We get to cover a lot of interesting gadgets and gear here at New Atlas, and it's easy to become a touch jaded. But there's one category that still leaves us grinning like kids at a toy convention, year after year: watercraft and water toys. This year was no different, as we saw a number of intriguing trends in marine playthings and many more interesting products. Now that the year's jetting toward a close, we've gone back through our coverage to bring you our favorites in a list that includes multifunctional jet drives, floating multi-person lounges, folding and inflatable watercraft, deep-diving personal submarines and more.
Lampuga Air electric surfboard
It seems that every year brings a new electric surfboard or two, but the Lampuga Air isn't just "another e-surfboard." It adds serious versatility and portability to the e-boarding game, breaking the electric surfboard down into inflatable hulls secured around a jet drive module. Not only does this make it easier to get the Air to the water, it means you can swap the jet drive between multiple hull sizes, adapting the board to different riders and uses.
While the 15-hp (11-kW) Air isn't quite as fast as the Lampuga rigid boards, the top speed of 29 mph (47 km/h) lags only 5 mph (8 km/h) behind. The €9,900 (US$10,550) price tag is also lower, though still probably in "not a chance" territory for most beachgoers. Maybe 2017 will be the year of the sub-$1,000 electric surfboard (we won't be holding our breath, in or out of the water), but until then, at least we can enjoy the videos.
Sea-Doo Spark Trixx PWC
The original Sea-Doo Spark was one of our favorites of 2014. Not only did we thoroughly enjoy our test drive, but we were impressed with the notion of a $5,000 entry-level PWC designed to grow the sport. Fast-forward two years, and the Sea-Doo still claims the Spark as the most affordable PWC out there, its base price now $5,299.
The Spark's low price left Sea-Doo some room between it and the next PWC family up the lineup, and this year the brand filled that space with the Spark Trixx. The new model takes advantage of the Spark's lightweight build while adding some features designed to increase its trick potential. New equipment like the adjustable handlebar riser, step wedges and extended range variable trim system increase maneuverability, exaggerate how well you can lift and dive the nose, and provide more flexibility in stand-up riding positions. The new model will dig a little deeper into your bank account, but at $7,299 it seems to pack a great fun/price ratio for those that like to showboat on the water.
MelloShip hammock boat
2016 was all about lounging, with the category of inflatable hammocks/lounge chairs blowing up everywhere. And the lounging wasn't limited to land, as the category of hammock-boat rose to fame with the Hammocraft and the MelloShip. While the Hammocraft's four-person SUP/kayak-mounted frame is cool, we think the two-person MelloShip really opens up the possibilities of lazy-Sunday, on-water R&R, thanks to a robust list of compatible accessories that includes a motor, solar panel, pop-up seats, standard and yoga floors, and more.
The media loved the idea of the MelloShip, but Kickstarters were less enthusiastic, putting but a tiny $1,500 chip in the company's $350,000 goal. That doesn't seem to leave a very bright future for the customizable motorboat-hammock, but the aforementioned Hammocraft kits can perhaps serve as an alternative for those that simply must enjoy the water from inside a cozy, full-body sling.
Scubajet water jet drive
Another interesting water sport trend to pop up this year was what we'll call the "multipurpose personal jet-propulsion system." Similar to add-on paddleboard and kayak motors we've seen in the past, but designed to swap between multiple vessels while also serving to propel the diver/swimmer underwater a la a dive scooter, the Bixpy Jet and Scubajet add serious electric boost to multiple water sports. We've selected the Scubajet here because of its sleeker, all-in-one design and simpler attachment ecosystem.
After our initial article, Scubajet canceled its original Kickstarter campaign, reworked hardware and pricing, and launched subsequent and successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. Instead of the original 192-Wh battery, Scubajet added an entire range of battery options from 200- and 320-Wh internal batteries right up to a 1,200-Wh external pack. That means that the Scubajet's 3.1-kW motor-powered jet drive can propel one up to 10 mph (16 km/h) and run for between one and 12 hours, depending upon battery and activity (high-power mode offers much shorter runtimes of 10 to 23 minutes). A new handheld dive accessory makes it easy to grab and go and you can still mount it to the likes of paddleboards, dive equipment and canoes. According to the ship dates listed on those campaigns, the first crowdfunding units should start arriving at backers' doors early next year.
