Tubing (recreation)

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Towed tubing in Pleasant Lake, Minnesota. Riders can often become airborne while passing over waves or wake from the motor boat or personal watercraft, August 2006 Tubing on Pleasant Lake MN.jpg
Towed tubing in Pleasant Lake, Minnesota. Riders can often become airborne while passing over waves or wake from the motor boat or personal watercraft, August 2006
Water tubers in the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, June 2020 Tubing Lehigh River Pennsylvania 2020.jpg
Water tubers in the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, June 2020

Tubing, also known as inner tubing, bumper tubing, towed tubing, or kite tubing, is a recreational activity where an individual rides on top of an inner tube, either on water, snow, or through the air. The tubes themselves are also known as "donuts" or "biscuits" due to their shape.




A mother holds two children in an automobile inner tube floating on an unidentified body of water in 1916. 160803 - Chicago Tribune - A Brand-New Way to Keep Cool.png
A mother holds two children in an automobile inner tube floating on an unidentified body of water in 1916.
Towed tubing behind a personal watercraft on the Mississippi River Tubing behind jetski.jpg
Towed tubing behind a personal watercraft on the Mississippi River
Free-floating tubers on Esopus Creek in the Catskill Mountains of New York Tubers on Esopus Creek 2011.jpg
Free-floating tubers on Esopus Creek in the Catskill Mountains of New York

Tubing on water generally consists of two forms: towed and free-floating, also known as river tubing. There is also water skiing. According to Time Magazine , tubing was purportedly invented on the Black River in Missouri by Jan & Harriet Wright of Poplar Bluff, MO sometime in the middle of the 20th century, [1] but examples of the practice were published as early as 1916, [2] when the popularization of the automobile meant a large supply of rubber inner tubes was available to the general public.

Towed tubing usually takes place on a large body of water such as a lake or river. One or more tube riders (often called "tubers") tether their tubes to a powered watercraft such as a motor boat or a personal watercraft. The riders are then towed through the water by the watercraft.

In free floating tubing, the tube riders are untethered and often conveyed by the current of a waterway. Tubers paddle with their hands and often use webbed gloves to steer. Tubes can be outfitted with tube covers or 'skins'. These covers are fabric, and cover the bottom of the tube, the sides, and have a skirt that covers the inner diameter, while leaving room for the tuber to sit. Covers can be altered with pockets, can holders and have handles for the tuber to hold on to. It is strongly discouraged to tie anything to the tube or use ropes of any kind as a tuber can get bound or wrapped in them and potentially drown. The Esopus Creek in the Catskill Mountains, New York is a common place for tubing, starting in Phoenicia and proceeding eastward. As in all watersports tubers should wear appropriate safety gear such as life vests, protective water shoes and helmets. Whitewater tubing can be fun and exhilarating, the size of the tube allows a tuber to ride the river in an unencumbered manner not found in rafting or kayaking. Tubers can employ the use of such items as dry boxes and mesh bags to carry small personal items and pack out trash, cans and bottles from their trip.

Popular riverside tube rentals normally warn against glass due to riverside dangers. [3] Some law enforcement offices have prohibited kegs which were popularly chilled in metal tubs harnessed within larger tubes. [4]

Major water parks often have specially designed courses for tubing called lazy rivers. These may consist of a circular, artificial river on which riders are conveyed or a linear course such as a water slide.


Adventure Point at Keystone Resort. The operator looks to ensure the people below clear the run safely before launching this family down one of the highest tubing hills sitting at 11,640 ft. On the left is their state of the art magic carpet used to deliver the tubers back up the run from the bottom. A family snow tubing at Keystone Resort in Colorado.JPG
Adventure Point at Keystone Resort. The operator looks to ensure the people below clear the run safely before launching this family down one of the highest tubing hills sitting at 11,640 ft. On the left is their state of the art magic carpet used to deliver the tubers back up the run from the bottom.

Snow tubing is rumored to have begun as far back as the 1820s in the Alpine Mountains. Tubing on snow is a wintertime activity that is similar to sledding. This kind of tubing is almost always performed on a hill or slope, using gravity to propel the rider to the bottom of the grade. The rider often returns to the top of the slope with the tube to repeat the process. The low amount of friction between most tubes and snow allows tubers to reach considerable speeds while riding, especially on steep slopes. Because of the circular shape of snow tubes, controlling the course and speed of a tube while riding on snow is extremely difficult. While a sled rider can drag their arms on the snow to brake or steer to a degree, attempting this on a tube will often cause the tube to spin. This lack of control has led to injuries, some serious, when riders have struck obstacles such as trees while tubing on snow.

