longboard. But thanks to the…

Normally, a paddleboard will set you back close to two grand. That’s what makes the NSP so noteworthy: You get the whole package—traction pad, leash, and fins—for about half that. At 31 inches wide and nearly five inches thick, this board has plenty of confidence-building stability and is well…

Why It’s CoolThe Juice is 2004’s “if I can only have one” boat. Primarily a river runner, it still provides ample play on any wave you wish to ride or hole you choose to brave. » If you’ve been stalling on trading in that vintage nine-footer for fear of losing…

GOOD WOOD We’ve heard all the chatter about eco-friendly foam boards, but we’ve yet to test one that’s proven truly durable. For now, the only sustainability-minded board we love is veteran shaper Gary Linden’s custom-built 6’4″ wooden singlefin. It’s crafted from dead agave foraged from the SoCal desert, which Linden…

Stable Single-Fin This hand-shaped 9’2″ ­single-fin is based on a 1960s noserider template, with smooth rails and a slight V-bottom for agility. Its 22-inch width and three-inch thickness get you into even the weakest peelers, while the concave hull makes noseriding simple. We also found it was quick enough to…

The simple, boxy lines and unpadded top of this ensemble compliment curvy, athletic women. $66; www.jcrew.com…

BIG BOAT, BIG WATER Sitting inside the Everest’s wide-mouth cockpit, even our largest tester (6’1″, 195 lbs) said it swallowed him, with tons of room to spare. This multiday boat can accommodate a paddler up to 230 pounds, plus any overnight gear. With all that space, the ride is Cadillac…

Patagonia's Cotton Steersman Shirt (Inga Hendrickson) On your bod Patagonia's cotton Steersman shirt, because, seriously, technical wear for a fishing shirt? patagonia.com Fishpond San Juan Vertical Chest Pack (Courtesy of Fishpond) For day trips, Fishpond's San Juan Vertical Chest Pack fits two fly boxes and a flask—more…

On this wave glutton, I had to stop myself from gobbling up more than my fair share of rides. Designed by legendary shaper Al Merrick, this seven-foot-six-incher is basically a scaled-down longboard. The payoff: It’s versatile enough to handle ankle biters as well as pitching six-foot faces. The 21-inch…

A DO-IT-ALL BARGAIN This is the shortboard for surfers with champagne taste and a box-wine budget. The six-foot-plus Glider was designed by Al Merrick, the revered shaper at Channel Islands Surfboards, and then mass-produced in Thailand by Global Surf Industries. It’s a classic all-around shape, and in both medium-size beach…

It’s five bucks cheaper and every bit as comfortable and secure as any leash we’ve tried. Plus, it’s the first leash made from recycled rubber. Comes in six-to-nine-foot lengths. wavetribe.com…

Why It’s Coolt looks like a fiberglass-composite boat—but the price says plastic. It’s cut-sheet plastic, thermoformed into a material Perception calls “Airalite.” Deployed here in the Carolina 14.5, the company’s quintessential day-touring boat, the material makes a formerly rotomolded craft stiffer, lighter, and sleeker. » While the gloss factor makes…

CLASSIC LONGBOARD Bob McTavish shaped the original Fireball in 1994. Since then, his 9’1″ performance longboard has become a hard-to-find classic—until late 2007, when Global Surf Industries started mass-producing it. Our GSI model rode well in a variety of conditions, from crisp East Coast beach rollers to a point break…

Versatile SUP Stand-up paddleboarding continues growing, with more and more SUPers taking to lakes and whitewater. On a five-day, 65-mile trip down the Yellowstone River, the well-rounded ATB (29.5 inches wide and 4.9 inches thick) was stable yet fast, while extra rocker in the nose and tail reduced purling in…

Adjustable clasps provide a custom fit, while the bottoms are both sports-worthy and flattering. $78; 800-472-4746…

SWOOSH! Most people can’t even remember what it was like arcing high-G turns across eddy lines. The ultrastiff Speedo returns to that classic centrifugal rush, with a slalom boat’s speed and edginess. “I was going so fast that the hull smacked the water off the backs of the waves,” said…

