Let’s be honest. In terms of pure bang for the buck, it’s hard to beat your basic inflatable doughnut or disc. Updated versions of the inner tubes of old, they’re relatively inexpensive, fit a wide variety of rider sizes and weights, and can slingshot and skim across the water all day long. In short, they’re a blast.
That’s not to say they can’t get boring. After a while, all those solo rides can get lonely. The more riders, the merrier. And that shape? Who wants a simple doughnut when you can have something that’s wild and crazy, brings your friends along for the ride, and is sure to turn almost every head at the sandbar. That’s the kind of inflatables we rounded up for this year’s tubing extravaganza: slingshot speedsters, whirling dervishes, and even a pair of tubes shaped like a Mexican sombrero and Top Gun fighter jet.
It’s a brave new world out on the water. Join the party.
WOW Cyclone Spinner, $699.99
The minute they noted the word “spinner” in this tube’s name, riders knew they were in for an interesting experience. That’s because in addition to the normal slipping and sliding across the wakes that define any favorite inflatable, the Cyclone Spinner can actually spin. Yup, round and round—like a record, baby. A tow point on the bottom and at the center of the inflatable’s 88-inch diameter makes this possible. It rotates on stainless-steel ball bearings, clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on the Cyclone’s motion.
WOW has wisely chosen to offer riders some support to ensure they aren’t quickly flung once things get spintastic. A central cockpit with two cutout seating areas and high, supportive sidewalls provide security. There’s also plenty of room to stand. Padded grab handles with EVA knuckle guards are located topside to maintain a firm grip. Additional nylon web handles are placed to ease reboarding should riders get tossed. And get tossed they might. A lowered “hover” bottom below the cockpit area allows the Cyclone Spinner to ride on a smaller wetted surface when underway, as well as actually tilt from G-forces or riders’ weight placement.
Unlike a previous-generation spinning towable we tested years back, the Cyclone Spinner doesn’t rotate at warp speed. In a straight line, it can begin to gently spin once its riders’ weight is evenly balanced. Send the tube drifting outside the wake and spins get quicker, and not always in the same direction. As one test rider noted, the unpredictability of when the Cyclone would spin and in what direction was part of the fun. Just be careful with aggressive whips; the bottom shape and centered tow point can pull the tube up on end and eject passengers when speed increases. Should someone in your crew not care to get dizzy, a static tow point is also included.
Airhead Jet Fighter, $415.99
Though it sports a camouflage exterior, you can’t miss the Jet Fighter as it screams past on the water. With a sleek fuselage, vertical tail fin, and aggressive, swept-back wings, it looks every bit its namesake. Heck, the graphics even add details like rivets, wingtip missiles, some tongue-in-cheek identification numbers, and a fiery-red jet blast coming out the back. Yo Maverick, I feel the need for speed.
That unique jet-fighter shape not only looks cool but also makes possible a wide variety of rider positions. One or two riders can straddle the 8-foot-long fuselage, sitting tandem-style like on a classic banana tube while the wings add additional stability. Or add another pair of passengers atop those wings, lying prone while their feet dangle behind. The versatility makes the Jet Fighter fun for anyone, from a single passenger up to a group of four.
Underway, our trio of testers found it best with one person atop the fuselage while two balanced the load atop each wing. Riders weren’t able to really manipulate the Jet Fighter’s path, but some basic S-turns by the driver soon had them skidding in and out of the wake. Small, inflatable wingtip bolsters may seem like a style point, but they actually keep those wingtip riders from sliding off the edge. Multiple padded grab handles with neoprene knuckle guards keep everyone feeling secure. Just be ready to get some spray; riders low on the wings particularly noted a wet ride.
The wings, fuselage and bolsters all blow up individually via two-part Speed Safety valves. Pull the larger base plug when you’re done, and the tube rapidly deflates. For all but the small bolsters, flaps cover valves and stay put with hook-and-loop closures. A nylon quick-connect makes it simple to quickly and securely anchor the towline.
