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Test tubes: we put the latest and greatest towable tubes through their paces to identify the top models of 2011.

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Conditions for this year's tube test couldn't have been more different than last year's, when a Nor'easter brought 50-degree temperatures and blustery winds that rumpled the surface of Lake Weir in central Florida. This year we had record-breaking temperatures in the 80s and virtually no wind until the afternoon. Although we had a new crop of five teenaged tube testers, they share many of the same traits as those who helped us last year. There must be something special about kids who love boating and watersports, because all our testers have been straight A students--like they're all members of some cult of achievement. While grades are important, what's more impressive is that they are genuinely nice kids who are very respectful but clearly comfortable around adults. You could tell they weren't putting on a good show but were being themselves. It seems like we only hear the bad things about the younger generation, but after hanging with these kids I'm feeling a lot better about the future.

We asked our testers to put these tubes through the grinder and tell us what they really think. They were also instructed to report anything that felt the least bit uncomfortable. It was clearly a labor of love, judging from the frequent screams of terror/ delight, which let me know when to click the camera shutter. Their only payment? Besides sore muscles and a few scrapes, they got a fun day on the water and gator tail subs at Gator Joe's, a hopping eatery on Lake Weir in Ocklawaha.

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2011

Tester Bios

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NAME: Kayla "The Playa" Afrin, 17

SPORTS PLAYED: Wakeboarding, slalom, swivel skiing and swimming

GPA: 3.9

DREAM JOB: Sky-diving instructor

FAVORITE TUBES: Connelly Quest 2 and HO Drifter

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NAME: Jacob "Killa" Miller, 17

SPORTS PLAYED: Water polo, barefoot skiing, track and rollerblading

GPA: 4.4 (grades can be above 4.0 by taking AP classes)

DREAM JOB: Playing guitar in a rock band

FAVORITE TUBES: Full Throttle Speed Ray 2, HO Drifter

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NAME: Rebecca "The Wrangler" Solch, 17

SPORTS PLAYED: Swivel skiing, horseback riding, volleyball and softball

GPA: 4.8

dream job: Olympic equestrian

FAVORITE TUBES: SportsStuff Mega Rock Star, Connelly Quest 2

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NAME: Benjamin "The Italian Stallion" Capitano, 17

SPORTS PLAYED: All watersports plus soccer

GPA: 4.8

DREAM JOB: Race car driver

FAVORITE TUBES: Connelly Fun 3, Full Throttle Speed Ray 2

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The Toys

1 RAVE SPORTS NIGHTHAWK

MSRP: $300

Ease of setup: ****--One Boston valve, inner bladder was hard to align with outer nylon cover

Max number of riders: 3

Handholds: 6 with neoprene knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: No

Unique factor: Raised middle section for one rider with room for two on either side

Material: 30-gauge PVC bladder with 840 denier nylon cover

Ergonomics: Middle section very comfortable; the sides have more legroom, but riders overlap arms. Neoprene pads provide comfort for torso but could use elbow pads.

Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: ****

Comments: "Rider separation is very good; you didn't bang into each other." "Lots of air when crossing the wake." "Because of the two distinctly different riding positions, it was almost like having two separate tubes."

* ravesports.com

Circle 98 on reader service card, page 33

2 O'BRIEN HAMMERHEAD 2

MSRP: $180

Ease of setup:--One Boston valve

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 6 with EVA knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Shaped like a hammerhead shark's head. Extra width up front allows for a wide grip.

Material: 28-gauge PVC with 420/840-denier vinyl

Ergonomics: Needed elbow padding, and the nylon stitching under the hand grips felt abrasive. Two large EVA pads for torso were comfortable.

Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: ****

Comments: "OMG!" "Crazy." "Lack of control was scary, in a good way." "Being low to the water magnified the feeling of speed and made it very exciting." * obrien.com

Circle 93 on reader service card, page 33

3 O'BRIEN SUPER SCREAMER

MSRP:$180

Ease of setup: *****--One Boston valve

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 6 with EVA knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Round deck tube that rides fairly low to the water

Material: 26-gauge PVC covered with 420-denier nylon

Ergonomics: Very comfortable on your stomach and knees, but the handles at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions are too far back to be of much use. Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: ****

Comments: "Very light and fast, but stable; you never felt like you would flip." "Because you tend to slide around in corners, you have to use some muscle to hang on." * obrien.com

Circle 94 on reader service card, page 33

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4 BODY GLOVE REDONDO

MSRP: $140

Ease of setup: *****

--One Boston valve

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 5 handles with EVA knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Deck-style tube with raised winglets at the ends

Material: 30-gauge PVC with 840-denier nylon cover

Ergonomics: Very comfortable for the torso, but the material under the handles is a bit abrasive.

Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: *****

Comments: "This is a great tube for active riders." "You need to shift your weight on hard turns to keep from flipping, which adds to the challenge." "Tremendous feeling of speed incomers." * hydroslide.net

Circle 80 on reader service card, page 33

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5 FULL THROTTLE DOUBLE HOWLER

MSRP: $211

Ease of setup: ***

--Four small push-in valves

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 8 with neoprene knuckle guards that accommodate different-sized riders

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Each rider sits in own compartment with a backrest

Material: 30-gauge PVC with nylon cover

Ergonomics: Comfortable sitting position for smaller riders with supportive backrests. When seats get wet, they rub. Handholds very comfortable.

Riding position: Sitting

Fun scale: *****

Comments: "Great straight-line cruiser." "Very stable in corners; it never felt like you were going to flip." "Adults have to scrunch up legs to fit." * fullthrottlewatersports.com

Circle 85 on reader service card, page 33

6 SEVYLOR MONSTER TUBE

MSRP: $150

Ease of setup: *****--One large Double Lock Fast Valve for outer ring, One Mini Double Lock Fast Valve for the middle well

Max number of riders: 4

Handholds: 8 with neoprene knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: No

Unique factor: Outer skin texture is called Sharkglide, which is patterned after a shark's skin, said to be faster than models with nylon covers. It also dries faster and is more compact when stored.

Material: 30-gauge PVC with Sharkglide surface Ergonomics: Handholds are comfortable, but there is a seam that joins the middle well section to the outer that felt sharp and chafed riders.

Riding positions: Sit or kneel in the middle well

Fun scale: *** 1/2

Comments: "Magnifies wake in bouncy, fun way." "Fast in corners." "Very different feeling to be sitting low in tube." "High tube walls prevented spray from hitting you in the face."

* sevylor.com

7 FULL THROTTLE SPEED RAY 2

MSRP: $230

Ease of setup: ****--One Boston valve for main chamber, two small push-in valves for toaster-sized slide preventers

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 4 large handgrips with neoprene padding underneath

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Upturned wings make it look like a stingray with some attitude.

Material: 30-gauge PVC bladder with heavy duty nylon cover

Ergonomics: Large neoprene pad protects elbows and knees. Tall riders' knees are right at the back of the tube due to the rear cutout.

Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: *****

Comments: "Light, fast and maneuverable." "Wings and inflated pads keep you from sliding around during hard corners." "Wings caught a little air to help you go airborne." "Rode over the waves very well." * fullthrottlewatersports.com

Circle 86 on reader service card, page 33

8 SPORTSSTUFF SUMO & SPLASH GUARD COMBO

MSRP: $160

Ease of setup: *****--One speed safety valve for each piece

Max number of riders: 1

Handholds: 6 in total, 2 with knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: No tow point, rider holds on

Unique factor: Rider wears the tube like a shirt and holds onto the Sumo Splash Guard, changing handholds to maneuver.

Material: Heavy-duty PVC (gauge not specified) for Sumo; PVC with nylon cover for Splash Guard

Ergonomics: Comfortable fit, underarms chafe a bit; handholds very comfortable Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: ***

Comments: "Less scary than I thought it would be." " Lots of upper body strength needed for long runs." "Changing handholds allows you to roll over and steer." "I would probably enjoy it more after more practice." * sportsstuff.com

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9 RAVE SPORTS AQUA BUDDY TRAINER

9 RAVE SPORTS AQUA BUDDY TRAINER

MSRP: $50

Ease of setup: ****

Two push-in valves

Max number of riders: 1

Handholds: 0

Tow point: Rider holds on to ski rope Unique factor: Catamaran training device for those learning to ski or wakeboard

Material: Heavy-duty PVC

Ergonomics: Wide seat can accommodate all ages of would-be skiers.

Riding position: Sitting

Fun scale: ***

Comments: "This effective device allows new skiers to be able to get up without having to perform a deep-water start." "It's extremely easy to use; when you pick up a little speed, all you do is stand up and you're skiing."

* ravesports.com

Circle 97 on reader service card, page 33

10 AIRHEAD MEGA ROCK STAR

MSRP: $393

Ease of setup: ****--One Boston valve for main chamber, two push-in valves for saddle

Max number of riders: 6

Handholds: 14 large, soft handgrips with neoprene knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: No

Unique factor: Large U-shaped tube with a saddle in the middle

Material: 30-gauge PVC bladder with 840-denier nylon cover

Ergonomics: Well-placed neoprene panels protect elbows and knees when lying on the outside and more panels protect the seat when riding center tube.

Riding positions: Lie or kneel on outsides, sit or straddle/stand on middle saddle

Fun scale: **** 1/2

Comments: "Awesome!" "Smooth over the wake." "Lots of versatility." "Amazing ride in the chop." "Stable enough to ride without holding on." * airhead.com

11 CONNELLY QUEST 2

MSRP: $240

Ease of setup: ****--One Boston valve for deck, one smaller push-in valve for backrest

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 6 handles, the outside ones with neoprene knuckle guards on outboard, but not the middle ones

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Wide, roomy sit-aboard with divider in the center

Material: 30-gauge PVC bladder with 840-denier vinyl cover

Ergonomics: Very comfortable backrest and padded seat. Seam on handle chafed a little.

