When I was a kid, every spare minute of every summer was spent at Lake Poinsett. We'd pack up our plastic shovels and fun noodles and hang out on the sandy beaches of the state park. We spent a few summers camping during the brief time my parents owned a camper ("why camp when I can see my house from here?" was my mom's philosophy), and all subsequent summers have been spent either on the boat our at the Lake Poinsett cabin of our dear friends the Clellands.
As long as I can remember, summer meant Lake Poinsett.
The precise date escapes my memory, but I believe that my parents got our first boat when I was around eight. Before that point, I had spent little to no time in boats. Little did I know that the boat held the key to the best summer fun I could ever imagine: tubing.
Not long after the boat came along, my family acquired two canvas-covered inner tubes. These tubes had handles and long ropes that you could tie to the back of the boat, and you could hook up both tubes at one time. I can't tell you what my first tube ride was like, but it must've been glorious, as I spent the next five or so years doing nothing but tubing.
If you have never had the pleasure of being hauled around on a rubber tube behind a boat, let me first tell you that you have no idea what you're missing. Get out and do it right now. But let me also outline for you some important tubing basics.
- First of all, when I'm talking about tubing, I'm not talking about the gigantic couch-tubes that have taken over in the recent past - I'm talking about black rubber inner tubes covered in fabric. Sure, we've dabbled in the two-person and three-person tubes, but it all comes back to the single-person, no back rest, just business inner tubes. No luxury there.
- Tubing is the most fun when there are two of you riding. Riding a tube alone is fine, but as you know, fun things are more fun when someone is doing them with you.
- If you do coerce someone into riding a tube with you, you have the option to hang onto the handles on the other tube (and your compatriot does the same). This attaches the tubes together and makes it harder for the driver to knock you off. If you do not do this, the driver can then ram the two tubes into each other and send you flying. That being said, keep in mind that it’s better to be the heavier of the two tubers.
- There are really only two ways to ride these tubes: on your knees or on your back. (You can also ride on your stomach with your feet sticking out the back of the tube, but you are pretty much guaranteed to fall off. Don't even bother.) I have always favored riding on your back: you sit with your butt in the middle of the tube and hang on. You are a bit more likely to fall out when you ride like that, but if you ride on your knees (knees in the middle of the tube - which is possible because of the canvas covering), the water beneath you will beat up your knees like nothing you've ever done before. Also, you have to be of small stature and rather flexible to be able to ride this way, so it’s best left to small children.
- Make no mistake: tubing is no leisurely cruise around the lake. Even the calmest of tube rides must still move at a pretty fast pace, because if the boat goes too slow, the tube submerges. If you have the “right” driver, tubing can be a fight for your very life. More on that later.
- Hand signals are an important part of water sports, and tubing is no exception. The signals are as follows: thumbs up for faster, thumbs down for slower, and a throat-slitting motion to stop. My friend Sarah and I invented hand motions to indicate that we wanted to be pulled in and out of the wake (a swerving motion) and to request that the boat make a 360-degree turn and drag us through the resulting enormous waves. We would live to regret that last one.
- When you are waterskiing, you generally look for the smoothest water possible. Tubing isn’t as finicky; you can tube in much choppier waters than you can ski in. However, the rougher the water, the higher you will launch when your tube hits a wave. And I do mean launch.
- Be prepared for every muscle in your body to ache the next day – especially if you are anywhere north of 20 years old. Seriously.
- Unlike waterskiing, tubing requires little to no actual skill. (This is, of course, why I gravitated towards it.) All you need to do is sit there and hang on.
- Your tubing experience will depend completely on the driver. Ninety percent of my tube rides have been with my dad at the wheel. (The other ten percent is split between my mom – a gentle and kind driver – and my brother – a bloodthirsty and ruthless driver.) Dad is neither kind nor bloodthirsty, but if he is driving the boat when you are in a tube, you can expect a wild ride.
Tubing with Dad meant one thing: you had better be prepared to hang on. Dad was not shy about hitting white-capped waves at what felt like a zillion miles an hour, and you were pretty much guaranteed to barrel-roll through the air. Dad's ultimate goal was not to throw you off your tube: if he truly wanted you off, he could have you gone in a matter of seconds. What Dad wanted was to put you through as much of a watery roller-coaster ride you could take before you a.) did indeed fall off, or b.) leapt off the tube before a worse fate could befall you.
