Boating World’s Tube Test 2017

Our team of teens and ’tweens put 15 of the latest inflatable tow toys to the test.

Sometimes it feels like a scene out of Ground­hog Day, but every April, just like taxes, comes the annual Boating World Tube Test. For the eighth year in a row, we conducted testing on Lake Weir in the sleepy central Florida town of Ocklawaha, population 6,865 (931 more than Punxsutawney). While the town might be small, it’s home to Transition Watersports (transitionwatersports.com), which we’ve watched grow into a watersports powerhouse during its 10-year existence. Our hosts for the event were Nate and Abby Stockman, who helped with the many details of pulling this off, including finding us testers.

We had eight juniors put 15 tubes through the wringer in some chilly post-winter water, from relaxing rides to tubes that challenged the testers to stay on. Kid safety is a key goal, and we followed the testing protocol recommended by the Water Sports Industry Association (wsia.com). WSIA has an excellent video to help make tubing fun and safe.

Driving the boat this year was Sean Griswold from Malibu Boats. The 2017 Malibu 24 MXZ was an outstanding model for our purposes; without ballast, it gave our tubes a nice mountain to climb. Our testers gave us great feedback. Of course, their opinions are subjective, and their style might not be yours, as evidenced by the weird power drinks kids consume these days. But one thing is sure: Your next great tube can be found on the following pages.


Tube Testers

Katherine Kutz Redmond Farrell Hanna Hogan
Age: 14 Age: 15 Age: 14
Grade: 9th Grade: 9th Grade: 9th
Dream Job: Teacher Dream Job: President Dream Job: Oceanographer
Favorite Sport: Golf Favorite Sport: Wakeboarding Favorite Sport: Softball
Favorite Tubes:
O’Brien Barca 3,
Connelly Cruzer Soft Top
Favorite Tube:
No Fear Drop Zone 4
Favorite Tubes:
HO Sports Viper 3,
No Fear Dropzone 4
Bryanna Allison Ramsey Farrell Caleb Emerson
Age: 15 Age: 11 Age: 14
Grade: 9th Grade: 7th Grade: 9th
Dream Job: Actress Dream Job: Paid Protester Dream Job: Tour Guide
Favorite Sport: Basketball Favorite Sport: Fishing Favorite Sport: Curling
Favorite Tubes:
HO Sports Viper 3,
Airhead Throne 3
Favorite Tube:
WOW Eagle,
O’Brien Barca 3
Favorite Tubes:
No Fear Drop Zone 4
Annemarie Emerson Nya Allison
Age: 12 Age: 12
Grade: 6th Grade: 6th
Dream Job:Interior Decorator Dream Job:Police Officer
Favorite Sport: Wakeboarding Favorite Sport: Basketball
Favorite Tubes:
Nash Supreme Pizza,
Airhead Throne 3
Favorite Tube:
Airhead Throne 3,
Full Throttle Smoothie Flocked

Key to Ratings:

Set Up: 1-5 — 1 = you’ll be swearing; 5 = easy
Fun Scale: 1-5 — 1 = stay on the couch; 5 = yowza
Raft-up Rating: 1-5 — 1 = stay in the boat; 5 = bring extra sunblock

 

(Ed. Note: The Fun Scale rating is a bit subjective, based on testers’ age and familiarity with tubing, as evidenced by one tube’s 3.5 rating one year when it got a 5 the previous year.)


SportsStuff Cheeseburger

Fun scale:

 


**Great Value**

MSRP: $150
Set up: 5/5 — 1 Speed Safety valve
Dim.: 58″ diameter
Riders: 2
Handholds: 4 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: It looks like a floating cheeseburger, complete with all the fixin’s.
Material: 840-Denier (abbreviated D from now on) nylon cover, 24-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Its relatively small size makes it more comfortable for younger riders who won’t hang too far off the back.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Raft-up: 3/5 — Good for catching rays.
Comments: “It rides high above the water, which reduces spray in your face.” “A comfortable ride with pretty good speed.” “The handles could be spaced a little farther apart.”