Mount your light rods with Ross’s 4.2-ounce large-arbor Evolution LT reel. rossreels.com…

This stick is so light (six pounds for the seven-footer), a stiff offshore breeze nearly ripped it from my hands. Made from Salomon’s S-Core epoxy blank, it has a hollow core with a layer of carbon fiber and three triple stringers for a corky, lively feel. In junky, blown-out…

A LIGHTWEIGHT, AGILE LONGBOARD You may recognize the Bear logo from the 1978 classic surf film Big Wednesday, but rest assured this longboard oozes modern performance. At nine feet one inch long and three inches thick, it felt like it could glide into anything. With a width of 22.5 inches,…

The PsychoFreak introduces a new three-layer neoprene sandwich—two thin, solid layers around a perforated middle layer that traps air like a double-pane window—to keep you warmer with less fabric. It works: This super-stretchy, 3.5-milli-meter suit kept us as warm as a five-mil suit while affording tons more flexibility.

Headquartered five minutes from Canada’s St. Lawrence River and the mighty surf waves at Lachine Rapids, Riot helped launch big-wave riding as its own kayaking subgenre. The Astro carries on that tradition with a fast-planing hull and delayed rocker to aid aerial moves but maintains a bow profile narrow…

GIGGLES FOR ALL Funboards are often overlooked because they don’t have the sexy lines of a shortboard. But for most casual surfers, this WRV Fun Fish is just right—and the 7’6″ model we tested is the most user-friendly board here. Its flat bottom made for easy paddling and acceleration, allowing…

Amphibian A webbed sneaker-sandal mash-up? About time! My new favorite summer shoe, the Paradox resembles a light hiker but is brilliant in the wet stuff, secure while crossing rocky rapids and perfect for watersports where you need more pro­tection than you’ll get in a sandal. chacousa.com…

Wide-set cups and full-coverage bottoms make this suit best for women with broad shoulders and muscular frames. $90; www.eddiebauer.com…

For those who can’t disconnect, the waterproof speakers in the Multy Lynk work with any Bluetooth-enabled device. Best application: Use the boom microphone to call for help from your cell phone. vozsports.com…

Throw this sporty bathing suit on for surfing or volleyball. Then, to thwart tan lines, swap the top out for the Bali Bandeau ($40; not shown) in the matching print. carvedesigns.com…

A black carbon-fiber shell makes the Pro-Formance look like a stealth bomber, but you won’t be flying under the radar with this baby: It’s a guaranteed head turner. The six-foot-six-inch hollow carbon-fiber thruster is speedy down the line and fast enough to make easy work of shoulder-high thumpers at…

SURFING’S NEXT FRONTIER Instead of stroking with their arms, stand-up surfers use a long-shafted paddle and a huge board to catch waves—from the tiniest Cardiff shin-slappers to beefy Makaha bombs. It’s not easy, so learning on a superstable board like the 4.5-inch-thick, 12-foot-long Walden is best. You’ll also want a…

Slippery hands make for slippery surfboards. Avoid SPF-related wipeouts by using this nongreasy, water-resistant SPF 50 sunscreen stick. It ain’t cheap, but your skin is worth it. vertra.com…

Though it’s more than a year old, the Jefe, like its Tsangpo-stomping predecessor the Gus, has no equal as a creek and expedition boat. The long waterline, medium chines, displacement hull, and heavily rockered bow allow the boat to accelerate, track through turns, climb out of holes, and get…

GET UP, STAND UP Last year saw stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) move from the wacky fringe to the pages of Us Weekly, as seemingly every celebrity picked it up. With the fad still on full burn, shapers are racing into the SUP market, which is what makes the C4 special. It…

Top Touring Boat Paddle the nearly 18-foot-long Infinity as a day boat and it's fun if a bit cumbersome. Load it and head out for a week or more and it really shines. Serious paddlers looking for a comfy boat will love the Infinity's large cockpit and raised foredeck, which…