Some ski resorts offer courses devoted solely to tubing. [5] [6] [7] Such courses often have slopes or barriers on the periphery to guide the tubes along a safe course. Motorized pulley towlines are often used to tow riders and their tube back to the top of the course after riding to the bottom. Adventure Point At Keystone Resort in Colorado offers snow tubing late into the summer. Their elevation has been known to provide enough snow to last through the month of July. Steamboat Springs, Colorado ski mountain offers night snow tubing in ski season.

It is also possible to tow a tube through the snow behind a snowmobile. This is similar to towed tubing on water, only the watercraft is replaced by a snowmobile and the water with snow-covered ground.

Kite tubing

A variant of towed tubing dubbed "kite tubing" has begun to emerge.

When tubes being towed on water reach high speeds, they may take flight. This is because the body of the tube acts as an airfoil and creates lift. In this way, the tube becomes a kite. A tube's ability to achieve and maintain flight depends on a number of factors including the speed at which the tube is traveling, the shape and size of the tube, the weight of the rider, and how the tube itself is oriented. As most tubes are not designed for flight, the rider often has little or no control over a tube after it takes to the air. This can lead to a violent crash as the rider, with or without the tube, falls back to the surface of the water.

To address the poor flight characteristics of most tubes and to target thrill seekers, tubes specially designed for kite tubing have been introduced. These tubes may feature channels to allow air to flow through the tube's body, a transparent "window" for the rider to signal the boat operator, as well as more streamlined, aerodynamic designs.

As of July 2006, 39 injuries and two deaths from kite tubing have been reported. Injuries have included a broken neck, punctured lung, cracked ribs, a concussion and injuries to the chest, back and face. Some accidents have been linked to gusts of wind that unexpectedly altered the flight characteristics and ejected the riders.

In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Sportsstuff Inc. [8] voluntarily withdrew the Wego Kite Tube from the market on July 13, 2006. [9]

Related to kite tubing is the kited inflated wing, a stiffened, flexible wing or gas-inflated bladder wing, where a control bar is affixed for the kited person to direct the inflated wing so the dangerous lock-out does not occur. The kited person can have a quick disconnect to release from a towing boat or car if a dangerous angle of tow begins. [10] [11] [12]

Summer tubing

Neveplast summer tubing Summer tubing of Neveplast.JPG
Neveplast summer tubing

Summer tubing is the summer variant of snow tubing. Hard bottom tubes slide down artificial slopes, usually made of special plastic. They can be installed on mountains by ski resorts or you can find them also in amusement parks. [13] In Europe produced by Neveplast, Tubingsystem and Mr. Snow. [14] [15]

Summer tubing track with Mr. Snow modules Z MrSnow Tubing MariaAlm xs.jpg
Summer tubing track with Mr. Snow modules


Piles of snow tubes Ski bowl tube hill P1424.jpeg
Piles of snow tubes

Tubing can require varying pieces and kinds of equipment depending on the variety of tubing one wishes to engage in.

The one common piece of equipment across all forms of tubing is the tube itself. While tubes vary in construction, all share the general characteristics of being:


Tubes for use as towables on water are generally not true inner tubes but rather specially designed tubes for the purpose of recreation. These tubes are often fairly durable and come in either donut or disk shapes. A sleeve of synthetic fabric often covers the tube to prevent it from becoming elongated during towing. [16] Such sleeves commonly have handles for the rider to grasp and an anchoring point for the tow line to be attached at.

Towing a tube or tubes also requires a powered watercraft such a motorboat or personal watercraft as well as rope to tether the tubes to such craft.

Tubes used for free-floating tubing have traditionally been true inner tubes, but commercially sold tubes for the same purpose are becoming common place. These tubes are almost always donut-shaped to allow the rider to sit comfortably on their back across the top of the tube with buttocks in the center. This kind of tube rarely has handles or a sleeve and would perform poorly as a towable. Another type of water tube has a wooden panel inserted across the hole in the middle of the tube to prevent rocks in the river popping up into the tube and injuring the rider in shallow water areas.


Tubes used for riding on snow are sometimes specially designed tubes with dimpled centers rather than a "donut" hole. This prevents the rider and the tube itself from dragging on the snow. Snow tubes may be designed to have handles.


There are many dangers that are associated with tubing regardless of the variation of tubing.


