A Grumpy Townie’s Guide to (drinking beer &) Tubing

I mentioned tubing in in yesterday’s rant/post so I figured I’d write about it today since the river is starting to warm up. If you’re a townie like me, chances are you’ve taken advantage of some of the rivers around here in the summer. Tubing around here has literally saved me from an otherwise miserable few months. Many get seasonal depression when it gets cold, I get depressed in the summer because I’m not on a beach. I grew up near the water, and my summer months in Maryland were spent mostly in Ocean City, MD and Delaware. I miss the Eastern shore terribly, and it doesn’t help that when I check it with my parents I’ll get an answer of “Oh hey, we’ll call back later. Too loud out here on the BEACH.”

Anyway, here are a few tips as well as some suggestions on the best beers to bring!

Where to Go

New River Valley Junction

Good variety of rentals and okay-ish tubing. Still, they pretty much run a business around this activity during the summer, so they’re prepared with everything such as a cooler to float down the river with and a bus to transport you back to the start once you reach it.

Yes...be prepared for this to happen at the end.
Yes…be prepared for this to happen at the end.If this excites you, go here.
My problem with this area is that it’s not a very long stretch of river, and the end has a few rapids so you have to be careful or you’ll lose your drinks (has happened to me before). It’s also been incredibly shallow when I’ve gone, leading to my butt scraping along the bottom or me freaking out when it comes across algae (WTF WAS THAT JUST NOW?!). What I do love about this place is that the shallow parts can lead to some good tanning. I prefer to bring a chair than a tube actually, and just sit out in the river as it flows by. It’s pretty relaxing.

Bisset Park at Radford

Literally THE BEST in the area in my opinion. Very quiet, a lot less people than NRV Junction. Little to no rapids, not nearly as shallow as some other places. If you go, expect to be tubing for a good 2-3 hours without interruption so MAKE SURE YOU BRING SUNSCREEN. There are also a lot of areas where the water is a lot deeper, so swimming can be fun too. There’s also a cool little rope swing on your way down the stretch if you or your friends feel like standing on solid ground for a little while.

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Me in my happy place.
The only complaint I have about this place is that the transportation is iffy. They claim that they have buses but I’ve just had the worst luck catching one or even just seeing one in service. I prefer going this route if I have a large group of people to go with. We usually park 1-2 cars at the start (the lot near the bridge for us), then another 1-2 at the end (the far side of Radford University’s campus). Also, this is the much better river to go to if you have your own rentals in my opinion. I think this one supplies tubes, but you’ll need to supply your own float for your cooler if you bring one.

Also – since this river can get a bit deep, there are a few people out on boats or fishing. Be aware of your surroundings and make sure you’re not in their way! AND BRING SUNSCREEN!

Roanoke River Blueway

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to go tubing here, but I hear a lot of good things. It’s very similar to the Radford River though in that it has a variety of water levels that won’t scrape your bum. It’s also similar in that it’s best to have transportation or a large group of people, but luckily there are quite a few access points that make this trip easy to plan if you aren’t sure where to start or end.

What to Bring

Alright, a lot of places will have rentals and you can certainly go that route – especially if you’re tubing at NRV Junction. But tubing is a super cheap activity and if you have the right equipment you’ll find it’s waaaayyy easier to just bring everything you need. It’s like bringing 80% less of what you’d need for camping. Here’s my list:

TUBES!

My boyfriend and I started out with some cheap $8 tubes from Walmart and they got us through most of the summer just fine. Once they were in storage though a hole managed to poke through them, so we thought it was time for a good upgrade. These Intex River Run tubes are just about ready to be broken in, and look – cupholder! Also, ask any of your friends if they have a pump. If you don’t have space for a fully inflated tube in your car you’ll need one…no one likes waiting on you if you have to inflate your tube by mouth.

We're weird and also brought a giant rope to connect us all as we float down.
We’re weird and also brought a giant rope to connect us all as we float down.

