Standout water toys and small watercraft of 2015
We've already looked back at some of the most fun off-road toys of 2015. Those are great for big kids that like to play on land, but what about those folks that prefer to get their feet wet? Luckily, 2015 had plenty of new designs and innovations for them, too. We've plucked our favorite motorized toys, paddle-propelled watercraft and towables from our 2015 coverage to whet the appetite of those anxious to get on the water.
With the Quadski it introduced just a few years ago, Gibbs already had one of the world's most intriguing recreational amphibians. This year, it decided to show the public more options ... in a big way. It introduced three new amphibious designs of various sizes and wheel configurations, our favorite being the Biski land/water motorcycle. Designed to be switched between "road" and "water" configurations in about five seconds, the Biski invites you to motor your way to your favorite local body of water, then keep driving right onto it.
We haven't driven it, but we'd think the narrower, 503-lb (228-kg) body will prove sharper and more maneuverable than Gibbs' larger vehicles. The 55-hp (41-kW) vessel can reach 80 mph (129 km/h) on land and 37 mph (60 km/h) on water. The Biski is still listed as a concept on Gibbs' website, but if it does make it through to production, we expect the lighter, simpler amphibian will be priced below the Quadski.
When we discovered the Backyak at Boot Düsseldorf earlier this year, one of the things we learned was that it had actually been around for a few years, so it's not as brand-spanking new as some of the other designs here. Still, an ultra-versatile, modular boat from a company that's been in the collapsible kayak business for over a century was a pretty cool find. Not only does the Backyak convert between several styles of boat – family kayak, two single-person kayaks, sailing catamaran and more – it also breaks down into dual 22-lb (10-kg) backpacks for hiking to the water and turns into a pretty slick-looking snow sled. It's easily the most versatile water vessel we've covered all year.
Inspired by (and borrowing equipment from) the Wetbike released in the 70s, the Jet Blade isn't a completely new innovation, but it's definitely a very different ride from the typical Jet Ski or WaveRunner. Developed at Calvin College and still in the prototype stages, this 650cc-powered bike looks more like a snowmobile on water thanks to its dual front skis. Those skis provide planing action when the bike gets up to speed, and the tilting suspension that secures them to the body is designed for precise steering and smooth riding in the choppy stuff. If investment and development get off the ground, the Jet Blade could offer an interesting alternative to other available PWCs.
In a world of high-power, high-speed motorized watercraft, the Chilli Island stands out as a slow, relaxing day on the water. Even its name is delightfully laid back. Austria's Chilli Island has focused on ergonomics and comfort, instead of aerodynamics and efficient performance, finding a cozy middle ground between a small electric boat and a pool float. The company imagines the polyethylene vessel being enjoyed at holiday hotspots like hotels and resorts.
All the two passengers have to do is lie out below the sunshades on the body-scooping seats and cruise around the open water, controlling the Torqeedo electric motor with the centralized trackball. There's also an onboard cooler and audio system at the ready for further relaxation under the sun.
If the DeepFlight Dragon, which we declared one of our favorites of 2014 and got the opportunity to test this year, is the high-tech race car of the high seas, the Scubster Nemo is the ultra-simple, fun-driving roadster. Scubster's original idea of pedaling underwater sounded cool on paper, but we're not sure we'd be eager to actually do it. Cruising far below the ocean's surface at speeds up to 4 knots (8 km/h) in an open-top electric sub, however, sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon or two on a beach getaway.
The Nemo features two electric motors that provide about two hours of propulsion. It's still in the prototype stages, and an unsuccessful Kickstarter earlier this year didn't do much to bring funds in. Whether or not it makes it to market, it was one of the coolest watercraft shown in 2015.
The SipaBoard is a piece of water gear that proves you don't have to engineer a super-powerful, crazy-expensive motorized vehicle to create a compelling on-water ride. All you need is a good idea, and a little dual-purpose design doesn't hurt, either.
The SipaBoard is one part inflatable paddleboard, one part motorized board. We've seen both types before, but never integrated into such a smooth product. The onboard motor drive not only powers it to speeds of up to 3.5 knots (6.5 km/h), it also inflates the board. That top speed obviously isn't the thrilling propulsion you'll find on some of the other contraptions here, but it'll take some strain off your arms. Motor control is integrated conveniently into the paddle. After raising just shy of US$345,000 on Kickstarter earlier this year (more than double its goal), SipaBoard's team announced last month that the first shipments were underway.
If you can get past the name – and you should definitely try – the Boner Kayak is a beautiful design. We've seen modular kayaks before, including the Backyak we discussed above. What makes the Boner Kayak special is its fine birchwood construction, which gives it the presence of a classic vessel with a smart, modern twist. It breaks down to three pieces that nest together in one and includes a wheel for easy rolling. You'll have about five minutes of tool-free assembly between pulling it out of the trunk and paddling out onto the water.
We're still not entirely convinced that electric surfboards are the "wave" of the future, given their high price tags and very low runtimes, but the J-Force eBoard comes closer to convincing us than most. Its 15-hp (11-kW) jet drive helps make it one of the fastest e-surfboards out there, topping out around 34 mph (55 km/h). What we really like is the wearable controller, which puts drive control inside a neoprene-like glove. All you have to do is curl your index finger to get going and straighten it out to stop. The glove also includes a digital display for key system info.
Still, €12,590 (US$13,770, Dec. 2015) for a board you'll get to use 20 to 30 minutes between two-hour charges just seems like a whole lot of money for not quite enough fun.
We loved BomBoard's idea for a simple, affordable modular PWC so much when we first covered it last year, we gave it a spot on our 2014 list of favorite water toys. This isn't a rehash, though, because BomBoard recently announced some key improvements. For its latest design, BomBoard dropped the 250cc engine for a 450cc plant, bringing power up to 45 hp (34 kW) and boosting top speed to 45 mph (72 km/h).
The latest BomBoard maintains the benefits of the original, including its easy-transport, four-piece construction and versatile riding set-up with standing, kneeling and sitting positions. Its estimated retail price is a bit higher, but it's still quite affordable for a PWC at $3,995 and is being marketed now on Indiegogo for even less. Now the company just has to finish up development and get one of these cheap, fun 165-lb (75-kg) PWCs to the market ... before something better comes along.
WaterBed floating shelter
A bit different from the other water toys on this list, but as compelling as any other water-bound vessel we've covered this year, the WaterBed is a land/water caravan designed by artist and designer Daniel Durnin. What makes the WaterBed a touch cooler than other floating caravan designs is that it's made to be towed by bicycle, providing a simpler, greener way of commuting and camping.
At 165 lb (75 kg), the WaterBed isn't really designed for full-blown bikepacking excursions and is positioned more as a means of camping in local urban spaces, be it on a waterway or in a park. The large windows provide connection to that slice of nature. Inside, the WaterBed is a little too simple to make it a top caravan of the year candidate, but it does provide a cozy sleeping space in the form of convertible sofa bedding.