From 1991 to 2009, towed tubing injuries saw injuries increase at a rate of 250%. This amounted to 7,216 injuries alone in 2009. [17] The increase in injuries is a result of the increase in popularity of the recreational activity. [17] As a result, it is important that proper safety measures are in place. Proper inflation of the tube is especially important. This prevents the body from being caught between the tube and nylon cover that goes over it. With an underinflated tube it is possible for the rider to be caught and dragged under water. [16] Towed tubing also provides dangers if not performed in an open area away from other obstacles such as docks, piers, and other boaters. [18] Injuries can further occur during the ride. In kids, one study found injuries to the head to be common while adults suffered sprains to the knees. This discrepancy between age groups is believed to be a result of younger riders trying to fit more than one person on a tube. [19] There is still danger after riders are flown from the tube. If the boat operator does not disengage the motor when picking up a tube rider from the water, there is a chance that the body of the person in the water could get caught in the motor. [20] This can cause body disfigurement or even death depending on the severity of the injury and the time until proper medical attention is received.

Dangers still exist for water tubing that is not towed tubing. Non-towed water tubing takes place at a slower rate than towed tubing. As a result, tubers are more at risk of water dangers. For instance, insects such as ants and water moccasins have been known to attack tubers. [21] The surrounding terrain of the water can also present their own dangers. Rapids can eject a rider from their tube causing them to land to rocks or other terrain. Non-towed tubing is often an all-day activity, so there is also a risk that a participant develops a sunburn. Furthermore, people often engage in excessive drinking, leading to a state of drunkenness that can pose a danger to other tubers and even to themselves, as alcohol poisoning is common at some popular tubing locations. [22]


Snow tubing incidents are also becoming increasingly common. The common cause of the incidents is blunt force trauma as a result of the rider colliding into a fixed object at high speeds. This frequently results in head and neck injuries. Due to the location of these injuries, death is not uncommon as was seen in 2015 when a snow-tube rider fatally collided with a light pole. [23]


Water [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

Boardsports are sports that are played with some sort of board as the primary equipment. These sports take place on a variety of terrain, from paved flat-ground and snow-covered hills to water and air. Most boardsports are considered action sports or extreme sports, and thus often appeal to youth. A large proportion of youth partaking in these sports, together with aesthetic damage to property from sports like skateboarding, has led to many board sports being marginalized by the greater world of sports in the past. However, many board sports are gaining mainstream recognition, and with this recognition have enjoyed wider broadcast, sponsorship and inclusion in institutional sporting events, including the Olympic Games.

Paragliding Soaring with a paraglider

Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure. The pilot sits in a harness or lies supine in a cocoon-like 'pod' suspended below a fabric wing. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.

Rafting Recreational outdoor activity

Rafting and whitewater rafting are recreational outdoor activities which use an inflatable raft to navigate a river or other body of water. This is often done on whitewater or different degrees of rough water. Dealing with risk is often a part of the experience.

Whitewater Turbulent and aerated water

Whitewater forms in a rapid context, in particular, when a river's gradient changes enough to generate so much turbulence that air is trapped within the water. This forms an unstable current that froths, making the water appear opaque and white.

Kiteboarding Extreme sport

Kiteboarding or kitesurfing is a sport that involves using wind power with a large power kite to pull a rider across a water, land, or snow surface. It combines aspects of paragliding, surfing, windsurfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and wakeboarding. Kiteboarding is among the less expensive and the more convenient of the sailing sports.

Water slide Type of slide designed for recreational use in water parks

A water slide is a type of slide designed for warm-weather or indoor recreational use at water parks. Water slides differ in their riding method and therefore size. Some slides require riders to sit directly on the slide, or on a raft or tube designed to be used with the slide.

Inflatable Object filled with pressurized gas to maintain its size and shape

An inflatable is an object that can be inflated with a gas, usually with air, but hydrogen, helium and nitrogen are also used. One of several advantages of an inflatable is that it can be stored in a small space when not inflated, since inflatables depend on the presence of a gas to maintain their size and shape. Function fulfillment per mass used compared with non-inflatable strategies is a key advantage. Stadium cushions, impact guards, vehicle wheel inner tubes, emergency air bags, and inflatable space habitats employ the inflatable principle. Inflation occurs through several strategies: pumps, ram-air, blowing, and suction.

Zorbing Sport of rolling downhill inside a ball

Zorbing is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside an orb, typically made of transparent plastic. Zorbing is generally performed on a gentle slope but can also be done on a level surface, permitting more rider control. In the absence of hills, some operators have constructed inflatable, wooden, or metal ramps. Due to the buoyant nature of the orbs, Zorbing can also be carried out on water, provided the orb is inflated properly and sealed once the rider is inside. "Water walking" using such orbs has become popular in theme parks across the UK.

