Throughout 2017, we experienced many a vivid daydream of dunking into cool, crystal-clear waters to test out the very latest in technology. And not the IP68 rating of the new Galaxy S8, but one of the fast, wild water sport innovations that splashed onto the scene. It was a year that saw high-flying hydrofoils make the big step down from boats to smaller boards and bikes (yes, bikes) and new water toy debuts ranging from personal submarines fit for James Bond to underwater propulsion systems slapped on like a smartwatch. Here are our favorites.
Mako Slingshot jet board
A new year, a new powered surfboard. It's almost been a rule of life the past few years, and 2017 played by the book. The curvy, carbon fiber Mako Slingshot steps away from the electric drives that have become popular on powered surfboards, relying instead on a 100cc two-stroke engine jet drive.
That means after your 40 minutes or so of full-throttle riding, you can stop back ashore, tip your fuel can into the board's 2.8-L tank and get going again, no need to burn your skin on the hot sand while your board charges for hours on end. With plenty of torque, a top speed around 34 mph (55 km/h) and a light, stable deck, we're guessing you'll be quite eager to get the Slingshot back in the water.
Another rule of life: powered surfboards are far from the cheapest way to have fun in the surf. The £7,500 (US$9,950) Slingshot definitely doesn't break that one.
Aston Martin/Triton Project Neptune submersible
Personal submarines are right up there with jetpacks as the coolest full-grown water toys out there. But with safety vest-bright colors and big, bubbly cockpits, they often lack styling sharp enough to properly articulate their overall cool factor. This year, the submarine pros at Triton resolved to end this shortcoming, reaching out to Aston Martin, folks who know a thing or two about perfectionist-grade performance-machine beautification.
Aston's designers have turned Triton's three-person submersible into Project Neptune, a piece of underwater art pretty enough to show off in your living room, making the bold assumption you aren't regularly crane-lifting it into the water and enjoying the splendors of the subterranean world.
Triton's usual big, meaty, bright-yellow shell has been carefully shaved and sculpted into a sleek, silver-and-black chassis that looks the part of a seven-figure, precision-tuned diving vessel built to explore the depths of the sea. It probably looks faster than it is, but it's guaranteed to be a good time no matter the speed. Plans call for very limited production.
Seakart 335 PWC-meets-inflatable
Part jet ski, part inflatable tender, the Seakart 335 from KGTEX looks like all sorts of fun. With seating for up to five, this potent, pint-sized vessel tows to the water on a regular PWC trailer but lets the entire family get in on the action once you arrive.
Power comes from a choice of 110- or 180-hp Yamaha engine and speed tops out around 45 mph (72 km/h). The 11.5-foot (3.5-m) Seakart is designed to be more stable than a traditional PWC and to ride everything from shallow to deep water, rough or calm conditions. So use it as a tender, tow a wakeboarder, stop and grab a swim, or zip across the water like a jet skier. Prices start around €35,000 (about US$41,100).
Manta5 Hydrofoiler XE-1 water bike
We've seen water bikes in years past, but the Manta5 Hydrofoiler XE-1 is something else entirely. Other water bikes are large, cumbersome affairs that include bike-supporting chassis components and pontoons for float. The Hydrofoiler slims things down by relying on carbon fiber hydrofoils to help the pedaler stay happily afloat.
A 400-watt electric-assist motor helps the rider keep the propeller spinning enough to push things along, and buoyancy modules keep the bike from sinking during stops. Like on a pedal-assist bicycle, the rider can adjust the amount of motor assistance, finding the right balance of exercise and forward momentum, with speeds up to 12 mph (20 km/h) and runtime up to an hour. On the ride to and from the water, the 44-lb (20-kg) Hydrofoiler breaks down and fits inside your vehicle.
A pedelec hydrofoil bike that glides atop water? Count us in. Admirers will have to wait, though, pre-sales start in February 2018 and will be available only to New Zealand-based registrants upon initial launch.
Free Form Factory Gratis X1 electric PWC
While electric powertrains have largely taken over the small but spirited powered surfboard market, they remain elusive among larger PWCs (jet skis). We saw the promising Green Samba way back in 2010, but not a whole lot of movement in the e-PWC market since.
This year, Free Form Factory rippled the waters with the Gratis X1. Borrowing electric powertrain technology from Zero Motorcycles, Free Form developed what looked to be a quick-accelerating, fast-reacting watercraft with a top speed of 46 mph (74 km/h). At 380 lb (172 kg), it was lighter than a Sea-Doo Spark, something you'd surely be happy about when whipping the tail around.
The Gratis X1 story is still being written, however. Just this month, Nikola Powersports (the folks behind the insane Zero electric UTV) announced that it acquired Free Form. So maybe a 550-hp electric PWC is in the works? Sounds crazy, but not necessarily crazier than Nikola's claims about giving the overhauled PWC more performance than a gas-powered PWC and up to five hours of play.