O’Brien Sombrero, $449.99
Every day can be Cinco de Mayo when you have the O’Brien Sombrero in your inflatable quiver. An 88-inch-diameter bright-yellow party hat, the Sombrero adds classic Mexican-style accents to reinforce its branding but avoids the random, scattershot graphics that seem to cover many inflatables. Riders can choose from a variety of positions. Sit on the Sombrero’s elevated perimeter brim facing inward, hang your feet over the brim and rest your back against the center crown, stand, kneel, face outward or in—the choices seemingly never end. Sixteen padded grab handles, backed by EVA knuckle guards, are spread around the center and perimeter to keep riders secure no matter their riding choice. The perimeter ring offers reinforced seat pads to prevent wear on the Sombrero’s nylon cover.
Such a large tube seemed like it would be a chore to inflate, but the reality was the opposite. O’Brien’s proprietary Lightning Valves let you put the end of a Shop-Vac or large-capacity inflater against the wide valve mouth and hit the power. The large volume of air rapidly inflates the tube, and a one-way flap closes off the air supply to keep things taut once finished. Deflation is just as simple; push in the valve flap, and air literally gushes out of the tube.
On the water, our test crew noted the Sombrero felt quite stable despite its higher center of gravity. Legroom wasn’t always ideal when seated facing inward, but weight shifts allowed a small amount of directional control. Again, however, it was mostly up to the driver, who could send the tube skidding outside the wake by initiating a series of S-turns at the wheel. Once loose, the round bottom slid nicely atop the water, and riders could lean against the central handles to increase the performance.
Radar Teacup, $379.99
One easily overlooked feature on Radar’s Teacup tells you a lot about the company’s understanding of its audience: a GoPro-style action-camera mount located front and center on the tube’s forward wall, just behind the tow point. Attach your favorite camera, press record, and you’ll get a unique, up-close-and-personal memory of just how much fun you and your friends are having. Who knows, upload it to YouTube, and your time on the Teacup might become the next viral sensation.
Surrounded by far more outlandish inflatable concepts, the Teacup seemed almost tame by comparison. The 79-by-92-inch loosely trapezoidal shape’s sunken interior is essentially one big playpen, with a generous surrounding bolster. Hop in, and you can stretch out and relax, with your legs extended and back well-supported by a raised backrest that wraps around riders on each end. Reinforced neoprene panels below each rider’s bottom provide comfort and prevent wear on the Teacup’s exterior nylon cover. Four padded grab handles within, along with one each on the left and right raised bolsters, provide plenty of security for the Teacup’s max limit of three passengers.
As you might expect, passengers once again had minimal influence over the Teacup’s direction. With its shape and seating position, this is more of a “sit down and enjoy the ride” scenario. But once the driver does his thing, mild quickly turns to wild as the Teacup easily skids back and forth across the wake in an aggressive manner. Choppy water and waves aren’t always the most fun due to the fact that you’re seated atop the floor with no way to absorb shock, which can make for a jolting ride at times. Remember to fully inflate the floor for best results. But once those skids start, the ride smooths significantly. The Teacup is also pretty fun to hang out in after the ride is over because it essentially doubles as a relaxing float.
Starcraft SVX 231
Watersports invite participation, not only by riders at the end of the towrope, but also family and friends taking it all in from the cockpit. Starcraft’s SVX 231 excels in this regard. Ample seating rings most of the perimeter, from parallel couches forward to the L-shaped bench that wraps the port side and beam. The cockpit’s depth provides a secure feel, especially with kids aboard. A swiveling passenger seat is perfect for a rear-facing spotter. As the captain, just be conscious of bow rise; the gentler acceleration required for an inflatable can cause a few seconds of limited visibility forward.
Riders were able to gear up on a large bench facing the swim platform, making use of the generously sized main platform, as well as twin extensions that flanked the motor. A four-step ladder to starboard eased riders in and out of water in between runs. Suggestions? Opt for the extended tow pylon to elevate the towrope over the motor. That rope might occasionally snag, requiring an assist from a passenger, but a pylon eliminates the need for a tow bridle and provides a better, more consistent pull.