Connelly Vortex 2

Fun scale:

MSRP: $250
Set up: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Dim.: 72″ diameter
Riders: 2
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Convex bottom reduces drag for a fast ride. Raised outer ring yields a lower center of gravity, for better stability.
Material: 420D nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Neoprene elbow pads reduce chafing, and an extra set of handles in the middle comes in handy when kneeling or reboarding.
Positions: Lying, sitting, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 3/5 — Comfortable for reclining on your back.
Comments: “Wicked fast in corners; the first time we got out of the wake, it kept going until we were almost even with the boat.” “Surprisingly stable, even when going over large wakes, but we still wiped out.” “This could use a towing ball or a higher tow point because of the spray.”


Airhead Throne 3

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite**

MSRP: $470
Set up: 4/5 — 2 Speed Safety valves
Dim.: 82″ x 92″
Riders: 3
Handholds: 8 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: High-back design and inflatable seat bottom give the riders the feel they are perched on a throne.
Material: 840D nylon cover, twin 30-gauge PVC bladders
Ergonomics: Really comfortable ride with a supportive backrest that’s angled for comfort.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 5/5 — Its sofa-like feel makes it a great place to chill.
Comments: “For a big tube, it’s a really fast ride that crosses the wake easily.” “It kinda wiggles left and right, which gives it some extra action.” “Because you are sitting inside it, you stay pretty dry and feel safe.” “The cover is a bit scratchy.”


Rave Razor XP 3

Fun scale:

MSRP: $150
Set up: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Dim.:62″ x 67″
Riders:3
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Skim-Fast bottom helps it cover some water by reducing wetted surface and drag.
Material: 420D nylon cover, 30/24-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Good handle placement, but it’s a bit compact for three riders unless they are also compact in size.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 3/5 — Decent for reclining and sunning.
Comments: “It’s a pretty fast tube, but the top and handles are kinda slippery, so once one person started sliding, they would take the other ones with them.” “It’s a good value for a three-person tube.”


Full Throttle Smoothie Flocked

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite**

MSRP: $350
Set up: 4/5 — 1 Boston valve, but alignment with hole was off
Dim.: 70″ x 66″
Riders: 2
Handholds: 4 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Instead of the usual Denier nylon over PVC bladder design, it features a flocked surface for comfort.
Material: Flocked nylon cover, 28/24-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: The surface feels very soft to the touch and helps avoid rider chafing. Low backrest offers support while divider keeps riders separated.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 5/5 — This is basically a floating couch with a soft cover. What more could you want?
Comments: “Really smooth ride with a comfortable riding position.” “We loved its fuzzy surface.” “While it seemed to have a little trouble getting out of the wake, it was still fun.”


Full Throttle D’Luxe

Fun scale:

MSRP: $270
Set up: 4/5 — 1 Boston valve, 2 small beach-ball valves
Dim.: 70″ diameter
Riders: 2
Handholds: 4 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: It features a “flocked” finish that feels very soft to the skin; it’s round in the front and flat in the back with small inflated wings to keep riders from sliding.
Material: Flocked nylon cover over 26-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Flocked finish is far softer than Denier nylon, which can feel scratchy, especially when overinflated.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 4/5 — Good for lying on or paddling around.
Comments: “Really fast and easy to swing outside the wake.” “It sits low to the water, so you feel like you are going faster, but it also causes you to get more spray in your face; a tow ball or higher tow point would have helped.”


O’Brien Barca 3

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite**

MSRP: $350
Set up: 4/5 — 2 Lightning valves
Dim.: 62″ x 114″
Riders: 3
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Three riders sit on this sofa-like tube with dividers in between to keep riders in place and from bumping into each other.
Material: 840/420D nylon cover, 30/24-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Good back support and handle placement
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 5/5 — It’s named the Barca because it’s like sitting on a three-person Barcalounger.
Comments: “You feel really locked in on this one. If you fall off this one, it’s because the driver did something crazy.” “It’s like sitting in your living room.” “Even though it’s pretty big, it was able to cross the wake easily.”


NASH No Fear Dropzone 4

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite** **Great Value**

MSRP: $200
Set up: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Dim.: 80″ x 55″
Riders: 4
Handholds: 8 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Wider than long, there’s room for four — barely — on this unusually shaped tube. Its bad-to-the-bone attitude is announced by the 15 skulls on its surface.
Material: 840D nylon cover, 30-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: A neoprene pad is there for elbows but since the tube is pointed and riders are staggered, not everyone benefits.
Positions: Lying
Raft-up Rating: 4/5 — Good tanning station for two or three lying sideways.
Comments: “If you have four riders, they’d better be close friends.” “Being close together makes it a more shared experience and really fun.” “Ones on the outside have their legs hanging over but their feet act like rudders to stabilize it in turns.”