WILD STALLIONDig in your paddle and the Fish will instantly respond. But this one isn’t for newbies: With sharp edges and cavernous volume, this DragoRossi will toss those who don’t fully commit to their tricks. That said, the Fish is packed with nifty design elements, like raised bumps on the…

The Willis freestyle vest employs Astral’s split-panel design with two independent foam sections. An inner panel hugs your ribs, while the outer panel moves with your shoulders. astralbuoyancy.com…

Yes, the name says “boardshort,” which means these quick-dry bottoms are meant for ocean play. But they’re so cute, you won’t feel as if you’re wearing your bathing suit around town. columbia.com…

This basic mini-longboard lets you ride for a fraction of the cost of most others. At seven feet six inches, the Funboard is long enough to catch waves easily, and its near-23-inch width makes for a stable platform that helps novices find their balance. It fends off dings well,…

HIGH PERFORMANCE FOR SMALLER PADDLERS With its classic British design (swept-up bow and stern) and soft chine, the Willow’s stability—both primary and secondary—is best in test. But due to its trim profile, the Willow is as responsive to subtle steering as twitchier (read: tippier) boats. Its front, back, and day…

Magma’s new soy surf wax is made with color-coded embers that remind you whether you’re rubbing cold-water wax (purple flakes) or tropic-rated stuff (red flakes) on your stick. It also has a tasty banana-and-coconut scent that makes you want to eat it. Please don’t. magmalabs.com…

Designing a one-boat quiver is always a compromise, but the Rx (a.k.a the Prescription) is no horse by committee. It can both play and run downriver, because it combines a flat freestyle hull—for spinning on a wave—with a progressive rocker and relaxed chines behind the hips, where eddy lines…

MOST VERSATILE The Avocet LV slices through ocean whitecaps as well as it holds a fast, true line on a glassy lake. This British-hulled boat—low-profile, high foredeck—has great secondary stability, which will build confidence in beginners learning to tour. But you won’t outgrow it, either. With fore, aft, and day…

Fitness King Paddling to get a workout? This lightweight performance touring kayak absolutely flies when you put your head down and hammer. “It sprang from stop to go like a racehorse,” reported one tester after zipping across Lake Champlain and back. The Cat 5's deck is arced high to accommodate…

This high-performance, narrow-hulled speedster tracks like an osprey to a trout: fast and straight. The high-backed seat has a ratcheting backband adjustment that, cranked tight, puts you in an aggressive forward position that will let you race with rowing shells—and win. Extras are few in the stripped-down shell, but…

ALL-ROUNDERDid Necky’s designers once work for Hasbro? Like a vintage Weeble toy, the Crux will wobble, but it won’t fall down. With minimal rocker in the stern, this one is nimble enough for tight creeks and fast enough for pushy rivers. Its round bottom softens landings. Taking a deep plunge?…

Improving on its top-of-the-line bent-shaft freestyle paddle, Adventure Technology shaved an ounce off its standard (30-degree offset) AT2 by switching to full-carbon construction. atpaddle.com…

This nine-footer is a high-performance board with plenty of float, so it’s Cadillac-smooth in peeling surf. Up front it’s wide, round, and inviting for toes-on-the-nose time. And the double concave hulls spill to the tail in a slight V, which gives the board a shot of high-octane get-up-and-go. Pair…

SUMMER RUNABOUT The oversize cockpit makes for easy entry, the desk-chair-style high backrest is ergonomic and supportive, and the front deck net holds a water bottle, sunscreen, or a map. In other words, it was easily the most comfortable boat for cruising on calm days. Plus it’s easy to tailor…

Water Runner Several two-year-old pairs of 920s are still in rotation among our staff—and this updated version proved to be just as popular. The reason is simple: The 921 is a well-built water-and-land shoe with aggressive off-road tread, rigid rubber overlays for lateral support, and generous (and well-protected) drain holes…

