Boating World Tube Test 2019

Our 10th annual roundup of inflatable tow toys put 16 new tubes (and seven testers) to the ultimate test to discover which was king of the thrill.

Every year for the last decade, we’ve gathered at Sandy Hook Beach on Lake Weir in central Florida to put the newest towable tubes through their paces with the help of manufacturers’ target audience: kids. And like snowflakes, every test group is different. While this year’s riders — an intrepid group of four girls and three boys who ranged in age from 7 to 14 — were younger than last year’s, snowflakes they weren’t.

tube test 2019 group

The water was a bit nippy at 68 degrees, but I never heard one complaint. They were an enthusiastic group who tended to focus on what they liked about each tube instead of nitpicking minor deficiencies. And they liked to go fast, as evidenced by the ever-present thumbs-up sign to pick up the pace.

tube test 2019 crash

Beau Briggs, a man we interviewed last year for a Tested Owner Feedback segment, did a masterful job keeping the tubes crossing the rampy wake produced by the new Malibu 22 LSV, which was provided by Nate Stockman of Transition Watersports, our host for the last decade. Even though the kids — three of them Briggs’ offspring — continually urged him to go faster, he kept it safe and, thanks to his excellent throttle control, saved a few testers from crashing. And for the 10th year in a row, we had zero injuries.


Tube Test Pilots

Cullen Briggs
Age: 11
Favorite Sport: Soccer
Dream Job: Pro slalom skier
Favorite Tubes: Rave Sports Warrior X3 and HO Sports Laguna 3


tube test 2019

Sawyer Brackett
Age: 10
Favorite Sport: Soccer
Dream Job: Exotic veterinarian
Favorite Tubes: WOW Big Al and Connelly UFO!


tube test 2019

Avery Briggs
Age: 7
Favorite Sports: Wakeboarding and ballet
Dream Job: Pro wakeboarder
Favorite Tubes: Rave Sports Warrior X3 and WOW Big Al


tube test 2019

Emma Joyner
Age: 14
Favorite Sport: Volleyball
Dream Job: Architect or veterinarian
Favorite Tubes: Connelly Convertible and Connelly UFO!


Finley Briggs
Age: 9
Favorite Sport: Slalom skiing and ballet
Dream Job: Robotics designer
Favorite Tubes: HO Sports Glide 3 and Rave Sports Warrior X3


tube test 2019

Koen Ergle
Age: 12
Favorite Sport: Wakeboarding
Dream Job: Lawyer
Favorite Tubes: O’Brien Squeeze 2 and Connelly Convertible


tube test 2019

R.J. Joyner
Age: 12
Favorite Sport: Baseball
Dream Job: Doctor
Favorite Tubes: O’Brien Squeeze 2 and HO Sports Glide 2


tube test 2019

Sarelle Gouin
Age: 10
Favorite Sport: Gymnastics
Dream Job: Veterinarian
Favorite Tubes: Airhead Thrust 3 and Full Throttle Mega Enforcer


Key to Ratings

Setup: 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. Kid Favorite tubes are ones that at least half the riders identified as their favorites.)


To the Web

Airhead.com
ConnellySkis.com/tube
FullThrottleWatersports.com
HOSports.com
OBrien.com
RaveSports.com
TransitionWatersports.com
WowWatersports.com


WOW Big Al

Fun Scale: 5/5

tube test 2019

***Kid Favorite***   ***Great Value***
MSRP: $350
Setup: 4/5 — 4 Speed valves concealed by zippered flaps
Riders: 4/680 lbs.
Unique: It’s a giant gator! Four riders can wrangle this reptile, two sitting horsey-style on its Secure Saddle Seating and one lying to each side. This one probably confused the giant crocodilians that reside in Lake Weir.
Ergonomics: The gator’s back is wide, and even smaller kids’ feet can reach the deck for security. Huge EVA deck pads cushion the riders lying down.
Positions: Sitting, lying, kneeling, standing
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — There are several ways to lounge aboard this tube, and all are good.
Visibility: 5/5 — A bright yellow and green perimeter and its extraordinary height won’t go unnoticed.
Comments: “Riding on the gator’s back is awesome! You’re really high in the air and it’s comfortable.” “I loved Big Al; he’s cute and fast.” “You never feel like you’re going to crash on this one.”


