Pontoon Tow Toys
As the unofficial final weekend of the summer boating season in my parts, on Labor Day I often find myself hosting the neighborhood kids and their parents for a day of watersports aboard the family pontoon. Such was the case earlier this month, but this year I offered something new besides water skis and wakeboards.
I’ve noticed over the years that rather than join in, more parents tended to stay at the dock or occupy a lounge chair aboard the pontoon boat and watch the younger folks have all the fun getting towed around the lake atop water skis, wakeboards and radical tubes. In an effort to get my fellow Baby Boomer-aged peers off their butts and back onto the water, over the course of the summer I did a little research into some tamer towables that may be a better fit – and a bit less intimidating — for my fellow middle-aged friends. My goal was to find two: an inflatable tube for slow-towing and a board for some faster action for guests who have some tow-sports experience and may want to attempt standing under tow.
For the inflatable, I hoped to find a platform that was large enough for two passengers to ride at once, stable enough to climb aboard straight from the deck of the pontoon, and comfortable enough to support a couple who might want to enjoy an extended tow-cruise or use as a floating lounge between rides. The towable board I envisioned needed to be something that a beginner could enjoy while being towed flat on his/her stomach, with the potential to be used as a knee board or a stand-up platform for the more experienced and/or adventurous.
After considerable shopping and research, I found both just in time for the long holiday weekend. One came from the world’s largest watersports tube manufacturers; the other from a brand new company you’ve probably never heard of.
Hello Big Mable
One of the most popular providers of towable tubes – and just about anything related to the sport – is Colorado-based Kwik Tek. Offering Sportsstuff and Airhead watersports products, since going into business back in 1991 they’ve grown to be the world’s largest water tube source and offer an incredibly diverse line of water toys – including inflatables. One of their towables in particular piqued my interest immediately – by name alone.
Sportsstuff’ s Big Mable is as massive as she sounds, with an inflatable base nearly six feet in diameter with a backrest broad enough for two passengers and high enough to offer support all the way to the head. The seating area and hand straps are padded with foam for comfort, and there are two quick-connect tow points, front and rear, to offer forward- or reverse-facing rides.
Mable was the hit of the Labor Day tow party among the older, more conservative guests. Once they saw that riders were boarding and de-boarding the big inflatable from the deck of the boat, and did have to get wet if they didn’t want to, and witnessed how stable the ride was, I actually got every parent to ride it over the course of the afternoon. That was huge, and worth every penny of the $270 Big Mable retails for $270 at sportsstuff.com. And yes, there’s a Super Mable with a capacity for up to three passengers available as well.
The answer to my tamer towable board search took a bit more leg-work. But when I came across reviews of the ZUP board I knew I had the perfect blend of stability, ease of use and the potential for offering a radical ride. If fact, part of the problem with locating and learning about the ZUP is that it’s only been on the market since May!
Developed by Glen Duff and produced by the Durham family, the ZUP is designed to allow just about anyone, using just about any boat, to enjoy knee boarding and stand-up wakeboarding. Measuring 58 inches long by 28 inches wide and weighing about 20 pounds, the roto-molded ZUP board is extremely buoyant. Not only does that make it easy to get up on plane at low speed, but the buoyancy makes the ZUP a perfect candidate for towing behind a pontoon boat, as it doesn’t require a tow bar, let alone a tower, to perform.
I found that boat speeds up to about 12 mph were perfect for allowing kids and adults to get the hang of the ZUP board and everyone who tried got a least to their knees atop the bright green board, riding the wake and having a ball. Some got good enough to stand, and for at least one parent who did get all the way up, and professed that he hadn’t stood on skis since college, it was a pivotal moment for my guest — and the annual Labor Day tow party.
ZUPs retail for $369 for the board, and I highly recommend the matching double-handled tow rope ($129) that is designed to goes with it, from zup.com.
That’s a small price to pay to offer friends of practically any age and ability the chance to “get up” in the wake of your pontoon.
WATCH OUR ZUP VIDEO!