Cooler

As far as a cooler goes, I prefer something kind of small (especially for booze. Sorry). You shouldn’t binge through too many drinks on your way down the river (especially Bisset), otherwise you risk being drunk at the end (of course this doesn’t matter with a DD <3). I prefer to tube while sorta tipsy, not wasted so I’m sober by the time I reach my car. We like this cooler because it’s big enough to bring enough drinks but not overload on them, and it’s inflatable!

Flip-flops

Don’t forgot to bring flip-flops or shoes suitable for being in the water! Walking in and out of the river can get nasty, and you don’t want to do that in your bare feet. I bought a pair of Under Armor flip flops last summer that float when they manage to leave my feet so I can easily grab them if they start drifting off.

Sunscreen

YES. PLEASE YES. And reapply! I shouldn’t have to mention this. But tubing burns are no joke. Nothing is worse than being a mile down the river when you realize your skin feels like it’s burning, you have no sunscreen to reapply, and you have another 1-2 miles to go until you reach the car or bus.

Snacks & Drinks

I always bring something to snack on in between beers. Once again some stretches of rivers are long, and you don’t want to be cranky and hungry halfway through your ride! Of course, the most important thing to bring is…

The Best Beers for Tubing

Let me get this out of the way – this is just my preference. Bring whatever you want when you go tubing. Wine, whiskey, margartias, I don’t care. Me personally…I like beer. Especially hoppy, over-the-top craft beers. But a hot day tubing will make me pass on a double IPA and choose something light instead. Here are some of my favorites that have been in the cooler in the past…

  1. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin – The king of tubing beers imo. Crisp, citrus-y flavors that aren’t too heavy. Even better in a can.
  2. Catawba Valley White Zombie Ale – Can be hard to find since it’s only an Asheville thing, but as a hophead this is one of the only witbiers I’ll drink.
  3. Hardywood Great Return – This IPA has a softer bitterness to it that lends itself well to being on the water for several hours.
  4. Flying Dog Dead Rise – Many beer nerds might cringe but I’m sorry I’m from Baltimore and I love this beer. Old Bay brings me back to summer crab feasts, and it just feels so right to be drinking this under the sun. The ONLY problem I have with this beer is I’ve yet to find it in cans, so you may want to bring a growler of it and pour as needed.
  5. Service Compass Rose IPA – Hands down the best IPA I’ve had in the Southeast. The rest of their beer is crap, but this IPA is something I rush to grab every time I’m in or around GA. Look out for it.
  6. Natty Green’s Southern Pale Ale – Pale Ales go super well for tubing but I also find it hard to put my beloved hoppy beers away. This one is the best of both worlds for me, and strikes a good balance between drinkable pale ale and hops.
  7. Heavy Seas Crossbones Session IPA – Very drinkable IPA with a light, fresh coloration. Very fruity with a slight bitterness at the end.
  8. Bells Two Hearted Ale – I didn’t realize how lucky I was to live in an area where this beer is distributed until I started following r/beer. Perfectly balanced, I think a few of my friends would opt for a floating keg of this instead of a few bottles.
  9. Oskar Blues Pinner Throwback IPA – Fresh, good blend of malt and hops. Easy drinker and juicy. Beer nerds and beer noobs will approve.
  10. Ballast Point Even Keel – I’m all about the citrus-y, easy drinking IPAs aren’t I? I didn’t expect to like this one so much but it’s very light bodied. I’d say probably the lightest session IPA on this list. It’s also quite creamy too compared to the others, I’d give this one a shot if you aren’t too keen on a hoppy beer in the summer heat.

Etiquette

Last thing I’m going to cover…DON’T. FREAKING. LITTER. This is so obvious but it always astounds me how people will throw their trash around. Keep a bag for your empties or just leave them in the cooler. Don’t be that asshole that just tosses your cans in the water. If you ask anyone that knows me well they’ll say I’m a shitty person in terms of recycling, but I will chase down an aluminum can down the river if I have to. Try not to bring glass either. I know some amazing beers are only in bottles, so if you do bring them…don’t be an idiot. Keep track of your shit and don’t let it leave your hand. Or cupholder.

Anyway, ranting over! That’s all I have! I hope this helps anyone new to tubing like I was a few years ago. It’s a blast and I look forward to seeing you drunk on the river soon 🙂

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