Coolest Toys of Summer: SPORTSSTUFF Slalom Jockey Towable

Maneuverability in an inflatable

An inflatable towable is a common toy to enhance the enjoyment of your personal watercraft. Problem is, towables have a few issues with PWC. For one, their resistance can often prove a load when getting up and going. For another, a PWC’s low towrope-attachment point frequently buries the towrope in the water, where it gets hooked in turns or just assaults the riders with a barrage of spray. SPORTSSTUFF’s new Slalom Jockey and Booster Ball promise to be different.

SPORTSSTUFF refers to its latest generation of towables as “Doables.” The reason? Unlike the average tube, they’re controllable, able to be steered in and out of the wakes thanks to multiple fins attached to the cover’s bottom. Doables also boast smaller footprints and feature less drag. That makes them easier to pull behind smaller personal watercraft and, so the argument goes, reduces gas consumption in the process. SPORTSTUFF’s 4K Booster Ball ($119.95) enhances the PWC-inflatable interaction by placing an inflatable ball at the midway point of a custom 60’ towrope. The primary advantage of the Booster Ball, according to SPORTSSTUFF, is that it keeps the towrope up and out of the water the majority of the time while underway. This enhances the ride experience, as well as reduces drag. The Booster Ball also adds an obvious visual for other boats out on the water.

There's plenty of room for two and a variety of grab handles to keep you secure.There’s plenty of room for two and a variety of grab handles to keep you secure.
The Booster Ball helps keep the tow rope up and out of the water.The Booster Ball helps keep the tow rope up and out of the water.

Setup of both the Slalom Jockey and Booster Ball is quick and simple. The PVC bladders are already contained within the heavy-duty nylon covers, meaning all that’s necessary to get on the water is to lay out the two inflatables and pump everything up. I chose an everyday Shop Vac on reverse; the SPORTSSTUFF Speed Safety valves accommodate a simple held-together connection, allowing the user to quickly fill the tubes without any special nozzles. The Slalom Jockey’s molded steering fins are typically bent after shipping. I laid the towable in the sun upside down until things heated up, then carefully bent them back into position.

Our test team consisted of a variety of ages, from a pair of eight-year-olds to some ultra-aggressive teens. All found ample space to fit in the Slalom Jockey’s interior. Multiple grab handles are places around the perimeter, and feature knuckle guards to keep scrapes at bay. Graphics are somewhat loud, but do a good job of providing instruction to those aboard.

Once underway, the Slalom Jockey ($399.95) quickly displayed a directional control unusual for an inflatable. In fact, it likely tracked too well at first. Expecting the out-of-control slide of most tubes, most riders almost found the Slalom Jockey too tame. Once those same riders discovered the inflatable’s maneuvering ability, however, that fun factor soared. By using a simple, intuitive lean in the desired direction, riders found they could aggressively steer the tube left and right. This both added to the obvious thrills of the Slalom Jockey, while also enhancing its feeling of security. Aggressive riders found they could charge up and over the wakes, even use the wake’s lip as a small jump. Less aggressive occupants, meanwhile, who often fear the out-of-control whip a tube can display in sharper turns, discovered they could simply lean in and avoid it. It was like riding a tube with the maneuverability of a wakeboard. “All you do is just lean the way you want to go,” said one tester. “It’s simple.”

If you’re looking for a relaxing ride the Slalom Jockey can track very straight. However, if you want to spin, jump and play around, just lean left or right and hang on tight.If you’re looking for a relaxing ride the Slalom Jockey can track very straight. However, if you want to spin, jump and play around, just lean left or right and hang on tight.

Perhaps the most surprising trait of the Slalom Jockey is that, while it can track almost as if on rails, it can also break free for complete 360 spins. By leaning against the pull of the PWC, then shifting their weight forward once the tube was near sideways, riders found they could actually spin the tube almost at will. The reason is thanks in part to SPORTSSTUFF’s VEER towing system, which anchors the towrope underneath the tube, almost half the way back toward the stern. The tow point keeps the bow high in the water, but also features a swivel shackle that allows the tube to spin completely around without twisting the rope. Our most aggressive riders found they could combine the spin with a charge outside the wake in a turn, linking spins as far as 720 degrees.

The Booster Ball, meanwhile, did its part, keeping the rope up and out of the water so that it didn’t continually drag or splash the riders behind.

No, the total system isn’t always perfect. Occasionally riders found they could almost get “stuck” riding backwards during an attempted spin, as the central tow point pulls almost equally from all directions. The Booster Ball could also occasionally get tangled in the rope when circling back to a fallen rider. All grievances, however, are minor in the overall picture.

“The coolest thing about the Slalom Jockey is that you can steer it and make it do a bunch of tricks,” summed up our enthusiastic eight-year-old test pilot. “I love it!”

And when it comes to summertime fun, that’s the opinion that counts.