Boating World’s Tube Test 2018

Our annual roundup of inflatable tow toys challenged six teens and a ’tween to put 17 tubes through the paces.

Like the gathering of the swallows at San Juan Capistrano in California, if it’s March, the latest and greatest towable tubes come together at Sandy Hook Beach on Lake Weir in Ocklawaha in central Florida. They are there to be put through their paces to determine which of them deliver the goods on a wide range of factors.

Our seven testers this year ranged in age from 9 to 18 and were troopers, braving the cold water and morning air temperature in the 50s, which later climbed into the low 70s. This year, the girls outnumbered the guys by five to two and, as usual, they were a great bunch of polite high-achievers. Best of all, for the ninth year in a row, we had zero injuries, thanks to the safe driving of Nate Stockman of Transition Watersports (transitionwatersports.com), who, along with Abby Stockman, hosted the event. He drove a 2018 Malibu Wakesetter 23 LSV, which proved to be a sweet ride.

We tested 17 towable tubes, which was a record for us and, as a group, they had the highest scoring average ever. We asked all of our testers to name their three favorite tubes, and in all, 12 tubes were named as one of at least one tester’s favorites. This gave us a whopping nine “Kid Favorite” tubes, which means they were the favorite tube by at least half of those who rode on them. We created a new category called “Kid Super Favorite” for the three Kid Favorites that were a favorite of all who rode it. We also added a new category called “Visibility” that factors how visible the tube is to other boaters. As anyone can see by the faces of our testers, there’s a lot of fun to be had with these great towable tubes, which are probably the best boat accessory an owner can buy.


Tube Test Pilots

Name: Cali Markham
Age: 9
GPA: A-
Favorite Sport: Cheerleading
Dream Job: Makeup artist
Favorite Tubes: O’Brien Challenger 3, HO Sports Formula 3, Full Throttle Double Whammy


Name: Annemarie Emerson
Age: 13
GPA: 4.0
Favorite Sport: Volleyball
Dream Job: House architect
Favorite Tubes: Sportsstuff Rock N’ Tow, O’Brien Apex 2, Rave Sports Mega Mambo


Name: Hannah Harper
Age: 14
GPA: 3.5
Favorite Sport: Volleyball
Dream Job: Veterinarian
Favorite Tubes: Full Throttle Smoothie, Sportsstuff Rock N’ Tow, WOW UTO Apollo


Name: Garrison Reed
Age: 16
GPA: 4.87
Favorite Sport: Basketball
Dream Job: CEO of Google
Favorite Tubes: O’Brien Challenger 3, Rave Sports Mega Mambo, WOW Big Ducky


Name: Redmond Farrell
Age: 16
GPA: 4.67
Favorite Sport: Wakeboarding
Dream Job: Dentist
Favorite Tubes: Sportsstuff Rock N’ Tow, Rave Sports Mega Mambo, Rave Sports Warrior 3


Name: Bekah Meadows
Age: 17
GPA: 3.7
Favorite Sport: Volleyball
Dream Job: Supermodel
Favorite Tubes: O’Brien Orbit 3, Connelly Eldorado, WOW Big Ducky


Name: Lael Littell
Age: 18
GPA: 3.9
Favorite Sport: Swimming
Dream Job: Wildlife biologist
Favorite Tubes: O’Brien Orbit 3, WOW Big Ducky, Connelly Eldorado


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
Loungeworthiness: 1-5 — 1 = stay in the boat; 5 = bring extra sunblock
Visibility: 1-5 — 1 = nearly invisible; 5 = Mardi Gras float

(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.)


To the Web

Airhead.com
ConnellySkis.com

FullThrottleWatersports.com
HOSports.com
NashMFG.com (Hydroslide)
OBrien.com
RaveSports.com
SportsStuff.com
WOWWatersports.com


WOW Big Ducky

Fun scale:

***Kid Super Favorite***
MSRP: $380
Setup: 4 — 4 Speed valves
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: Like the name implies, it’s a giant duck. The center rider sits or stands, straddling the duck, while the other two lie or kneel on the duck’s wings.
Ergonomics: The center rider sits — taller riders can stand — very secure and tall on a wide “saddle.” The “wingmen” lie or kneel and have good handholds and side bolsters to help stay on.
Positions: Lying, kneeling, sitting, standing
Loungeworthiness: 3.5 — Lounge on the outer wings or sit in the center.
Visibility: 5 — Very tall and very yellow; highly visible to other boats.
Comments: “In the middle, it’s like riding a horse.” “Make sure you call dibs on the center seat.” “Very stable and comfortable.” “A really fun ride.”


Airhead Comfort Shell 65

Fun scale:

MSRP: $200
Setup: 5 — 1 Speed Safety valve
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Round deck-type tube with a 65-inch diameter is completely covered in Neoprene.
Ergonomics: The Neoprene cover is softer than the usual 840-Denier vinyl covering and helps reduce chafing.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 3 — Smaller kids can paddle around but larger loungers will hang over the side.
Visibility: 4 — High-vis yellow over black.
Comments: “Really comfortable surface.” “Kind of small for larger riders.” “Surprisingly stable for its size.” “Fast.”


