Boating World’s Tube Test 2016

Our kid testers put 15 towable tubes through the wringer so you can find one that’s best for your summer of fun.

On the morning of our seventh-annual Boating World Magazine Tube Test, the forecast called for a 90 percent chance of rain, and we were greeted by a battleship gray sky that seemed to be ready to let loose at any moment. But we managed to complete our tests before any significant rain fell, and the kids got really lucky, because our lineup of 15 tubes was really strong this year. For the first time ever, there wasn’t a tube our panel of six riders didn’t like. Last year, we had several gigantic tubes, costing up to $750. This year, the trend was for smaller, more affordable tubes. In fact, one of our highest rated tubes was also one of the least expensive.

Once again we staged our event in central Florida — in Ocklawaha on Lake Weir at Sandy Hook Beach, where lake lovers have been gathering since 1917. The driver of our Centurion Enzo FS33 surf machine of a test boat was Mike Stockman, the brother of Nate Stockman, the owner of Transition Watersports (transitionwatersports.com) who hosts our event every year. Mike did a fantastic job of giving our testers — who ranged in age from 7 to 13 — thrilling but safe rides, and kept our streak of no injuries intact. For more info on how to tow tubers safely, go to WSIA.net and check out the Inflatables Safety video.


 

Tube Testers

Jackson Merriam

Jackson Merriam
Age: 13
Dream Job: Architect
Favorite Sport: Fishing
Favorite Tubes: Connelly Shift 2, WOW Hot Sauce

 

 

Weston Cook

Weston Cook
Age: 13
Dream Job: Marine biologist
Favorite Sport: Football
Favorite Tubes: WOW Hot Sauce, Connelly Shift 2, HO Sports RAD+

 

 

Francesca Ryan

Francesca Ryan
Age: 9
Dream Job: Marine biologist
Favorite Sport: Soccer
Favorite Tubes: Nash No Fear Dropzone 4, O’Brien Barca 3, Nash No Fear Hangtime 3

 

 

Cohen Ergle

Cohen Ergle
Age: 9
Dream Job: Archaeologist
Favorite Sport: Wakeboarding
Favorite Tubes: Full Throttle Speed Ray 2, Connelly C-Force 2, Full Throttle Howler Monkey

 

 

Caroline Cook

Caroline Cook
Age: 9
Dream Job: Photographer
Favorite Sport: Soccer
Favorite Tubes: Nash No Fear Dropzone 4, O’Brien Barca 3, Nash No Fear Hangtime 3

 

 

Lake Ergle

Lake Ergle
Age: 7
Dream Job: Policeman
Favorite Sport: Wakeboarding
Favorite Tubes: Connelly C-Force 2, Full Throttle Speed Ray 2, Nash No Fear Dropzone 4

 


Fun Scale

Smiley-Fcae-Scale-01

Key to Ratings

Setup: 1-5 — 1 = simple; 5 =  you’ll be swearing
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.)


O’Brien Barca 3

O'Brien Barca 3 3Kid Favorite

FUN SCALE: 4.5/5
MSRP: $420
SETUP: 1/5 — 2 lightning valves
DIM.: 62” x 114”
RIDERS: 3 (510 lbs.)
HANDHOLDS: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Three riders sit in comfort with partitions between the riders to keep them from bumping.
MATERIAL: 840/420 Denier (abbreviated D from now on) nylon cover, 30/24-gauge PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Excellent back support and good handle placement
POSITIONS: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 5/5 — It’s named the Barca because it’s like sitting in a three-person Barcalounger.
COMMENTS: “It was really good over the wakes, very stable.” “It caught a lot of air for being a big tube.” “Really roomy and comfortable.”


Nash No Fear Dropzone 4

Nash No Fear DropZone

FUN SCALE: 5/5
MSRP: $200
SETUP: 1/5 — 1 Boston valve
DIM.: 80” x 55” RIDERS: 4
HANDHOLDS: 8 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Deck-style tube for four riders, lavishly decorated with 13 skulls.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: There’s not a lot of room for four larger riders.
POSITIONS: Lying, kneeling, one person could stand and “surf” on it
RAFT-UP RATING: 3/5 — It makes a good sunning platform.
COMMENTS: “Was it fast? OMG!” “It bends when you go over waves.” “Bouncy, in a good way.” “It sits low to the water, which makes it seem faster.” “The rope kicks up some spray.” “It’s really fun to have four riders at one time.”


O’Brien Slacker 2

O'Brien Slacker

FUN SCALE: 4/5
MSRP: $340
SETUP: 4/5 — 1 lightning valve, 3 ECO valves, which were difficult to close without losing air; the smaller armrest bladders were located in curved, zipped compartments that were hard to zip.
DIM.: 70” x 60”
RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: 4 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: It’s like riding a sofa on the water.
MATERIAL: 840/420 D nylon cover, 30/24-gauge PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: High backrests give support for a comfortable riding position.
POSITIONS: Sitting, standing
RAFT-UP RATING: 4/5 — Great for sitting, but not quite long enough to lie out on.
COMMENTS: “It tilts backward and kept spray from hitting your face.” “It tended to stay inside the wake unless the driver cranked it into a turn hard.” “It was very, very comfortable.”