Full Throttle Mega Enforcer

Fun scale: 4/5

tube test 2019

MSRP: $270
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve (the second-fastest type of valve)
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: D-shaped 80-inch deck tube is bright green and black with white accents.
Ergonomics: Neoprene elbow rests reduce chafing. The riders doubled up on the middle handgrips, because the ones to the side were a little far back for younger riders.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4/5 — This tube would make a good tanning platform and might be big enough for smaller yoga practitioners.
Visibility: 3/5 — Its low sides are mostly black, which makes it more difficult to see.
Comments: “Scary in a good way.” “In hard corners, our feet tended to slide off.” “The middle position is the safest place to be.”


Airhead Thrust 3

Fun scale: 4/5

tube test 2019

MSRP: $470
Setup: 4/5 — 3 Speed Safety valves
Riders: 3/540 lbs.
Unique: Two giant conical sponsons that are larger in front put riders’ heads high above the water. Its width allows the outer tubes to act like independent suspension for a smooth ride over rough water. It would be ideal for big bodies of water.
Ergonomics: A generously sized deck that’s flat in front puts all the handles on the same level in front of the riders. Neoprene pads for elbows and knees add to its comfort.
Positions: Lying or kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — Because the deck is angled, loungers can lie on their back and still see what’s going on around them.
Visibility: 5/5 — If other boaters don’t see this, they are legally blind. Bright purple sides, a black and yellow radiation warning sign–like front, and its exceptional height make it highly visible.
Comments: “It’s really smooth going over the wake.” “It’s really fun being so high above the water, and your face stays dry.” “It’s not scary at all.”


O’Brien Squeeze 2

Fun scale: 5/5

tube test 2019

***Kid Favorite*** ***Great Value***
MSRP: $280
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Lightning valve (more than 50 percent faster to fill and deflate than the next-fastest valve)
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Its couch-like shape is very inviting and has plenty of room for two riders.
Ergonomics: The high backrest is angled for comfort and is very supportive. It’s covered in SofTec, which is really comfortable.
Position: Sitting
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — It doesn’t get any better than this. You might take this tube home and put it in front of your TV.
Visibility: 5/5 — High sides in high-vis yellow and blue make it really stand out.
Comments: “If you like crashing — and we do — this is the tube for you.” “It’s really fast and you sit high above the spray.” “There’s nothing to keep you from sliding off if the driver whips you hard.”


Connelly UFO!

Fun scale: 4.5/5

tube test 2019

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $600
Setup: 4/5 — 2 Boston valves
Riders: 4/680 lbs. (We snuck an extra kid on board because he was really small.)
Unique: It’s a giant, watery spaceship with high sides for extra security. The backrests are curved and riders face each other, so they can see one another’s expressions when it launches. Three can sit on top of the tube.
Ergonomics: The curved backrests hold riders in place, so there’s no banging. Even taller riders can stretch out thanks to the opening in front, which also makes reboarding easier.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — Because the seats face each other, it’s a great tube for socializing in comfort.
Visibility: 4/5 — It’s tall and has bright blue sections and would be a 5 except for its extensive use of gray.
Comments: “It was fun watching the expressions on the other rider’s faces.” “It’s big, stable and comfortable.” “It’s a great ride for kids of all ages.” “It was surprisingly fast for being so big.”


HO Sports 3G XT

Fun scale: 4/5

tube test 2019

MSRP: $480
Setup: 3/5 — 1 Boston valve, 2 small beach-ball valves for armrests (difficult to seal before air escaped)
Riders: 3/540 lbs.
Unique: A couch tube that’s built like a tank. Most nylon covers are 420 or 840 Denier, which refers to its weight. This one is 1680D and backed by a three-year warranty; all the others we tested have a 1-year warranty.
Ergonomics: High back provides great support for riders and there’s plenty of legroom for taller riders. The top is Softshell Technology but the reinforced, harder seat areas are less comfortable.
Position: Sitting
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — Comfortable lounging tube for sitting and floating.
Visibility: 5/5 — Its height and bright red and blue color make it very visible.
Comments: “It’s really fast and jumps off the wake.” “It’s pretty stiff; when you go over the wake, it doesn’t bend.” “I felt safe because of the tall sides, and you don’t bump into the person next to you, because the inflated armrests act as dividers.”


