Away from the dock, boaters sometimes need to shed the properness and professionalism and just let loose (safely, of course). There’s no better way to clear the head and the whites of the eyes than with a big water toy filled with air. We’ve tested nearly 200 tubes over the years. These six rank at the top of our list for momentary childishness.
Coleman Hydrofusion 3
Crash Course: It’s a convertible — you can either ride with glutes ensconced, as if in a big beanbag chair, or insert the fillers and ride it on your belly. We preferred the seated position, though it did get sketchy in turns because you can’t fight the G-forces. Tip: Call dibs on the middle seat.
Moment of Truth: All-pro NFL tackle Chris Samuels got lulled into thinking this was a leisure cruise. Then the Hydrofusion hit a wake and, as the slow-mo video at boatingmag.com shows, his XXXXL feet went straight over his XXXXL chest.
Crash Course: Appropriately shaped like a broad smile, the Thunder is made for those who like to experiment. One or two people can ride it seated, kneeling or belly-flopped. It becomes unpredictable when you lean it over on one side, thereby creating a fiendish crooked smile.
Moment of Truth: Our 280-pound strongman, Mike Sellers, found out that the Thunder in a storm of wakes and whips is impossible to control. It’s especially true when this, or any, tube is filled tight enough with air to bounce a boat key off of it.
Crash Course: About as versatile a ride as you’ll find. Two people can stuff their hips into the Scorpion and tool around while lounging. We added a third person to the middle hump, which seemed to anger the Scorpion — or was it the driver?
Moment of Truth: Leaning back in the seats or pulling up on the handles got the Scorpion to raise its head and ride on its trailing edge. At that point, we found out you cannot train an arthropod.
HO Triple Shot
Crash Course: Perhaps the most comfortable three-person tube we’ve tested, the Triple Shot has sloped leg rests, high seat backs, armrests, even cup holders. Our mammoth football guys rode it easily before challenging the captain. Not a good idea. As John Madden would say, “Boom!”
Moment of Truth: We found that 700 pounds of flesh do not slow down the Triple Shot in whips. The big dudes never got pitched, but our double-up wakes took them on a few charter flights that had their mouths wide open.
O’Brien Barf Ball
Crash Course: You literally ride inside this giant beach ball, which has an outer sphere 78 inches in diameter connected to an inner core with 114 short ropes. It’s like a moving Bounce House for one kid or one adult — as if there’s a difference.
Moment of Truth: We worked the throttle and wheel to get this thing outside the wake, and then watched it roll. In the video you’ll see our tester being treated like a clown in a rodeo barrel. No, we did not need a hose to clean it out at the end of the day.
SportsStuff LuLu 2
Crash Course: There are 14 handles along the gunwales of this life-raft knockoff. Why? The more holding positions the two riders try, the more active LuLu becomes. We coaxed her to spin on the center tow point, and also to slalom on her eight bottom fins.
Moment of Truth: It takes some choreography to make this tube lose its shyness and start dancing. Our guys came up with an impromptu routine (“you grab there, I’ll pull from here”) and had LuLu doing whatever they wanted, without any help from the driver.