Airhead Riptide 3

Airhead Riptide 3 5

FUN SCALE: 3.5/5
MSRP: $300
SETUP: 2/5 — 2 speed safety valves
DIM.: 85” x 70”
RIDERS: 3
HANDHOLDS: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Sofa-style tube with dividers to keep passengers from bumping into each other.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, K80 PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Low backrest only offers OK support, neoprene seat reduces rubbing.
POSITIONS: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING:  4/5 — Comfortable reclining position, wide enough for one or two to lie sideways.
COMMENTS: “Smooth cruiser, but maybe too smooth for thrill-seekers.” “We didn’t bump into each other when going over waves.” “Really comfortable.” “It rides high on the water.”


SportsStuff Popa Wheelie

SportsStuff Popa Wheelie 3

FUN SCALE: 3.5/5
MSRP: $420
SETUP: 2/5 — 2 speed safety valves
DIM.: 78” x 65”
RIDERS: 3
HANDHOLDS: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Two different tow points, “mild” or “wild,” make for different experiences; crazy checkerboard design is eye-catching.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, K80 PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Curved backrest is comfortable and keeps you from sliding. Turned-up bow helps knock down spray.
POSITIONS: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 4/5 — Good reclining position; 1 or 2 can lie sideways
COMMENTS: “Really smooth ride.” “It had a hard time getting outside the wake.” “When it was hooked to the low tow point, the front tended to wiggle-waggle.” “The low tow point put the rope in the water, which caused spray to hit your face.”


Full Throttle Double Howler

Full Throttle Double Howler 1Great Value

FUN SCALE: 4/5
MSRP: $230
SETUP: 3/5 — 1 Boston valve, 2 beach-ball valves that were hard to close without losing air. Nylon cover must be Velcroed into position before inflating.
DIM.: 76” x 73” RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: 4 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Riders sit deep inside individual cockpits.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Really geared for younger riders because larger ones won’t fit in the small cockpits; new nylon cover’s inner edges can chafe.
POSITIONS: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 2/5 — Just OK for sitting for long periods of time
COMMENTS: “It’s practically impossible to fall off this tube because you’re sitting down deep.” “The seat bottom was really bouncy.” “The high back rest was really comfortable.” “It’s light and fast.”


Full Throttle Speed Ray 2

Full Throttle Speed Ray 2 1Kid Favorite

FUN SCALE: 4.5/5
MSRP: $350
SETUP: 3/5 — 1 Boston valve, two beach-ball valves for small chambers that were hard to close without losing air
DIM.: 90” x 73” RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: 5 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Shaped like a manta ray, it has upturned wings to help riders stay on board in turns.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, 30-gauge PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Two neoprene pads for elbows and knees reduce chafing.
POSITIONS: Lying, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 4/5 — Angled wings make comfortable backrests for two to lie sideways facing each other.
COMMENTS: “It really looked cool.” “It felt like you were flying.” “It was really easy to stay on, even when we went over the wake.” “It had lots of room and was comfortable.”


Nash No Fear Hangtime 3

Nash No Fear Hangtime 3 2

FUN SCALE: 4/5
MSRP: $350
SETUP: 3/5 — 1 Boston valve, 1 unique speed valve, 2 small ECO valves for the sponsons
DIM.: 89” x 83”
RIDERS: 3
HANDHOLDS: 6 w/EVA knuckle guards
UNIQUE: Two sit while one rides in the back chariot-style.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Low backrests for comfort and dividers keep riders segregated. Not a lot of padding in handholds. Neoprene seat bottom reduces chafing.
POSITIONS: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 4/5 — Two can recline in front, while the one in back can sit with legs in the water.
COMMENTS: “I rode in the back and it would have been cool to be able to sit going backward but the handles were too high.” “Smooth, fast ride.” “It stayed really level in turns.” “It tended to stay behind the boat.”


HO Sports 3G

HO SPORTS 3G 1

FUN SCALE: 4/5
MSRP: $429
SETUP: 2/5 — 2 Boston valves
DIM.: 76” x 61”
RIDERS: 3
HANDHOLDS: 6
UNIQUE : Two different tow points create different riding experiences; going forward it’s a floating couch, and backwards it’s ridden chariot-style.
MATERIAL: 840 D nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: High backrest is very comfortable. Dividers keep passengers from bumping into each other.
POSITIONS: Sitting, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 5/5 — It’s like sitting on a La-Z-Boy in your living room.
COMMENTS: “I loved its bright colors.” “For a big tube it was really fast…lots of gees.” “This was one of the most comfortable tubes we rode on.” “When we rode backwards it was really cool.”