This classic touring boat got an overhaul for 2006, with improved seat, hatches, and primary stability. Cross-Lock quick-release closures on the hatches are user-friendly, and increased cargo space easily stows gear for multiday trips. While it takes paddle power to get the weighty Looksha going, it tracks true once…

PORTABLE AND RUGGED Packing down to carry-on size and weighing just 24 pounds, the Helios is light and compact enough for hikes to remote lakes and rivers—or to check on your flight to Belize, without weight or size penalties. The tough, 1,200-denier hull pumps up as stiff as a…

Best for Beginners One of the hardest things to learn in a kayak is how to go in a straight line. That's why kayaking newbies especially loved this ten-and-a-half-foot plastic boat. It stays on course and maintains speed almost in spite of what its paddler is doing. In rough seas…

LOTS OF FINS, LOTS OF FUN Thanks to their speed and maneuverability, four-fin boards are hot—and the Round Pin is the most evolved of this sweet breed. While most shapers are just now hopping on the quad wagon, San Diego shaping genius Joe Blair has been building them since the…

OVERACHIEVERThis boat’s predecessor, the EZ, proved stable and easy to paddle yet was up for the latest tricks. And with a new, narrower cut and a hull tweaked for freestyle moves, the ’05 EZG improves on the formula. During tests on the McKenzie River in Eugene, Oregon, this kayak’s forgiving…

It’s not a gimmick. You really can toss WRSI’s football-themed throw bag farther and more accurately. When your buddy’s trapped in a recirculating eddy, drill him in the head. Trust us, he’ll thank you. whitewaterhelmet.com…

Constructed from just five main neoprene panels—versus ten-plus in many wetsuits—the CL5 limits the number of irritating seams and boosts your freedom of movement. This 3mm/2mm full suit has fluid-sealed seams to minimize water seepage and works best in water temperatures between 55 and 64 degrees. www.quiksilver.com…

START PLANNING A BIG TRIP The oversize Delta has the most internal storage and highest paddler-weight capacity of any kayak currently on the market, and handles well even when fully loaded. Thanks to its fully rockered hull, soft chined sides that wrap into a vertical wall, and the boat’s sheer…

Sea Change Borrowing from the best of all water worlds, Keen forged the Hydro Guide from the sole of a topsider (you’ll recognize the V-cut siping immediately), the now-ubiquitous Keen toe protector, and the Z-laced strapping of a classic river sandal. The result is an all-around amphibian suitable for both…

With exceptional primary and secondary stability and surprisingly speedy acceleration, the Tsunami blends beginner-friendly handling with performance that won’t leave you wanting once you’ve mastered the basics. Everyone who paddled it—from testers to their mothers—had fun. A high-backed seat provides superb support, and with seven sizes available, it fits…

EXPEDITION BOAT The Delta Sport 17’s full-volume hull, from bow to stern, means dry decks and more than 55 gallons of covered storage—not counting what you can cram around you in the cockpit. Translation:It’s possible to haul up to 350 pounds of gear in this expedition-ready boat. It’s tough:…

Packable Sailboat “I can hardly believe it,” remarked one tester, “but it really does sail like a legit boat.” That pretty much sums up our take on the inflatable Smartkat. It took testers about an hour to assemble, but once on the water this 15'7″ masted catamaran, which is capable…

Why It’s CoolYou can paddle it, sail it, and fold it up to take with you wherever you go, making this the definitive kayak for adventure travelers. » A beefy hull and keel strip protect against tears on coral or ice. » You can change the hull shape from a…

ROOMY PLAYBOAT With a roomy cockpit and extra-large foot bumps—which can accommodate up to size 13 feet—the Agent is the best big-dude boat with agile performance. It’s not as speedy as Dagger’s previous freestyle boats, but thanks to an ultra-loose, yet edgy, double-release chine and a heavily flared stern…

The Golden has the solid flex and feel of wood—it’s available in either ash or padauk—and because its blades are coated with a polymer similar to what’s used for spray-in truck-bed liners, it’s practically indestructible. wavedogpaddles.com…