Hydroslide Daytona 2

Fun scale:

MSRP: $120
Setup: 5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Round deck tube with a 60″ diameter. Sits higher than most compact tubes.
Ergonomics: Riders lie close together and have to overlay inside arms for a better grip.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 3 — Great for kids but too small for larger loungers.
Visibility: 3 — Mostly black profile with bright green above and yellow on the bottom.
Comments: “This tube will challenge you.” “With two riders, it’s hard to stay aboard during hard whips.” “This would make a better tube for just one rider.”


Rave Sports Warrior 3

Fun scale:

MSRP: $300
Setup: 4 — 1 Boston valve, 3 small beachball valves
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: Three riders sit in suspended hammock-style bucket seats. The center rider sits slightly farther forward.
Ergonomics: The suspended seats are very comfortable for a wide range of passenger sizes and offer good, stable support.
Position: Sitting
Loungeworthiness: 4 — Comfortable sitting position with legs stretched out.
Visibility: 3 — Mostly white with black letters with some bright red visible.
Comments: “Very comfortable seats give great support.” “Because you feel locked into the seat, you feel really safe even when whipped hard.” “The low center of gravity makes it very stable in corners.” “Really fast.”


Connelly Orbit 3 Soft Top

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite*** ***Great Value***
MSRP: $320
Setup: 5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: Roundish 70” diameter tube is convex with raised edges to help keep riders aboard. Part of Connelly’s Soft Top series, which features a Neoprene upper surface.
Ergonomics: The full Neoprene top is more comfortable than the usual Denier vinyl surface.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4 — Soft surface and curled edges make it a good sunning tube for two.
Visibility: 3 — Bright blue profile is more visible on darker lakes but in clear water on sunny days might be harder to see.
Comments: “OMG!” “The curved sides make it easy to stay aboard.” “Fast and stable.” “The ‘funnest’ ride ever.”


Rave Sports Mega Mambo

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite***  ***Great Value***
MSRP: $300
Setup: 5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 4/680 lbs.
Unique: Wing-shaped tube is 98” wide and is raised toward the sides to make it easier for riders to stay aboard. Contoured bottom reduces drag.
Ergonomics: Small Neoprene chafing guard in the center doesn’t protect all riders; 72” length gives most riders plenty of legroom.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4 — Its width gives loungers plenty of stretching out space.
Visibility: 5 — Bright red color makes it stand out.
Comments: “High-energy tube.” “Really fast for its size.” “Very stable when it gets rough.” “When you go over the wake, it tips but it’s easy to stay aboard.”


Hydroslide Torque 3

Fun scale:

MSRP: $150
Setup: 5 — 1 Lightning valve
Riders: 3/540 lbs.
Unique: Tall doughnut-shaped tube has riders sit on the sides with their feet in the middle.
Ergonomics: Although it’s rated for three riders, they’d better be small to fit on this tube.
Position: Sitting
Loungeworthiness: 3 — You can sit on the sides and it’s tall enough to keep your knees level with your hips.
Visibility: 4 — Yellow with pastel blue colors aren’t especially vivid but its height makes it more noticeable.
Comments: “Surprisingly stable for being so tall.” “There was just enough room for two of us; three would be a crowd.”


Sportsstuff Rock N’ Tow

Fun scale:

***Kid Super Favorite***
MSRP: $460
Setup: 4 — 1 Speed Safety valve, 4 small two-way valves
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: Tall couch-like tube has a curved bottom that rocks back and forth.
Ergonomics: Tall backrest, plenty of stretching out spaces and a curved seat bottom make this tube extremely comfortable. Dividers keep riders from bumping.
Position: Sitting
Loungeworthiness: 5 — Sit like you’re on a Barcalounger in front of the TV.
Visibility: 5 — Orange and blue sides, a checkerboard front and its height make this tube very visible.
Comments: “I give this tube a 10 out of 5!” “When the boat takes off, the tube tips way back, and it’s scary at first until you realize how stable it is.” “Extreme fun for all ages.” “Super comfortable.”


Full Throttle Double Whammy 

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $350
Setup: 4 — 1 Boston valve, 1 medium one-way valve.
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Couch-like tube can be ridden facing forward or turned 180 degrees to be ridden chariot-style.
Ergonomics: High back provides great support for riders and there’s plenty of legroom for taller riders. The high sides keep riders from falling out during aggressive maneuvers.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling, standing (chariot-style)
Loungeworthiness: 5 — Comfortable lounging tube for sitting and floating.
Visibility: 5 — Bright red and blue sides plus a tall profile make it very visible.
Comments: “Incredibly stable with great back support.” “Very secure feeling thanks to the walled-in sides.” “Tended to collect water where you sit.”


