If you're spending some time near a lake, river, or ocean this summer, this is the gear you need.

By Gabrielle Porcaro
June 22, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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Spending some time near a lake, river, or ocean this summer means you will probably be partaking in some fun water activities. And if you're not a fan of wetsuits and freezing cold water, then there are only a handful of months you can be a surfer girl or master stand-up paddleboarding (SUPing), depending on where you live. Now's the time to invest in some of the best water activities equipment so you can have a full season of enjoyment.

The good news: No one said anything about having to a be a watersport pro to get in on the action. The beauty of water activities is that they're accessible to people of all fitness levels and are great family outings. You can start your morning with an easy paddle down the river in a kayak; have a chill afternoon fishing out of a canoe in a lake; or practice some sunset yoga moves on a SUP. And if you want even more of a thrill, you can catch some waves on a surfboard or wakeboard behind a boat. (Related: 7 Insane Water Sports You've Never Tried)

But, unlike being able to just jump into the water to swim laps, these sports do require the appropriate equipment. Since these pieces are larger and more heavy-duty, they're also more costly—you're definitely making a commitment by purchasing one. However, keep in mind that water activities come with a slew of benefits: They help you stay active and boost your mental health, all while getting you outdoors and connecting you to nature.

With so many options on the market, it's easy to get overwhelmed, so lean on this guide of the best water activities equipment—from kayaks and canoes to paddleboards and surfboards—at both budget and splurge-worthy price points, according to customers reviews. (Related: Wakesurfing Is the Water Sport You Need to Try Before Summer Ends)

Best Value Kayak: Intex Excursion Pro Kayak

AMAZON

Constructed from durable, puncture-resistant vinyl, this will take you on many lake or river adventures. The kayak features two adjustable bucket seats (so you can either paddle solo or with a partner or furry friend), two integrated recessed fishing rod holders, a removable and adjustable mounting bracket for accessories like a GPS, and a carry bag and repair patch (just in case). The set also includes a paddle and pump, which makes inflating this kayak a breeze. Plus, you can easily deflate it and store it away when not in use, if you're short on space.

One reviewer wrote: "I received this last Wednesday and took it to a lake in northern Maine for a 5-day trip. I had my 60lb dog with me, and this held up beautifully! It took five minutes to blow up with the Intex quick fill electric air pump (ordered separately.) I only used the included pump to top in off on a super cold morning. After blowing it up at the car, I walked it about 100 yards to the shore of the lake and used it. It was PHENOMENAL!!! I love this kayak! LOVE IT!"

Best Splurge Kayak: Lifetime Teton Angler Kayak

DICK'S SPORTING GOODS

Great for both newbie and experienced kayakers, this sturdy sit-on-top kayak is made of a UV-protected hard casing, and has a unique hull design that offers more stability for those who are less balanced. It also has adjustable seating for ultimate comfort, front and rear storage with bungees to secure your gear, and it's outfitted with paddle keepers, so you're guaranteed not to lose an oar while you're out on the water.

"This is the BEST KAYAK [you] can buy at this price point. It has features that $600 kayaks don't have! The seat is amazing! Very comfortable. Has mounts for all the additions you want to add. Has plenty of room for storage. And is very sturdy. It is very hard to tip over. Great for beginners or for experienced kayakers," said a shopper.

Best Value Canoe: Emotion Wasatch Canoe

DICK'S SPORTING GOODS

This three-seat canoe can hold up to 600lbs and has a wide flat bottom to provide stability. It has a motor mount—in case you get the urge to add some horsepower—and a built-in skeg wheel, which helps to keep your canoe straight when you're paddling with a crosswind. It also has all the accessories you need, including cup holders, rod holders, storage, and luggage handles for easy transporting.

"I bought this canoe because it was the cheapest one available at Dick's. I usually kayak but wanted to go out with a friend who has nothing. At 13' it was easy to put in the back of my full-size pickup. It is heavy but I knew that when I bought it. 30 seconds after launching it in the lake I fell in love with it. I believe it is more stable than the 17' aluminum canoes I have been in. It is not as fast, but I didn't buy it for racing. We caught a few fish and a warm sunny afternoon. I have taken it out two more times," shared a customer.

Best Splurge Canoe: L.L. Bean Discovery 169 Canoe by Old Town

L.L. BEAN

A gorgeous, classic canoe will be a lovely addition to your family's summer activities. This one is designed to be tough, stable for the whole family, and spacious enough to hold all your gear for hiking and camping. The sleek shape makes it easy to haul to and from the water's edge, and even if you don't have a weekend trip in the books yet, you can use it to leisurely paddle around during the daytime. (Related: The 12 Best Camping Tents, According to Outdoorsy Reviewers)

"This is a handsome canoe with ash thwarts [the wood braces placed cross-wise in the canoe] and seats," wrote a buyer. "It is also very durable and versatile. I confidently use it on rapids up to Class III, poling through riffles and runs, fishing and traversing lakes, ponds, or estuaries. It holds enough gear for camping and hunting. It is maneuverable, stable and the best possible boat for all that I need a canoe to do."