HO Sports Saturn 2

Fun scale:

MSRP: $300
Set up: 5/5 — 2 Boston valves
Dim.: 86″ x 74″
Riders: 2
Handholds: 4 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Its patented Sphere technology reduces drag to make it very fast and creates an interactive experience where two riders must work together or crash.
Material: Softshell deck, 30-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Large deck gives riders room to maneuver. Softshell technology is softer than 840D covers.
Positions: Kneeling, standing
Raft-up Rating: 2/5 — Not really suitable for lounging.
Comments: “Really, really fast and, purposefully, unstable.” “Unless the boat driver goes in a straight line, at some point you’re going to crash.” “It helps to have two riders the same size for better balance.”


O’Brien Boxxer 2

Fun scale:

MSRP: $170
Set up: 5/5 — 1 Lightning valve
Dim.: 66″ x 66″
Riders: 2
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: This deck-style tube was the only two-person model to have six handholds, but the two in the middle should be closer together. Thin design gets riders close to the water.
Material: 840D nylon cover, 26-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Twin neoprene strips are placed for elbow and knee comfort. Two straps in the back aid in post-crash reboarding.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 3/5 — Decent platform for lounging and sunning.
Comments: “A fun ride that had some speed.” “We weren’t really sure where to put our hands.” “Really comfortable to lie on.”


HO SPORTS Viper 3

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite**

MSRP: $400
Set up: 4/5 — 1 Boston valve, two beach-ball valves
Dim.: 90″ x 75″
Riders: 3
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Wedge shape is thicker in the front to elevate riders’ heads higher than their feet, for comfort and easier reboarding. Individual body contours and winglets help keep riders in place.
Material: Softshell cover, 30-gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Softshell material on top is very comfortable and rider position is excellent.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 5/5 — Riders can still lounge on their back and not be staring at the sky. Lying face down, one could read a book while sunning.
Comments: “Really comfortable ride with a soft top to lie on that had indentations for your body that kept you in place.” “We loved having our heads high off the water; it felt like a really natural riding position.” “You felt very safe on this one, it’s so stable.”


WOW Eagle

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite**

MSRP: $370
Set up: 3/5 — 2 Speed valves, two basketball valves that had to be tucked under flaps, which wasn’t easy.
Dim.: 94″ x 76″
Riders: 3
Handholds: 9 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Eagle head and saddle gives the center rider the feel of riding a horse with two wingmen on the lower side decks.
Material: Heavy-duty D nylon cover, heavy-duty gauge PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Center saddle seat is very comfortable and side riders have side bumpers to keep from sliding off.
Positions: Sitting, lying, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 4/5 — Saddle is comfortable for hanging out; people on the side wings can lean against the center for support.
Comments: “Sitting high above the water in the center seat is comfortable and a little scary … but in a good way.” “There were a couple of times the side bumpers saved me from sliding off.” “We got sideways once after crossing the wake but it recovered nicely.”


Nash Supreme Pizza

Fun scale:

**Kid Favorite**

MSRP: $200
Set up: 4/5 — 1 Boston valve that was smaller than standard
Dim.: 72″ diameter
Riders: 3
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Part of the “Towedible” collection, its top looked like a pizza with everything.
Material: NeoSoft cover over heavy-duty PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Very comfortable NeoSoft cover prevents chafing. Tapered rear makes reboarding easier.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 4/5 — Large enough to be a good recliner.
Comments: “Really fun tube with plenty of stability.” “Very comfortable riding surface that didn’t scratch.” “We only had two on board but there was plenty of room for a third person.”


WOW Viking

Fun scale:

**Great Value**

MSRP: $200
Set up: 5/5 — 2 Speed valves
Dim.: 150″ x 47″
Riders: 3
Handholds: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
Unique: Shaped like a Viking ship, this really long tube allows riders to sit inside.
Material: Denier nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
Ergonomics: Secure Form-Fit Seating allows the riders to sit lower to drop the center of gravity for comfort and stability.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Raft-up Rating: 3/5 — Small passenger compartments don’t lend themselves to adult lounging, but kids will love hanging out on it.
Comments: “Kinda scary at first, but it was surprisingly stable.” “Very comfortable riding position.” “Being so long, it tends to want to go sideways, which was exciting.”

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