Austin, Travel

Tubing in East Austin: Where Small Children Find Stabbing Knives


I live with a toober, a person obsessed with tubing in Texas. Every chance Geoff gets to go tubing, he will take it. Even drifting into a snake ball hasn’t stopped him from floating. He has tubing regalia:  an adorably gay mesh tee, cherished cut-off denim shorts, water shoes, and koozie with a neck string. His affection for tubing exceeds that of many of us and like a small, adventuresome child, Geoff often finds himself excitedly planning tubing trips without the support of others. Until recently, the most worthwhile tubing was at least 30 miles away from Austin and required a lot of pre-planning and flaking out on friend’s parts.

That is why we were extrememly excited to discover that tubing in East Austin was suddenly a thing. I guess it had always been a thing, but with the opening of East Austin Tubes, at least we know it’s legal. I think? We had been patrons of the Extremely Public Beach (previously known as the Secret Beach) and always wondered what tubing through the area would be like. Now we had the chance!

For those of you who don’t know, the tubing occurs in Town Lake east of the dam on Pleasant Valley. Is that Town Lake at that point? Is it called something else? Lady Bird Lake? Bird Lady Lake Town annex? Damn Gross Dam Water Lake? I’ve never lived in a state where bodies of water have multiple names. I’m not quite sure where East Side Tubes starts since we took our own tubes to the river and jumped in near the dam. One float with shuttle ride at East Side Tubes costs $15, and though I always encourage people to support local businesses, if you’re feeling poor, you can easily bring your own tube to the river. As for shuttling, park one car under the Montopolis Bridge (where the float will end) and park the other car at the baseball diamonds on Pleasant Valley (where the float begins).

I’m not a poo-pooer of things, but I will tell you this: tubing in East Austin will make you want to shower for three hours. When you swim or tube in most bodies of water and see a light sheen on the top of the water, you usually take solace in knowing that it is sunscreen. Not on Town Lake. For all I know we were swimming in 100% petroleum. You don’t really have to worry about snake balls or similar fears that are common with most tubing trips for it appears to be impossible for many animals to successfully live in this area. In fact, I was more concerned about staph. What you most have to worry about is cutting yourself on a discarded car bumper or shopping cart lodged in the murky water. Every time I ran my fingers through algae and river grass under water, I had to remind myself it wasn’t human hair (sadly, this is not a joke). Since tubing is relatively new to this area, there aren’t many regulations put in place or enforced, so it’s common to find floating beer cans and strange lone men possibly pooping in the water.

The icing on the cake and what sums up the entire tubing trip for me is when we arrived at our destination, an area under the Montopolis bridge populated by parents and small children wading in still water, I saw a ten year-old boy both equal parts terrified and excited to pick up a stabbing knife he found at the base of the bridge. When his parents noticed what he did, they yelled at him to put it down, which he did, and then continued to stare at it bewildered for another five minutes. Me, standing roughly ten feet from the boy, was also transfixed. Is this what we’re all swimming in? Did we just happen upon a crime scene? But more importantly, will our butts grow an eyeball tomorrow?

I don’t want to discourage you from tubing in Austin and I most definitely don’t want to discourage you from supporting locals businesses. If you don’t feel like making the 30+ minute plus drive to San Marcos, New Braunfels, etc. to tube, Town Lake is doable, but I will tell you that the 30 minute drive is worth the luxury of not sitting in congealed water. If you do go, wear a full bodysuit and most definitely don’t take your kids- they’re magnets for stabbing knives.

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  • Reply Brentwgrahan July 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I could have sworn this portion of the river was reserved for hiding dead bodies!

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      Or weapons!

  • Reply Cara July 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    We should be friends. haha. I love this.

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm


  • Reply Christin July 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    i think i’ll make the drive…the hair/algae thing sounds oddly familiar to me.

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      do you live near a similar body of water?

  • Reply kimfromaustin July 29, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Saturday morning I was there with my dog who won’t even go deeper than his rib cage in that water. I thought to myself I would never want to float down that portion of the river. It’s not only slow it is quite dirty and god forbid if you accidentally tipped over and got some of that water in your mouth or nose.

    • Reply kimfromaustin July 29, 2013 at 1:03 pm

      One should never go in that water if they have an open wound or cut.

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      Yeah, we’re still doing body checks for weirdness today.

  • Reply ThatGuy July 29, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Much like 290 becomes Koenig becomes Allandale becomes Northland becomes Bull Creek becomes 2222, the Colorado river becomes Lake Buchanan becomes Inks Lake becomes Lake LBJ becomes Lake Marble Falls becomes Lake Travis becomes Lake Austin becomes Town Lake (or Ladybird Lake, if you haven’t lived here long enough to know better), and once it passes thru Longhorn dam, it becomes simply the Colorado river once again. So you were tubing a river, not a lake.

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      Thanks, ThatGuy! I appreciate the breakdown. You know your Austin lakes/rivers!

  • Reply Nicole B. July 29, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Ewww! Thanks for the heads up. We’ve been there a few years ago to wade with my kid on the park side, and it was nice, despite the vagrant/potsmoking vibe, but I was skeptical about the whole tubing operation. Here’s to hoping no extra eyeballs are forthcoming this week…

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      There are parts of the river/lake that aren’t so bad, but majority of this float was icky. Secret Beach can be nice, but now it’s so overcrowded. 🙁

  • Reply Kimmie July 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Two times my dog played in, and drank, that water; both times he got a stomach parasite. That water is NASTY!

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      Yikes! Now I’m paranoid that I have a parasite!

  • Reply catherine July 29, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Knife, no biggie, right? Just goes to show that Austin is a real city now. But the line about human hair will forever keep me away. Thanks for sharing. And isn’t that the area where all of the dead bodies always float to? Ugh.

    • Reply hipstercrite July 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Big city fo’ sure. The condos are even coming in down there!

  • Reply Leigh Ann July 30, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Yeah, I don’t want to do this, like AT ALL. I feel very squeamish just reading it. Water I can’t see through freaks me out.

  • Reply Tom Cuddy August 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Don’t be such a pussy. I talk to the biologists who test the water. It is fine. Since the construction of a parking lot people do not even wash their trucks in the water anymore. The water is called the Colorado river. Go swim! The water is great. bring your own tube, however and PACK OUT YOU R TRASH>

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