Full Throttle Wake Shocker

Fun scale 3.5/5

tube test 2019

MSRP: $200
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Low-profile, 70-inch round deck tube festooned with a wild red, white and black design.
Ergonomics: Neoprene pads for elbows and knees. Its relatively small size makes it better for two younger riders or a solo larger rider.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 3/5 — It would be good for one lounger to paddle around on at raft-ups.
Visibility: 4/5 — Bright red color makes it stand out, but it has a low profile.
Comments: “It sits really low in the water, so its feeling of speed is magnified.” “In rough water, it gets pretty bouncy.” “Your face is close to the water, so it gets splashed when the rope drags.”


HO Sports Glide 2

Fun scale: 5/5

tube test 2019

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $345
Setup: 4/5 — 2 Boston valves
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: A 70-inch round tube with HO’s Convex Construction creates a smaller running surface underneath that greatly reduces drag. The top is recessed, which helps keep riders aboard.
Ergonomics: Softshell Technology on the top feels good and reduces chafing. Its height makes it a little difficult to reboard after wipeouts.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 3/5 — Good for catching rays. Its height makes it difficult to paddle around on.
Visibility: 4/5 — It sits tall in the water, and its bright blue sides and red top help it get seen.
Comments: “It’s really, really fast; the first time we got whipped, we just kept going until we were even with the boat.” “It’s like a sports car on water.” “It leans over when you go over the wake, which feels scary but it’s actually pretty stable.”

 


WOW Go Bot 2

Fun scale: 4/5

tube test 2019

MSRP: $290
Setup: 4/5 — 2 Speed valves with a zippered cover
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: Enclosed cockpit has slotted EZ entries on the sides to make deep-water boarding easier. Crazy WOW design is an eyeful. Can be ridden chariot-style or facing forward.
Ergonomics: A high backrest that curves around the perimeter of the tube provides excellent rider security. Neoprene seat bottoms provide greater comfort.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4/5 — Younger riders won’t get off this without being bribed with snacks. Tall occupants will have to bend their legs to lounge.
Visibility: 5/5 — The bold color designs WOW tubes are known for make it stand out, and being tall helps it gain notice.
Comments: “We rode it chariot-style and it was fun, but the forward-facing position is more comfortable.” “It corners really well and is very stable.” “You feel very safe on this tube.”


Rave Sports Warrior X3

Fun scale: 5/5

tube test 2019 rave warrior

***Kid Favorite*** ***Great Value***
MSRP: $300
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve, 2 small valves
Riders: 3/540 lbs.
Unique: The two outer seats are hammock sling chairs with room in between for a prone rider. Tall outer seatbacks keep the center rider from sliding into the other riders.
Ergonomics: The outer seat bottoms are covered in neoprene and are suspended over the tube’s deck. The center rider gets a neoprene elbow pad.
Positions: Sitting, lying
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — The outer seats make great lounging chairs, while the person in the center can work on his tan.
Visibility: 4/5 — Bright orange and blue colors help this tube get noticed.
Comments: “The seats put you low to the water, so it feels like you are going faster, and there’s no way you’re falling out unless the whole tube tumbles.” “It’s really fast.” “The only beef I have is the center grips are a little too far forward for me.” “The low center of gravity makes it very stable in corners.”


HO Sports Laguna 3

Fun scale: 4.5/5

tube test 2019 HO laguna

MSRP: $300
Setup: 4/5 — 2 Boston valves
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: The couch-like tube can be turned around and ridden chariot style. It features tropical styling and a low-back design.
Ergonomics: Neoprene panels are useful for both styles of riding. Low backrest offers good lumbar support, and there’s plenty of legroom.
Positions: Sitting, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 5/5 — A great couch for floating around and hanging out with friends at the cove.
Visibility: 5/5 — Its bright blue, orange-red and yellow colors and a taller design add up to great visibility.
Comments: “The backrest curves around to the side so you feel locked in.” “Really fast and stable.” “For being big, it can really fly off the wake.”