HO Sports FAD

HO Sports FAD 2 (1)

FUN SCALE: 4/5 MSRP: $330
SETUP: 1/5 — Hand pump connects to a special valve that seals
when removed
DIM.: 20” x 48”
RIDERS: 1
HANDHOLDS: 1 hook for the tow rope handle
UNIQUE: FAD stands for Fun Aquatic Device, and it’s like crossing a surfboard with a skurf board.
MATERIAL: Drop-stitch technology allows it to be inflated to up to 20 psi to make it super-rigid.
ERGONOMICS: Machined EVA traction pads are soft and provide excellent grip.
POSITIONS: Standing or kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 2/5 — You can sit or lie on it, but it’s pretty small for this purpose.
COMMENTS: “I love how you can hook the tow rope to the board when starting.” “This is a challenging board that will be awesome when you get used to it.” “It was wobbly when trying to stand from a kneeling position; if you are going to stand, it’s better to do it right from the start.”


WOW Hot Sauce

WOW Hot Sauce 1Kid Favorite // Great Value

FUN SCALE: 5/5
MSRP: $149
SETUP: 2/5 — 3 speed safety valves that are concealed behind
zippered covers
DIM.: 89” x 51” RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: 6
UNIQUE: Ever wanted to ride a bottle of hot sauce? Here’s your chance. Tall height and bright colors make it more visible to other boats.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Wide “saddle” gives riders’ thighs something substantial to lock onto. The forward rider’s legs dangle in air while the rider in back kneels on the sponsons, which also make it very stable.
POSITION: Straddle it and ride it like a horse
RAFT-UP RATING: 2/5 — Not a tube adults would hang out on while at rest, but the kids would be cool with it.
COMMENTS: “It’s a really unique and fun riding experience.” “You know you are going to crash, but that’s part of the fun and challenge.” “We really caught some air when going over the wake.” “It’s so tall it’s a little hard to get back on.”


WOW Macho 2

WOW Macho 2 1

FUN SCALE: 3.5/5
MSRP: $189
SETUP: 1/5 — 1 speed safety valve
DIM.: 74” x 62”
RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: 8
UNIQUE: Deck-style tube that has a innovation called Secure Form-Fit Cockpit Seating, which are neoprene sections you kneel on that sink down to keep you locked in.
MATERIAL: Heavy-duty nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Comfortable when kneeling thanks to the cushion’s give. Lots of room for two to lie down.
POSITIONS: Lying, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 3/5 — It makes a nice sunning platform.
COMMENTS: “The trampoline seats were different, but they really kept you from sliding.” “I loved the wild colors.” “It’s good for riders who like to take risks; it’s fast.” “A lot of spray hits you in the face; a tow ball would be a good addition.”


Connelly Shift 2

Connelly Shift 2 4Kid Favorite

FUN SCALE: 4.5/5
MSRP: $320
SETUP: 3/5 — One Boston valve, two small beach-ball valves
DIM.: 72” x 72”
RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: 4
UNIQUE: Angled hull section in the front allows riders to lean and turn; plus, it reduces drag for higher speeds.
MATERIAL: 420 D nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Small inflatable stoppers help prevent riders’ legs from sliding off.
POSITIONS: Lying, kneeling
RAFT-UP RATING: 4/5 — It’s a good sunning platform.
COMMENTS: “I really liked being on a tube where you could throw your weight around and change your direction.” “It rides higher in the front so spray doesn’t get in your face.” “It’s really fast in turns.”


Connelly C-Force 2

Connelly C-Force 2 2Kid Favorite

FUN SCALE: 4.5/5
MSRP: $300
SETUP: 1/5 — 1 Boston valve
DIM.: 70” x 67”
RIDERS: 2 HANDHOLDS: 4
UNIQUE: Shaped sort of like a taco bowl with sloping sidewalls for comfort and an upturned bow for helping it slide over the waves.
MATERIAL: 420 D nylon cover, heavy-duty PVC bladder
ERGONOMICS: Sloped walls and high backrest make this very comfortable, especially for larger riders.
POSITION: Sitting
RAFT-UP RATING: 5/5 — Great on-the-water lounger.
COMMENTS: “It’s fast and bouncy.” “You kind of sink down into the seat.” “It’s really roomy and comfortable.” “It’s hard to fall off.”


HO Sports RAD+

HO Sports RAD+ 1Kid Favorite

FUN SCALE: 5/5
MSRP: $550
SETUP: 1/5 — Hand pump connects to a special valve that seals when you remove it
DIM.: 5’ diameter round RIDERS: 2
HANDHOLDS: There’s a hook for the tow rope handle.
UNIQUE: This rigid round platform is easy for beginners to get up on, thanks to the hook for the tow rope to take the strain, which is great for young riders who lack upper body strength.
MATERIAL: Drop-stitch technology means the upper and lower halves are joined together by thousands of identical tiny strands of nylon thread, then it’s coated to make it waterproof.
ERGONOMICS: Machined EVA traction pads are soft and provide excellent grip.
POSITIONS: Lying, kneeling or sitting
RAFT-UP RATING: 4/5 — You could put a lawn chair on it, it’s so stable. It makes a great sunning platform.
COMMENTS: “Really easy to get up on thanks to the hook for the tow rope.” “I like that you can either hold the handle or not when running, giving you lots of freedom to surf or ski.” “Stable platform makes it easy to stand.” “It’s really easy to do tricks like spinning.”

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