We'll continue in skepticism until Nikola fully readies one of several ambitious projects, but the Nikola-Free Form connection seems like it could be quite exciting for electric powersports. Nikola expects to have a production-intent sit-down PWC ready by April 2018, which we assume will include a healthy addition to the original quote of US$18,000.
Trak 2.0 collapsible kayak
Folding and break-apart kayaks are standard fare in the water sports market, but the Trak 2.0 kayak that launched on Kickstarter back in May is a particularly impressive vessel designed not only for simplified portability but also for out-and-out performance in all kinds of conditions.
The result of intensive feedback, discussion and global prototype testing among a diverse team of kayakers, the Trak 2.0 is a kayak like no other. It rolls to the water in a wheeled carry bag or carries on your back, building up into a 16-foot (4.9-m) kayak in about 10 minutes.
A polyurethane skin pulls taut around the aluminum and carbon fiber frame with help from a hydraulic tensioning system. The paddler can adjust the waterline and rocker to get just the right feel and performance on water, and Trak says its kayak will work seamlessly on everything from long, flat-water tours to quick, playful rough-water sessions.
Trak shot way past its Kickstarter goal back in June and has been tweaking its design and preparing to start production in recent weeks.
Scubalec personal underwater jet drive
Personal water jet thrusters aren't quite as fast or awesome as airborne jetpacks, but they're a whole lot more attainable and there's something equally Bruce Wayne-ish about them. In recent years, we've seen a full-on wearable thrust suit and a few different handheld/gear mountable thrusters, and this year inventor Un-Yong Park innovated something in between.
Called the Scubalec, this wearable jet drive wraps around one forearm and relies on two battery-powered thruster tubes to give snorkelers a bit of underwater boost. And it looks like an arm cannon developed for a super villain with world conquest in his sights, even the throttle looks weapons grade.
You won't exactly fire through the water like a torpedo, but the Scubalec will add about 1.8 to 2.5 mph (3 to 4 km/h) to your natural snorkeling velocity. Unfortunately, funding was cancelled on the Kickstarter back in May, but Scubalec did commit to further refining its design, bringing costs below US$280 and relaunching crowdfunding for a "Scubalec Evo" in the future.
Aeon Explorer electric observation vessel
Looking a little like a sled for the sea, the Aeon Explorer is a different type of electric watercraft. This simple vessel helps would-be snorkelers overcome distance and physical limitations to enjoy a snorkel-style view of the sea. It uses a solar-backed electric drive to slowly shuttle riders around the water, providing a view below the surface through an acrylic panel. A simple joystick system makes control easier than riding a bike, so you can cruise along focused on the sea life just below the hull.
The Aeon Explorer team ran an Indiegogo campaign in early 2017, with the goal of developing the vessel and using it for educational programs and ecotourism operations. In other words, it wasn't offering the boats directly to backers, and that seemed to hurt its campaign. A look at the team's Facebook page shows they're sticking with it, using the prototype for various educational and community-oriented programs in Hawaii. It's a bummer you won't be able to buy one and use it in your own favorite puddle of water, but we'd certainly be inclined to give it a go if we saw one for rent.
Lazareth amphibious Moke
The Moke is a cool, little utility vehicle with a great look, sure to remind many folks of their favorite tropical getaways. A Moke for land and water? That's a step cooler. The amphibious Moke-like Amphibie from France's Lazareth (a company that also does a mean 470-hp tilting motorcycle) features a closed-cell foam-filled aluminum body for buoyancy and a 19-hp 400cc one-cylinder engine hooked to the wheels as well as the propeller system.
With a 56-mph (90-km/h) top speed on land and 8 mph (13 km/h) top speed in water, it isn't exactly a speed machine tuned for thrill seekers, but there's still something super cool about driving around the street and dirt before rolling right into the drink to cool down and cruise the water, and it's even cooler when you're doing it in a quirky classic like the Moke. Lazareth offers the Amphibie for €25,000 ($29,400).
Lift Foils eFoil electric hydrofoil surfboard
Hydrofoil surfboards – or foilboards, if you prefer – weren't invented just this year, but they snagged enough headlines to make 2017 the year of the hydrofoil board, at least when we're talking water toys. Pro surfers used them to perform feats of wonder and start-ups like Jetfoiler and Lift Foils worked on developing off-the-shelf electric boards that let novices accelerate surreally a few feet over top the water's surface.
Lift Foils got out of the gate quickly, putting its board up for pre-order. Its eFoil board lifts you up out of the water by the hydrofoil, where you can hit speeds up to 25 mph (40 km/h).
The company reckons you'll only get 20 to 25 minutes going full throttle the whole way but estimates a much rosier hour of playtime when keeping the wireless controller set at a 15-mph (24-km/h) cruise speed. The board also has a swappable battery system, and we imagine if you have $12K for an e-board, you'll likely be able to find an extra $3K for a second battery to increase the length of your e-foilboarding sessions.