For eight years now, on the day before our annual towable tube test for the June issue, I have had the job of unboxing and inflating about 15 tubes. For six years, I had undertaken this task in the Transition Watersports service bay, in the small central Florida town of Ocklawaha. The following morning we would load all the tubes on a flatbed trailer and have a small but festive parade to nearby Lake Weir. But for the last two years, I’ve inflated the tubes onsite, at Sandy Hook Beach, under a giant tiki hut behind Transition owner Nate Stockman’s house.
It’s a tedious task that involves taking the box the tube comes in out of its shipping box, then cracking into the product box fortress. Then, I take the tube out of the box and remove it from a sheath of plastic that’s secured with tape strong enough to repair airplane wings. Last year was especially difficult thanks to 30 mph winds. That year, I didn’t finish until well after dark — made worse by having to listen to the jocularity of a party I was invited to at the house next door.
This year, as I was about a third of the way into my Sisyphean task, two teenagers happened by, saw what I was doing and asked if I needed any help. That got my attention. As I came to discover, these two guys, Redmond Farrell and Caleb Emerson, were two of my eight tube testers. I gratefully accepted their offer and we got the assembly line rolling, allowing me to finish earlier than ever. As we worked together, I learned these two were avid watersports participants, which didn’t surprise me, since most of our testers learn to swim before they can walk.
Over the last eight years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with nearly 50 kids during our tests, ranging in age from 3 to 18, and every year I come away with a renewed sense of hope for the next generation. Ski kids are just different, and I think it has a lot to do with the boating/ skiing lifestyle. Invariably, the kids are super polite, genuine and are at ease being around adults. Most are also really fit and athletic. Our group’s ages this year ranged from 11 to 15 years old, which is the age when kids usually shun the company of adults and retreat to their circle of friends — typically via electronic means.
But boating, and watersports in particular, changes that dynamic. Here is a shared experience where parents and kids alike learn, struggle, fail and overcome to achieve something together in an environment that also just happens to be really fun. Sure, other sports bring kids and parents together, but it’s not the same when the parent is mostly a chauffeur and/ or cheerleader.
Watersports kids tend to be high achievers, do well in school and radiate confidence. The sport also teaches responsibility. Society for kids has gotten incredibly complicated, but watersports seems to not only to bring parents and kids together but also helps youngsters get themselves together, which makes for a pretty good start in life. On his bio, Farrell says he wants to be president. It wouldn’t surprise me.