Inflatable boat Lightweight boat constructed with flexible tubes containing pressurized gas

An inflatable boat is a lightweight boat constructed with its sides and bow made of flexible tubes containing pressurised gas. For smaller boats, the floor and hull is often flexible, while for boats longer than 3 metres (9.8 ft), the floor typically consists of three to five rigid plywood or aluminium sheets fixed between the tubes, but not joined rigidly together. Often the transom is rigid, providing a location and structure for mounting an outboard motor.

Leading edge inflatable kite Single skin kite with inflatable bladders providing structure

A leading edge inflatable kite (LEI) is a single skin kite with inflatable bladders providing structure. It is useful as a power or traction kite. These kites are flown using 2, 4 or 5 control lines and a bar. A LEI is a great kite for water use because the inflated bladders cause it to float on the water surface. A LEI can sit on the water for an indefinite time and still be relaunched because, unlike a foil kite, there are no chambers that can fill with water. Generally used for kitesurfing and kiteboarding, leading edge inflatable kites come in many different sizes, most commonly from 5 to 18 square metres.

Snowkiting Outdoor individual winter sport using kite power to glide on snow or ice

Snowkiting or kite skiing is an outdoor winter sport where people use kite power to glide on snow or ice. The skier uses a kite to give them power over large jumps. The sport is similar to water-based kiteboarding, but with the footwear used in snowboarding or skiing. The principles of using the kite are the same, but in different terrain. In the early days of snowkiting, foil kites were the most common type; nowadays many kiteboarders use inflatable kites. However, since 2013, newly developed racing foil kites seem to dominate speed races and expedition races, like Red Bull Ragnarok and the Vake mini-expedition race. Snowkiting differs from other alpine sports in that it is possible for the snowkiter to travel uphill and downhill with any wind direction. Like kiteboarding, snowkiting can be very hazardous and should be learned and practiced with care. Snowkiting has become more popular in places often associated with skiing and snowboarding, such as Russia, Canada, Iceland, France, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Northern and Central United States. The sport has become more diverse as adventurers use kites to travel great distances and sports enthusiasts push the boundaries of freestyle, big air, speed and back country exploration.

Swim ring

A swim ring is a toroid-shaped inflatable water toy. The swim ring was derived from the inner tube, the inner, enclosed, inflatable part of older vehicle tires. The inner tube, when inflated, was used as a water toy, and as a floating object to lounge on.

Inflatable single-line kite

The ram-air inflatable single-line kite is one of the few modern inventions in the world of kite design. Although Francis Rogallo's early kite patents had ram-air members in the claims, Domina Jalbert's parafoil ram-air wing, patented in 1944, emphatically changed the kite airscape for inflatable kites.

Kite types

Kites are tethered flying objects which fly by using aerodynamic lift, requiring wind for generation of airflow over the lifting surfaces.

Arc kite

The arckite or twinskin kite is a type of traction kite designed and patented by Peter Lynn. It is a very stable, safe and secure type of powerkite. It can be used for all kinds of kite powered sports, for example: kiteboarding, landboarding, kite buggying or snowkiting. The shape of the kite is similar to a C shaped leading edge inflatable kite, however the construction is similar to a foil kite. These kites also fall into a category of foils called "closed-cell inflatables", meaning that the ram-air inlets on the leading edge of the kite are normally closed by flaps that act as one-way valves to maintain internal air pressure. It is this feature that makes the kite useful for kitesurfing since, unlike standard open-cell foils, if the kite crashes on the water, it will stay inflated and float long enough for the rider to recover and re-launch.

Inner tube

An inner tube is an inflatable ring that forms the interior of some pneumatic tires. The tube is inflated with a valve stem, and fits inside of the casing of the tire. The inflated inner tube provides structural support and suspension, while the outer tire provides grip and protects the more fragile tube. They are widely used in bicycles and are also used in many motorcycles and heavy road vehicles such as trucks and buses. They are now less common in other wheeled vehicles because of the benefits of having no tube, such as the ability to operate at low pressure and at high pressure, without going flat. Large inner rings also make effective flotation devices and are widely used in the leisure activity of tubing.

Wing foiling

Wing foiling or wing surfing is a wind propelled water sport that developed from kitesurfing, windsurfing and surfing. The sailor, standing on a board, holds directly onto a wing. It generates both upward force and sideways propulsion and thus moves the board across the water. The recent development of foilboards, which plane very early on a hydrofoil fin and thereby lift off the water producing low friction, represent the ideal complementary hydrodynamic platform for wings. This young sport is poised to become wildly popular.


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