Hydroslide Go Kart 2

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite***  ***Great Value***
MSRP: $240
Setup: 3 — 1 large Lightning valve, 1 medium valve, 2 beachball valves
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: A couch-like tube with straight sides and rounded front can be ridden conventionally or turned around and ridden chariot-style, as our test riders did.
Ergonomics: Low backrest offers decent support and divider armrests on either side of the riders keep them secure during maneuvering. Large neoprene patches cushion the seats and knees of riders.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 5 — Low backrest is comfortable and cooler than those with high backs.
Visibility: 4 — Bright orange and blue sides on this lower tube offer good visibility.
Comments: “It was fun riding this backward [chariot-style]; it adds another dimension.” “The riding position is comfortable either way you ride it.” “The skull on the tube is cool.”


O’Brien Challenger 3

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $420
Setup: 4 — 2 Lightning valves, 1 ECO valve
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: Sit-inside couch-style tube has an inflatable floor. It has an extremely wide 105″ beam.
Ergonomics: Tall backrest and inflatable seat with armrests make it very comfortable.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4 — Its couch-like aspect with a tall backrest makes it comfortable but its sit-in design makes taller loungers sit with their legs elevated outside of the cockpit or with legs bent.
Visibility: 4 — Hi-vis yellow and bright blue sides make it easy to see.
Comments: “The inflatable seat makes it very bouncy when going over waves … but in a good way.” Exhilarating, fast ride.” “Sit-in design makes you feel very secure.”


Full Throttle Smoothie

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $350
Setup: 4 — 1 Boston valve, 1 ECO valve
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: This sit-atop tube has a flocked Ultra Plush upper surface, unlike any other tube we’ve tested. It’s the first tube we tested with a pea green deck.
Ergonomics: Its Ultra Plush surface reduces chafing and feels good on bare skin. A low, curved backrest gives good support.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 5 — Comfortable surface and backrest make it a good floating lounger.
Visibility: 4 — Yellow and orange sides are very visible.
Comments: “It skips along the surface and catches air easily.” “Stable, extra-comfortable ride.” “I liked the divider that keeps you from bumping into the other rider.”


O’Brien Apex 2

Fun scale:

***Kid Super Favorite***   ***Great Value***
MSRP: $350
Setup: 3 — 1 Lightning valve, 3 ECO valves
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Rectangular tube is much thicker at the front with raised handholds.
Ergonomics: Riders stay high above the water, so spray issues aren’t prominent. Because it’s lower in the back, getting back on is easier.
Positions: Lying face down, lying face up, sitting, kneeling, crouching, standing
Loungeworthiness: 3.5 — Its unusual shape does make it awkward to sit on but it’s a good tanning platform.
Visibility: 4 — Bright green and blue color plus its height make it easy to spot.
Comments: “The most versatile tube I’ve ever seen. We were able to get into six positions.” “It’s so stable, we could stand on it without hanging on.” “A really fun ride that’s quick and comfortable.”


WOW UTO Apollo 

Fun scale:

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $360
Setup: 4 — 3 medium Speed valves
Riders: 2
Unique: Smallest of the Unidentified Towable Object (UTO) series, this tube looks like a flying saucer. It features a Hover Bottom (concave) for less drag and faster performance.
Ergonomics: The cockpit features Secure Slots, which are lower sides that make it easier to enter the cockpit or sit on. The cockpit is a bit cramped for two large riders.
Positions: Sitting, straddling, standing
Loungeworthiness: 3 — For adults, its unusual shape doesn’t lend itself to lounging, though small kids will probably love hanging out on it.
Visibility: 5 — Bright colors, tall stature and the ability of riders to stand make this tube very visible.
Comments: “Super fast during whips.” “The speed varies, which keeps it interesting.” “Standing is by far the most fun position.” “The sloped outer deck doesn’t help your traction.”


Connelly Eldorado

Fun scale:

MSRP: $300
Setup: 5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 5/850 lbs.
Unique: Huge deck towable that measures 90″ x 110″ and has room for five riders.
Ergonomics: Wide beam give riders enough space. Riders get the best grip by crisscrossing arms. The outer riders’ outermost handgrip sits farther back, which provides less leverage.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 5 — A great platform for sunning or sitting on with room for three or four loungers.
Visibility: 4 — Bright orange makes visibility good but the black bottom half doesn’t help much.
Comments: “This thing is huge!” “I liked how the front is raised so your face is higher above the water.” “You’ll want to put your strongest riders on the outside, because during whips it’s hard to hang on.”


HO Sports Watermelon

Fun scale: 3.5

MSRP: $100
Setup: 5 — 1 medium Boston valve
Riders: 1/170 lbs.
Unique: It’s a watermelon! What stands out is its height, which keeps the rider high above the water. It would be a great choice for youngsters but has enough flotation for older riders.
Ergonomics: Its doughnut shape allows the rider to nestle down a bit to get a secure seat. There are two sets of handles that accommodate riders of different sizes.
Positions: Sitting, crouching, planking
Loungeworthiness: 4 — It’s actually very comfortable to sit on.
Visibility: 3 — Green and red colors are bright and it sits pretty high, but it’s pretty small.
Comments: “It’s a very tall tube for its size and I thought it would be top-heavy, but it was surprisingly stable even when going over the large wake. “Small kids will love it.”

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