Dave Shively: For the love of the tube
Steamboat Springs — Floating on an inner-tube down a river means vastly different things to different people. For various breeds of outdoor enthusiasts, the question, “What do you think about tubing?” is a litmus test to determine one’s basic river competency. To die-hard river-runners, kayakers especially, the knee-jerk reaction is that anyone caught in tube automatically puts them in the “gaper” category. A gaper is simply someone totally unaware of the broader environmental context into which they are thrust, often from out-of-town. In a summer context, it’s someone that you would be able to scalp a ticket to for a free concert series event.
Although all tubers are not gapers, it is true that all gapers enjoy tubing. The world of the tuber and the paddler rarely collide for good reason. The death of tuber on a Class IV section of Boulder Canyon earlier this summer during runoff proved again that without proper know-how and equipment, tubing should take place in calm, warm waters where there are no experienced boaters.
Yet serious downriver tubers continue to grow on the fringes of the Colorado whitewater scene. I talked one of the two tubers at the Gore Canyon Downriver Race last summer who floated/swam/survived the technical Class V section in a “semi-modified” tube, clad in wetsuit, helmet, running shoes and Rec-Specs.
Then there’s Rolf Kelly, a Portland native, who after a debilitating back injury, switched from kayaking to whitewater tubing. After winning a bet that he wouldn’t be able to float Rigor Mortis Rapid on Clear Creek near Golden, Kelly notched prolific tubing descents from Chile’s Futalefu River to a confirmed 82-foot waterfall drop near Hood River, Ore.
The question remains whether this qualifies them as athletes or sport innovators.
It depends what you think about tubing.
For Steamboat’s non-gaper population, tubing is a critical component to summer living, to tourists, a necessity. The unavoidable late-summer activity assumes a status here unrivaled by any other Colorado mountain town. I would even be willing to dub it Colorado’s Tubing Capital, if not in terms of daily users, definitely in terms of tubing economics.
A friend of mine who works at a Pagosa Springs outfitter made a the same claim about the San Juan’s tubing potential, which became null after he told me they only put 80 people on a river and that their tube-use peaks at couple hundred tubers.
In terms of Front Range tubing, Nick Wigston said that his growing Whitewater Tube Company is currently the only commercial renting option for the masses on Boulder Creek.
In Steamboat, the tubing gold mine has certainly been tapped by three commercial renters, so much so that they are regulated under the city’s Yampa River Management Plan.
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