Riding position: Sitting

Fun scale: *****

Comments: "Very stable and comfortable." "Good straight-line cruiser, but exciting on slingshots." "It felt scarier than it really was." "Divider kept us from banging into each other in hard corners." * connellyskis.com

Circle 83 on reader service card, page 33

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HO BLACK ICE

MSRP: $350

Ease of setup: ****--Two Boston valves, one for inner section (inflate first), one for outer ring

Max number of riders: 3+

Handholds: 6 double-sized padded handgrips with neoprene padding underneath

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Middle "doughnut hole" convex construction section sits lower than outer ring to reduce wetted surface for more speed

Material: 30-gauge PVC bladder with 840-denier nylon cover

Ergonomics: Neoprene-padded sections protect elbows and knees from chafing. Three riders must intertwine arms for a wider grip, or two can share middle grip.

Riding positions: Lying or kneeling

Fun scale: ****

Comments: "Rides high above the water, so no water splashes in your face." "Super fast when cornering." "Very good cruiser."

* hosports.com

Circle 87 on reader service card, page 33

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13 CONNELLY FUN 3

MSRP: $280

Ease of setup: ****--One Boston valve for deck, one push-in valve for backrest

Max number of riders: 3+

Handholds: 6 padded handles with neoprene knuckle guards plus 8 grab handles

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Large "sofa" on the water is one of the few sit-down models without passenger dividers

Material: 30-gauge PVC covered with 840-denier nylon

Ergonomics: Very comfortable; testers were lounging on it when not testing tubes. Well-padded handholds.

Riding positions: Sitting or chariot-style

Funscale: *****

Comments: "Really designed for three, but we all wanted to ride it so four of us hopped on and had plenty of room." * connellyskis.com

Circle 82 on reader service card, page 33

14 NASH HYDROSLIDE ARSENAL AT 58

MSRP: $100

Ease of setup: *****--One Boston valve

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 5 soft EVA handles with neoprene knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Round deck tube that rides high in the water

Material: Heavy-duty PVC (gauge not specified) with 420-denier nylon cover

Ergonomics: Handles are well-padded and include one for reboarding. Position of Boston valve prevented rider from resting head on the tube.

Riding position: Lying

Fun scale: ****

Comments: "Because it rides so high in the water, it's a little tippy, but this challenge made it more fun to ride because you had to actively balance it to keep from flipping." "So much fun ... awesome!" * hydroslide.net

Circle 91 on reader service card, page 33

15 HO DRIFTER

MSRP: $205

Ease of setup: ****--Two Boston valves

Max number of riders: 2

Handholds: 4 handles with neoprene knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: Yes

Unique factor: Two-chamber tube keeps seated riders high off the water and in their own compartment

Material: 30-gauge PVC covered with 840-denier nylon

Ergonomics: Guys' legs are better protected with longer swim trunks; girls' legs chafe a bit. Large comfortable handles and unlimited legroom

Riding position: Sitting

Fun scale: ****

Comments: "You sit very high, so you think it's going to be tippy, but it's quite stable and spray doesn't get in your eyes." "Lots of air when going over wakes." "Divider kept riders from banging into each other." * hosports.com

Circle 88 on reader service card, page 33

16 SEVYLOR DELINQUENT

MSRP: $120

Ease of setup: *****--

One push-in valve

Max number of riders: 1

Handholds: 4 with neoprene knuckle guards

Quick Connect Tow Point: No

Unique factor: Upturned wings on this solo tube keep the rider from sliding off in corners

Material: 30-gauge PVC with Sharkglide outer pattern for less drag and higher speeds

Ergonomics: Very comfortable padding for hands. Rider had to put weight far back to prevent submarining in starts when kneeling.

Riding positions: Lying or kneeling

Fun scale: ****

Comments:" It's best to start lying down to prevent nosediving." "Once on plane, it rode high, which kept spray out of your face." "Very light and fast in corners." "Wings allowed you to lay it on its side for cornering." * sevylor.com

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NAME: Erik "The Sub" McKay, 14

SPORTS PLAYED: Wakeboarding, barefoot, track and field

GPA: 3.9

DREAM JOB: Own my own company

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* Host with the Most

Our host for the tube tests was Nate Stockman, owner of Transition Watersports in Ocklawaha, Fla., just a stone's throw from Lake Weir. Stockman started his business six years ago at age 21--clearly another one of those young high-achieving watersports enthusiasts. In that time, he's managed to make Transition Watersports the top ski center and the leading seller of Centurion ski boats in this part of the state, despite a faltering economy. I've talked to several of his customers, and it's clear the relationship goes well beyond a business connection; they are also good friends. In addition to running special events and tournaments, he's a mentor and an outstanding role model to many young skiers in the area.

Our tow boat was the Centurion Enzo SV230, a boat that made its name as one of the top wakesurf and wakeboard boats. At 23 feet long, the boat gave us plenty of room for lots of people and gear, and it produced a lovely wake for our tubers to launch off. When fully ballasted, it's capable of producing a monstrous surfing wake.
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Title Annotation:inflatable boats
Author:Jones, Alan
Publication:Boating World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2011
Words:2629
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