PaddleXaminer had the privilege to test and review a wide range of paddling gear in 2019. Large items, small items – innovative designs and gear that left a lasting impact on how we enjoyed our time on the water. From whitewater rivers in the Colorado Rockies to the coast of California and beyond, here’s our staff picks of the top ten items that kept us going throughout the year.
10. Costa Sunglasses
When the PaddleXaminer staff first put our heads together to brainstorm our favorite gear from 2019, Costa Sunglasses was immediately the one brand we all agreed should be on the list. Costa’s corporate social responsibility program perfectly aligns with PaddleXaminer’s mission and they have a sunglasses style to suit men and women pursuing any activity. My personal favorite is the OCEARCH® Fantail. The OCEARCH® Collection helps fund research expeditions that generate critical data and put science on the side of sharks. I’ve had more than one shark encounter paddling in the Pacific off Southern California and always respect the fin.
9. Carve Designs Swimwear
Carve Designs is made by women, for women. PaddleXaminer first discovered Carve Designs at Outdoor Retailer in 2018. The suits quickly became Rebecca Parsons’ go-to for all activities, both on and off the water. Rebecca wears them for SUP surfing, flat water paddles, swimming laps, running, and even to hot yoga. They haven’t let her down yet. To top it off, Carve is part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the apparel, footwear, and textile industry’s leading alliance for sustainable production.
8. Hala Rado
The introduction of the Hala Rado has truly elevated our burgeoning whitewater SUP paddling practice and is currently the featured board in our Pumped Up Paddler column, led by Michael Chebatoris. At 10’10” x 35” x 6” the Hala Rado was born to ride the rapids. Stable, highly maneuverable, and outfitted with 12 rigging points and five handles, the Rado is suitable for novice to advanced whitewater SUP paddlers. Michael’s favorite feature is the retractable center fin, otherwise known as the Stompbox, which automatically retracts the fin inside the board when the fin comes into contact with a solid object. If you’ve ever paddled whitewater with a fixed center fin you know how valuable the Stompbox is when paddling on the wild side!
7. MPOWERD Solar Lights
Every paddler should have at least one MPOWERD solar light in their gear bag. These innovative inflatable solar lights come in a variety of sizes, are waterproof, lightweight, and easily packable. From early morning paddles to sitting around camp in the evening and everything in between, I guarantee you will find 101 uses for an MPOWERD solar light.
6. Patagonia Better Sweater
There’s nothing better after a chilly training session than cozying up in a warm fleece. Available in men’s and women’s styles, Patagonia’s Better Sweater has the aesthetic of a wool sweater but is instead made from 100 percent recycled polyester fleece. In addition to being made from recycled materials, the fleece is dyed with a low-impact process that reduces the use of dyestuff, energy, and water when compared to traditional dyeing methods. The sweater is ultra-warm, durable and is available in quarter-zip, full-zip, and pullover styles, so you can easily find one for whatever style suits you.
5. Vaikobi Ocean Racing PFD
Built on the tried and tested design of its predecessors, the V3 Ocean Racing PFD contains subtle refinements to enhance comfort and functionality. My favorite feature is the integrated hydration sleeve on the rear panel which makes this my go-to PFD for outrigger, surfski, and SUP. Vaikobi’s V3 Ocean Racing PFD is highly likely the most comfortable, performance oriented PFD on the market. The PFD contains six adjustment points, four on the sides and one on each shoulder, so you can easily configure the straps to your desired comfort level. When it comes to overall performance, the Vaikobi V3 Ocean Racing PFD’s lightweight and sleek, streamlined profile is the perfect complement for performance paddlers.
4. EcoVessel Boulder
Known by its moniker “the last bottle you will ever buy”, the newly designed EcoVessel Boulder (20 oz) is my daily water bottle. I take it to work. I use it at home. I take it on trips. It’s with me when I run errands around town. Pre-paddle hydration. Post-paddle hydration. My favorite features of the Boulder are its silicone lip for comfortable drinking, silicone handle, and strainer for infusing drinks and blocking ice. So far the only limitation I’ve found with this bottle is that it is so great I need more than one! As more and more paddling events in California have eliminated single use plastic bottles and required participants to bring their own water bottle, the EcoVessel Boulder is a must have for any paddler.
3. Shelta Raptor V2
Anyone who has ever seen me on the water knows Shelta is my go-to hat for paddling. This past year I’ve been sporting a bright orange Raptor V2, distinguished by its unique no flop brim and laser cut vents in the shape of the Shelta logo. The latter feature makes the Raptor V2 the best sun hat for high exertion activities. In addition to blocking the sun, the Shelta brim effectively blocks water spray which keeps you a little bit drier when the going gets rough and the waves are rocking!
2. Infinity Downtown
The Infinity Downtown SUP is the lesser known sibling of the venerable Whiplash and Blackfish. No less capable, the Downtown’s exposure has been limited due to the perception of being solely a “downwind” SUP. Make no mistake, the Downtown excels in downwind conditions and will easily outperform other SUPs in its class. The difference maker is in the Infinity Downtown’s ability to effortlessly glide, which translates into an infinitely more enjoyable paddling experience across a wide range of conditions. If you paddle primarily in open water or are a downwind junkie then the Infinity Downtown is the SUP for you.
1. Vaikobi VDRY Paddling Vest
No single item of gear was as impactful for me in 2019 than the Vaikobi VDRY Paddling Vest. I used it throughout the winter paddling OC-1 and the Vaikobi vest truly proved its mettle during the spring OC-6 season from April – June. The Pacific Ocean off Southern California, never warm, has an extra injection of cold coming off the winter months. With practices starting at 5:30 pm and running until the sun goes down, staying warm and dry is essential. The Vaikobi VDRY paddling vest proved to be the perfect outer layer for the transition period from day to night. The breathable construction and ¼ zip top prevents overheating and protected my core from the cold ocean water while out bombing around the South Bay with the Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club. Two words sum up this item: Game Changer!