Arrows iRig One inflatable windsurfing rig
It's no secret that we dig the combination of on-water fun, easy transport and compact storage that inflatable vessels offer, so it's always nice to see inflatable construction applied to different pieces of gear. There are plenty of inflatable paddleboards on the market already, and the Arrows iRig One adds inflatable wind power. This inflatable windsurfing rig can pack down into a backpack or carry bag, right alongside the inflatable paddleboard it attaches to, saving a company-estimated 70 percent in weight versus a hard-framed rig. That lightweight construction is also said to be an advantage on the water, where the iRig One is easier to handle in the wind.
JetSurf Hybrid Concept jet surfboard
We took a look at JetSurf's impressive lineup of jet-powered boards at Top Marques Monaco 2016. Founded in 2010 and based in the Czech Republic, JetSurf has some experience building high-powered, gas-engined boards boasting speeds of up to 37 mph (60 km/h). During its time in the game, though, it's been watching the powered surfboard market lean more and more toward electric motor power. Instead of leaping into that water, it dips its toe in with the innovative Jetsurf Hybrid Concept, which features swappable gas and electric engines. The rider can opt between the range and power of a gas engine and the quiet, zero-emissions ride of an electric motor, as desired or required. JetSurf says it's the first board with this type of interchangeable drive, and we know jet surfboards tend to lean one way or the other, not both.
We tried to pry more specs from JetSurf when we spoke to the company, but because this is still a concept, it wasn't willing to divulge all the details. Even without knowing all the numbers, we can say the Hybrid was one of the more interesting water toys we happened across this year. On the downside, electric surfboards are notoriously expensive with one powertrain, so we don't even want to imagine what a dual-powertrain Hybrid's price will look like if it ever makes it to market.
Hobie Mirage Eclipse "pedal board"
Reading through the previous items, you might draw the conclusion that we consider water sports enthusiasts an inactive lot only interested in being propelled through the water by motor or wind power. That couldn't be farther from the truth, as much of the marine gear we cover relies on good old-fashioned human muscle.
The most interesting 2016-debuted product we saw in this regard was the Hobie Mirage Eclipse SUP, which takes the paddle out of the hands and shifts propulsion responsibilities to the legs. Essentially a step scooter integrated into a paddleboard, the Mirage Eclipse turns your steps into forward motion through the water. The handlebars not only stabilize the rider, they hold squeezable levers for easy steering. The handlebars can also be removed and the rudder system locked in place, turning the Mirage Eclipse back into a traditional paddleboard – so you can work your legs one day, your arms the next.
Onak folding canoe
Another interesting new product for paddlers, the Onak canoe boasts an origami-like folded construction and sleek design aesthetic that appears as smooth as the award-winning Oru Kayak, only in multi-paddler canoe form. The honeycomb polypropylene folding canoe also compacts neatly into a roller case, making it easier to get to and from the water (so long as there's fairly smooth ground involved). It looks a bit more complicated to set up than some other folding kayaks and canoes, but Onak says it gets done in about 10 minutes. Onak's Kickstarter campaign was successful earlier this year, and it's now offering the canoe for preorder directly.
Kymera electric body board
The Kymera isn't a brand-new concept, as it first crossed our radar back in 2011. Since then, the board has moved from garage-built prototype to market-ready product, and we got to take 'er for a spin this year. The test came to an abrupt end, due to the intervention of the sheriff's department and some licensing/classification questions, but not before we verified the board's mix of quick learning, relaxing scenic cruising and thrilling, high-speed motoring. The jet-powered body board relies on a 5-kW motor to shoot the prone rider to speeds up to 20 mph (32 km/h), with his or her face a mere 2 ft (61 cm) or so above the fast moving water below. It offers more than 6 miles (9.7 km) of range at cruising speed, according to company estimates.
Kymera says that it's now shipping units, but after our issues with the authorities, we'd recommend checking carefully into your local regulations before plunking money down on it.
The latest piece of awe-inspiring marine technology to find its way to our desk, the Dutch-designed Ortega submersible looks almost like a multi-person kayak, but it opens up a whole lot more adventure. Like the Platypus we checked out earlier this year, Ortega's vessels are designed for a combination of on-water and underwater travel, relying on dual electric thrusters and an in-house-developed battery pack for speeds up to 11 knots (20.4 km/h) below the surface and 9 knots (16.7 km/h) atop it. With its trim tank and onboard breathing apparatus, it can dive to depths of 310 ft (95 m). Both the two-person Mk.1B and three-person Mk.1C models have enough space to hold 250 liters of cargo or added technologies like FLIR and sonar.
If we've missed any that floated your boat in 2016, let us know in the comments.