Best Value Paddleboard: SereneLife Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

AMAZON

Lather up the sunscreen, because you'll be on this stand-up paddleboard all day long. The extra-wide design and anti-slip surface helps to keep you upright and better balanced, whether you're standing tall, paddling on your knees, or lying down. Since it's inflatable, it's extremely easy to take on-the-go, and the kit comes with everything you need, including a board, ankle leash, three fins, aluminum paddle, manual air pump, and a storage bag. Bonus: It has an impressive 4.7 rating on Amazon, so you know you'll be in good company.

One reviewer raved: "This board is great. I've used hard boards in the past and had a blast. This board feels almost identical and fits conveniently in the trunk of my Civic. It's just as stable, almost as fast, and turns much easier since it sits higher in the water. I've since bought a different iSUP so that I have one for friends to borrow but it was nowhere near the quality of this board."

Best Splurge Paddleboard: Peak Navigator Rigid Epoxy Stand-Up Paddleboard

AMAZON

Your SUP or yoga moves will be easier to master and Instagram better on this pretty, summer-inspired board. It has a center handle for easy transport, a grippy surface to keep you stabilized, a strong construction to handle choppy water, and front bungee cords keep gear and necessities secure. Each paddleboard comes with a single center fin, coil leash, and an aluminum, adjustable paddle. Customers love that it's "beautiful" (the colors really pop against the water!) and that it's "easy to use and not too heavy."

Best Value Skimboard: Sunspecs Rubber Top Wooden Skimboard

AMAZON

Sure, wood boards might be heavier, but that means you'll actually be more stable and less affected by wind, allowing you to confidently ride those waves. It also has a rubber layer coating on top of the board to offer traction without the need for wax (one less thing you have to worry about on your next trip to the beach). Consult the size guide, and choose the best board based on your weight.

"This board seemed bigger than I expected but my son had a blast learning to use it at the beach recently. It was challenging but satisfying to see him finally get a little run on it. The board didn't need any stuff to make it stickier - it was great as-is and it's in our garage now to use for our next beach trip. Two thumbs up," a shopper said.

Best Splurge Skimboard: BPS 'Gator' Skimboard

AMAZON

Glide for hours on this gloss-coated plywood board. The built-in foam traction pad means you won't have to wax up your board and it ensures you won't lose your grip or let your board get away from you. And the nose rocker offers more maneuverability to make turning it almost seamless—which is a great perk for beginners and experienced skimboarders alike. (Related: 5 Ocean-Friendly Exercises to Soak Up the Best of Summer While You Work Out)

"My 13-year-old son loves this skimboard! It's beautifully made, very durable and is easy to handle and glide across the water's surface. He is a beginner and the board was very comfortable to use and learn to ride. Great purchase," one happy parent commented.

Buy It: BPS 'Gator' Skimboard, from $90, amazon.com

Best Value Foam Surfboard: California Board Company 6'2'' Fish Surfboard

AMAZON

Bring on the surfer vibes with this classic white and blue striped board. Appearance aside, this is made with multi-layers of laminated wood, a foam deck, and covered in a waterproof resin, so it'll hold up in the waves. Plus, it's on the wider side to offer more stability and is super lightweight, making it easy to carry from the car to the shoreline. Because it is considered a shortboard (standing 6'2 tall), it's best for small riders or more experienced surfers; however, multiple beginners had no problems with successfully using it.

"CBC surfboard 6'2" FISH is a beautiful surfboard. It is EXTREMELY LIGHT to carry all around the beach. It is well-made! It comes with the leash, fins, and instructions. It is thick (3") and buoyant, wide deck. It is really great for a beginner. I learned my FIRST POP UP with this board and will surely keep it for a long time," a buyer wrote.

Best Splurge Foam Surfboard: South Bay Board Co. Premium Beginner Soft Top Surfboard

AMAZON

Made by family-owned and operated South Bay Board Co., this 7' soft-top board is ideal for both beginners and regular surfers. Why? The mid-size makes it easy to ride and it's incredibly grippy—thanks to the fingerprint textured foam—so you spend more time standing and less time toppling into the water. Also nice: the brand's mission is to provide the best quality materials and premium performance-focused shapes without breaking your bank account, so you can rest easy knowing you're getting a well-made board.

One reviewer noted: "Crazy easy delivery, convenient size and weight (fits inside of civic hatchback and can be easily carried up and down stairs). No waxing required and great shape/size if you have experience on the big foam boards. Perfect for beginners as well as those looking to grow with the board. Seems super durable and well made - like it will actually last if treated well."

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