The art of tubing

Tom Winter | Boulder Weekly

It’s hot, darn hot. And when it gets this hot, there isn’t much to do. You can seek out the closest movie theater for the afternoon show and hide in the darkness like a vampire. You can book a flight to Antarctica. Or you can tap into one of Boulder’s best-known resources: Boulder Creek.

The creek has been a time-honored escape from the heat of summer for decades. And with this year’s heat lingering and looking like blasting us in an inferno through September, the creek is the obvious place to go to cool off.

But we’re not talking about dipping your toes into the clear, cold waters as you discuss philosophy or the new menu at one of the hip eateries that’s sprinkled around town. No, we’re talking about getting wet. We’re talking adrenaline and rapids and hanging out with the fishes. We’re talking tubing, baby!

Historians may argue the point, but tubing has been around Boulder for probably as long as there have been tubes. Which means that the automobile, for all the gridlock, pollution and other headaches that the invention has bequeathed us, also was the fundamental building block for a do-it-yourself recreation that has not only stood the test of time, but has to be the best way to beat the heat that Boulder has ever seen.

Tubing is a mid-to-late summer sport. Forget the spring runoff, when the water is cold and the heat of the day never exceeds 80. Leave the hectic months of spring to the kayakers in their dry suits. For tubing, a more relaxed approach is the order of the day. You want some action, but not too much, as you might spill that tallboy you’re cradling as you zip through the rapids.

You also want heat. Because — let’s face it — for all its beauty Boulder Creek is cold, even in August. That water comes straight out of the mountains from the depths of the deep, dark reservoir at the edge of Nederland. That lake is so cold that even the Loch Ness monster would freeze. And it doesn’t get any warmer on its trip out of the mountains, that’s for sure. That’s why the current heat wave is a blessing for tubing. When it’s almost 100 out, the water feels nice, even if you can’t feel your toes.

Contrary to what many might think, tubing is an art form. You have to have motivation, style and, well, motivation. Organization is key. Tubes must be sourced, beers (the cheaper the better) obtained, and a plan sketched out. The route is easy. You’ll drop yourself into Boulder Creek just to the west of Eben G. Fine Park, where the first spillway tumbles below Canyon Boulevard. From there, it’s all downhill, so to speak.

Logistics matter. You’ll want to either terminate your trip around Central Park, where it’s still an easy walk back west to where you’ve parked your car. For multiple laps, though, a shuttle vehicle can come in handy.

Then there are supplies. A leash attached to your tube can also be attached to a second tube with a cooler. (Please note at this juncture, we’d like to emphasize that Boulder Weekly does not advocate drinking alcohol in public, drinking alcohol while participating in water sports or underage drinking of alcohol). The cooler can also carry supplies. After all, tubing is hard work, and one wouldn’t want to get hungry or thirsty.

Finally there’s the tube itself. With the low water of late summer, tubers have options. You can use that kiddy toy without regret, or keep it traditional style, with a classic rubber tire inner tube. Or perhaps find something different. Both Target and Wal-Mart sell cheap swimming pool inflatables, some of which may last the entire journey down the creek, and many of which won’t.

Because of this, you’ll want a back up or two. And it doesn’t hurt to carry a bicycle patch kit if you’re rocking the “traditional” style tube. And no matter what you’re floating on, keep a pump in the car, so you can load up on air if needed. Low water is perfect for tubing, but low water also means more rocks, and rocks can sometimes be sharp.

For this reason, footwear is also a consideration. Flip flops are out. They’ll fall off your feet and float away. Tennis shoes get waterlogged and heavy. Nope, you’ll want some of those fancy sandals that the kayakers and river rafters use. Cotton is also a no-no. Rock some surf shorts and a quick dry top or bikini. And always keep some extra clothing and a few large towels in your vehicle. You’ll want to swap into something dry when your day is done.

In the end, though, tubing is a people’s sport. It’s inexpensive, easy to do and doesn’t require much fitness or training. Because of this, it’s easy to develop your own style and technique. Because when it comes to tubing, it’s not how you look or how fast you floated down the creek, it’s how much fun you have. And fun is always good.