As a boat driver, Dad had a number of tricks up his sleeve. Besides the 360 (in which Dad turns the boat completely around and hauls your sorry self you through the boat-created tsunami waves), Dad loved to throw your tube outside the wake, fling you around there for a few minutes, and then take a sharp turn in the opposite direction. And I mean SHARP. It was during those moves that your chances of falling off increased exponentially. You suddenly became hyper-aware of your surroundings and had a quick and terrifying realization of the fate that was about to befall you. As soon as Dad would start to make that turn, there would be a fleeting moment of total stillness before you and your tube were flung into oblivion.
That being said, tubing rarely resulted in any serious injury. Sure, we would hit the water at what we thought was a break-neck speed, but aside from the brief stinging pain that comes with skin smacking water at high-ish speeds, we tended to emerge unscathed. One time, however, many years into my tubing career, Dad sent my tube careening out of the wake, and I flew off my tube, into the air, and hit the water face-first. I resurfaced with a bloody nose, which was less painful and more a badge of honor. Dad felt terrible, but I felt like find of a badass. A tubing injury still counts as a sports injury, and that was the closest I would get to an athletic injury. And, when you're ten, everyone knows that sports injuries are cool.
Dad's role in my tubing experience wasn't limited to driving the boat. No, indeed: Dad would sometimes join us as a second tuber. Remember how I said that it's better to be the heavier of the two tubers? Tubing with Dad is a prime example. Dad was not of the opinion that you should hang onto one another's tubes for added stability - he wanted to tube independently, and therefore crash into one another as the boat whipped you in and out of the wake. As Dad was bigger than us kids, his tube colliding into yours could be enough to throw you off. If you managed to survive the impact, that still did not ensure your safely. Dad would then perform what became known as the Oreo: he would actually drag your tube (with you in it) out of the water, set it on top of his tube, and ride like that for a while - two stacked tubes. Then, when the moment was right, he'd toss you off. There was no surviving that one.
For nearly all of my natural-born life, I have been saddled with a crushing case of nearsightedness. I didn't get contact lenses until I was sixteen, so most of my tubing years were spent in a myopic haze. That was usually fine - it wasn't until many years down the road when I tubed with my contacts in that I realized tubing is way scarier if you can clearly see what's coming. However, I did miss some truly great sights thanks to my poor vision - the great sight being the legendary Poinsett pelican.
I was happily riding in the tube one summer day when I could hear some indistinct exclaiming coming from the boat riders. Squinting, I could just barely make out a large white blob floating on the lake in front of the boat. Seconds later, this same white blob rose into the air and flew away. I didn't think much of it - it had been a bird, big deal - until I got back in the boat. The lucky sighted people in the boat told me that the pelican had been struggling to get out of the water and away from the boat - it was trying to take off, but couldn't. Finally, it opened its mouth and spit an enormous fish right back into the water, and it could finally fly away.
I wish I knew how many childhood hours I clocked in a tube. I certainly don't tube as much as I used to - believe it or not, finding time to tube was a lot easier when I a.) had no employment obligations, and b.) lived five minutes from Lake Poinsett, as opposed to the nearly two hours it takes me to get there now.
My time tubing has also been cut down because of my fairly new-found ability to waterski. I learned how to waterski just a few short summers ago, and I'm still pretty thrilled with myself. Skiing is a lot of work and always leaves me with days' worth of sore muscles, as I am old and out of shape. So that means that, right now, given the choice between waterskiing and tubing, I'm going to stroll on the side of skiing. I'm sure I can do both, but maybe I'll do that when I don't have to work (aka, use my arms and legs) for several days following.
So tubing is great. If you haven't done it, I suggest that you do. Those gigantic tubes with the backrests, your Big Mabels and your Super Mabels, are all good and well, but that's not real tubing. Tubing is a black canvas-covered inner tube. Tubing is hanging onto the handles so tightly that you can’t unclench your fingers at the end of the day. Tubing is seeing your life flash before your eyes before you spiral into the water. Tubing is exhilarating, a tad painful, and you can pretty much count on getting water up your nose.
|Here's my cousin Taylor in a magnificent wipe-out, and I'm certain he had a fair amount of water up his nose.|
Tubing makes you feel alive, water-up-your-nose be damned.