Rave Sports Halo

Fun scale: 3/5

tube test 2019 rave halo

MSRP: $100
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: This round, low-profile 54-inch tube is the least expensive model in this lineup. Wild green and black styling is attractive and sporty.
Ergonomics: The grips are spaced perfectly for its size. Larger riders hang off the back pretty far. The only neoprene is under the handgrips.
Position: Lying
Loungeworthiness: 3/5 — This would be good for paddling around the boat when you’re tired of swimming.
Visibility: 3/5 — The green color is bright but its size makes it more difficult to see, especially in rough water.
Comments: “It’s a really fast tube but is a little hard to stay on during aggressive maneuvers.” “This would be a good tube for smaller kids that you tow slowly.” “The handles give you a good grip.”


O’Brien Booker 3

Fun scale: 4/5

tube test 2019 obrien booker

MSRP: $270
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Lightning valve
Riders: 3/510 lbs.
Unique: Part of O’Brien’s U-Deck Series, the Booker 3 has upturned wings at each end to keep riders aboard during high-G maneuvers.
Ergonomics: It’s covered in SofTec, which is much more skin-friendly than standard nylon.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4/5 — Great for sunning, and the wings can be used as backrests.
Visibility: 4/5 — Fluorescent green and blue on the upturned wings make it more noticeable.
Comments: “A fast tube in corners.” “The upturned sides saved us several times” “It can dive if your weight is too far forward, so we had to cooperate.”


Connelly Convertible

Fun scale: 4.5/5

tube test 2019 connelly convertible

***Kid Favorite***
MSRP: $369
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 3/540 lbs.
Unique: Big 80-inch-by-70-inch D-shaped deck tube has a concave top that lowers the riders’ center of gravity for better stability. A slightly convex bottom reduces drag for more action.
Ergonomics: Roomy enough for three bigger riders. The handles are close together, so kids can overlap arms if it’s rough or stay with their designated grips in normal conditions.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 4/5 — Because the loungers sink down toward the middle, the outside becomes a comfortable backrest.
Visibility: 5/5 — Electric lime is a color used on warning signs for a reason: it really stands out. Its extra tall deck design also helps it get noticed.
Comments: “It’s a fast tube that seems extra-cushiony.” “Because the middle is lower, the outer riders tended to roll toward the middle.” “You never feel like you will roll off during whips.”


Airhead Stars and Stripes

Fun scale: 3/5

tube test 2019 airhead S&S

MSRP: $109
Setup: 5/5 — 1 Boston valve
Riders: 1/170 lbs.
Unique: Patriotic red, white and blue star-clad design is eye-catching. It’s a 57-inch round tube that sits a little higher than most small deck tubes.
Ergonomics: It’s rated for two passengers but smaller riders will be more comfortable.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 3/5 — It’s good for moving from boat to boat at a raft-up.
Visibility: 3/5 — Its predominantly dark blue color doesn’t help it stand out.
Comments: “It’s tall for its size and I thought it would be flippy, but it was surprisingly stable even when going over large wakes.” “I rode it solo and it was a good ride; two of us would have been pretty crowded.”


Full Throttle D’Luxe

Fun scale: 3.5/5

tube test 2019 d'luxe

MSRP: $270
Setup: 3/5 — 1 Boston valve for the main chamber, two small valves for the winglets (difficult to inflate)
Riders: 2/340 lbs.
Unique: D-shaped 70-inch tube is rounded at the front and flat in the back. Colorful red and yellow design is different than most.
Ergonomics: The flocked surface is soft to the touch and helps avoid chafing. Grip position puts the inner hand at the front and the outer hand to the side.
Positions: Lying, kneeling
Loungeworthiness: 3/5 — Great for kids but too small for larger loungers.
Visibility: 4/5 — Fairly low-profile tube is made more visible by its bright red and yellow colors.
Comments: “A really fast tube that catches lots of air.” “My legs hang off the back pretty far.” “The small inflated bumps on the sides help you stay on during hard corners.” “It’s a really comfortable tube to lie on.”


In Memoriam

During our previous nine years of testing, one thing we could always count on was help from Ephriam Stockman, Nate’s dad. Sadly, last summer, “Eeph,” as everyone called him, died at age 71 when a truck ran a red light and collided with his Harley-Davidson in nearby Ocala. He was a great guy who will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him.

 

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