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River Tubing: A History

a group of people riding on the back of a boatOne of French Broad Outfitter’s favorite things to do is to go tubing. We have sent thousands of tubers down the river, who all come back with big smiles after a few hours of sitting back in the relaxing water. Recently, the city was doing maintenance on the utility lines near us, causing us to have to close for the day. What did our staff do instead? We went tubing!

But who came up with such a wonderful concept? We know the history of kayaking, canoeing, and the much shorter history of stand up paddleboarding (SUP), but the history of sitting in an innertube in a body of water is not well known. While we do not have definitive proof of the origins of the sport, after a little digging, we certainly have a much better idea:

a group of people sitting in a pile

LIFE Magazine ran a photo essay by Alfred Eisenstaedt on July 21, 1941 that is the first published mention of recreational tubing. It details the photographer’s trip to Somerset, Wisconsin, where a man named David Breault was having a 4th of July celebration unlike any other. Breault was the owner of the Terrace Nite Club which bordered the nearby Apple River. He decided to host a “floating party” where around 200 participants were supplied innertubes and would go on a 45 minute float down the river while drinking beer. Once the Terrace Nite Club truck picked them up, they could go again if they wished. While the tubes and transportation were provided for free, Breault reported that once tubing became part of the business, profits tripled. (we’re assuming from alcohol sales)

But was tubing around before the 40’s? Well in the January 4, 1965 issue, Sports Illustrated published a story on the person they credited with being the inventor of the sport: Thailand’s Royal Highness, Princess Panthip Chumbhot of Nagar Svarga. The princess was a known lover of things that brought her joy, which included buying some old innertubes and inviting a few friends to join her in floating on the river through her estate in the Chong Lom valley. There are downsides to being a princess though, several armed guards were charged with the pleasant task of joining the princess and her friends.

a person riding on the back of a boat in the waterAfter news of the fun was featured on a Thai TV show, hundreds flocked to the southern Nakhon Nayok province wanting to join. The princess’s late husband had been third in line to the throne, so she shrewdly chose to charge 5 baht (about 25¢) each to enter the estate and another 5 to rent a tube. It should be noted that little profit was made, though, as most of the funds were donated to Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn Hospital.

So there you have the stories of the first published mention of river tubing and who Sports Illustrated has credited as the founder. While I’m sure others had the same idea, these two are the ones that history has identified to be associated with the founding of this fun tradition. River tubing has become a tradition on the French Broad only in the last handful of years, but everyone agrees that it’s here to stay. We hope you enjoy sitting back in a tube, enjoying the cool water, while the river slowly brings you downstream as much as we do!

Get more information on FBO’s tubing trips click here, or to make a reservation, call us at (828)505-7371. We hope you’ll join us on the river soon!

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