By Jef With One F
By Pete Vonder Haar
By Abby Koenig
By Olivia Flores Alvarez
By Jef With One F
By Christina Uticone
By Angelica Leicht
By Altamese Osborne
If Shakespeare had lived in Houston during the summer, he would have surely written, "Get thee to some agua, pronto!" And with such proximity to lakes, man-made pools and that little ol' Gulf of Mexico, summer H20 fun is nearly as mandatory as mosquito repellent. Here are some of your best bets.
If you're a kid -- or an adult incredibly confident about how you look in a swimsuit -- there are the city's two water theme parks. Admission to Six Flags WaterWorld (9001 Kirby, 713-799-1234, www.sixflags.com) is free with the purchase of a ticket to that other big park next door. The main attraction here is the Big Kahuna, a four-passenger river-raft ride that unwinds seven stories above-ground. According to spokesperson Donna Marie Jendritza, it's by far the park's most popular ride, so get ready to stand in lines and drip. Up north at Six Flags Splashtown (21300 I-45 North, 281-355-3300, www.sixflags.com), the new attraction is Tornado. From 75 feet in the air, riders speed down a 132-foot-long tunnel and are thrown into more than 5,000 gallons of water. Both parks feature wave pools, slides, free-fall diving, tubing, activity islands and children's centers. And there's always the chance you might run into Floomie. "He's an eccentric guest that has a penchant for water parks and visits them around the country every year," Jendritza says. But it's not enough for Floomie to ride every ride -- like an OCD Aquaman, he must ride every ride's individual slide path, and then in every single color tube available. And if the tube is a two-person, he must ride in the front, then in the back. Go Floomie! Otherwise, just watch out for yellow water and creepy guys in Bermuda shorts with binoculars, hanging out alone.
While it's not exactly a sport, tubing down the Guadalupe River is arguably the most popular and storied Texas water activity. Keith Plambeck of the rental agency River Sports Tubes in Canyon Lake (FM 306 at FM 2673, 830-964-2450, www.riversportstubes.com) says it's a great way to get together with friends and goof off. "Plus, there's several kinds of beauty," he offers sagely, "the beautiful scenery of the river and the girls in bikinis -- both are great to look at." RST offers floats both short (one to two hours) and long (four to five hours), and while the trips are entirely self-guided, staff members will brief you on how to navigate and what to do if you flip over. Not only are alcoholic beverages legal on the river but RST even offers tubes that come with a cooler (though your libations have to be in cans or plastic bottles only -- and no Styrofoam coolers). Plambeck also warns tubers to wear plenty of sunscreen and keep the tube surface lubricated where your arms make contact to avoid the dreaded "tube rash." Car keys, cell phones and little babies, he adds, are best left on shore.
Those wanting a more vigorous aquatic experience can try such hang-on-for-your-life activities as surfing, kiteboarding, windsurfing and paddling at Wind Surf Paddle Sports in Kemah (828 Marina Bay Drive, 281-538-8889, www.windsurfingsports .com). Certified instructor Charlie Gioielli says that while they require some athletic ability, you don't have to be a muscle-bound jock to try (Exhibit A: John Kerry). And while windsurfing is a sport based on speed and reaching a destination, kiteboarding is more of a jumping, trick sport where the skilled can do all kinds of aerial maneuvers. "A kiteboard student who holds the big kite for the first time is in awe of the power of their hands," Gioielli says. "And this is pretty instant on a windy day."
Budding Steve Zissous who want to explore the beauty of the creatures and the terrain of the deep -- right off the Gulf Coast -- can sign up for lessons and trips from the Houston Scuba Academy (12505 Hillcroft, 713-721-7788, www.houstonscubaacademy.com). But what about the bulky, heavy breathing equipment and ill-fitting rubber suits? They're a thing of the past. "The dive industry has progressed considerably in the past 20 years, and most wetsuits are now made of neoprene," says HSA president Marjorie Young. "So as long as you don't insist on having a suit three sizes too small and you use a few tricks, they're not bad to get [on and off] at all." Note to fashionistas and S&M aficionados: A scuba trip is not the time to be concerned about looking buff in rubber. Excursions often take place at the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary off the Gulf Coast. HSA also offers family activities and snorkeling classes, with a training pool. "Scuba diving is a sport that is incredibly beautiful, physically freeing and exciting beyond expectations," Young sums up. Shark repellent is optional, of course.
While you might think you have to be Donald Trump to enjoy yachting (or at least to own one), the Houston Yacht Club (3620 Miramar Drive, La Porte, 281-471-1255, www.houstonyachtclub.com) would like you to know it#185s not necessarily the size of your bankroll that counts. "We want to advance the sport of yachting through our activities," says member services manager Jennifer Glass. "It does cost money to own a boat, but you don't have to be super-rich to enjoy the sport." So if you can't worm your way onto a vessel, take part in the Houston Yacht Club's frequent regatta races and learning programs. Hopefully, you'll learn to drive a boat better than Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack.