The Coolers of San Marcos

Most parts of the country consider summer to be wrapping up by late August. But in Central Texas, the season sizzles on through September. Luckily, the region is also home to a network of spring-fed rivers thanks to the Edwards Aquifer, a groundwater system that naturally filters the spring water, which remains a perfect 72 degrees year-round. So when the temperatures rise, Texans pack up their coolers, slather on sunscreen, sink into tubes and let the river wash away their worries.

With several rivers to choose from, Texas tubing involves some strategy. A number of outfitters throughout New Braunfels and San Marcos (both about an hour’s drive from Austin, with smaller towns between the two) offer tubes for rent, including models made specifically to hold coolers. Most businesses will even shuttle visitors from the parking lots to the rivers.

“Lazy rivers”—those with a slow flow—are ideal for drinking. Depending on the route one takes, however, the river may offer more of an adventure on the rapids than a leisurely float. The Comal is one such river, featuring an exhilarating tube chute where it runs through New Braunfels. But the Comal River’s Can Ban also prohibits single-use containers from the river and limits cooler sizes. The San Marcos River, by contrast, is calmer, and unlike the Comal, any drink (besides those in glass containers) is fair game.

After this year’s record number of triple-digit temperatures and intense drought, in late August, Texas finally saw some much-needed rain, which brought in a “cold front” of relief; by local standards, this meant highs in the 90s, instead of the 100s. So we headed to Texas State Tubes, set on the banks of the flowing San Marcos River, to take a peek into tubers’ coolers.

Wow, there’s a lot of you out here today!
Jennae: This is actually the Texas State rugby team— this is our beginning-of-the-year float! Fun fact: My name on the field is “Chaos,” and trust me, it’s earned.

Can I take a peek at what’s in your cooler today?
Jennae: Sure. We got all different kinds of Truly seltzers, Mad Dog, a bottle of Jack and Stella Rosa peach wine.

What are your normal drinks of choice?
Nick: Green tea shots!
Jennae: Again, this is the rugby team, so we honestly drink anything. But let’s go with Twisted Teas and Michelob Ultra.

Is there anything you wish you could’ve brought?
Jennae: More alcohol. Nobody thought about the noon rule for buying on Sundays, so we were scrounging for what we already had in the fridge. [Editor’s note: In Texas, beer and wine can’t be sold until 10 a.m. on Sundays, and spirits can’t be sold until noon.]

Can you tell me about your cup?
Jennae: My aunt gave it to me for Christmas—she said that Texas State is a drinking school, and I was underage at the time; I was 19. So she told me I needed a cup that would camouflage everything but still be cute, so she got me this one with Texas State colors and my name on it. It’s my favorite cup.

So you’re pouring your wine in there since you can’t bring glass on the river?
Jennae: That’s right, no glass.

What’s in that big growler?
Nick: More wine!

What’s your favorite music to listen to while tubing—who’s in charge of that?
Jennae: Who’s going to be DJing today?
Nick: Probably Jordan.
Jennae: But more than likely we’re going to be listening to Megan Thee Stallion.

If you could turn the perfect summer day into a drink, what would it be?
Nick: Tequila!
Jennae: A Tequila Sunrise. She said a summer drink, it can’t just be tequila straight!
Nick: Yes, it can! Tequila, lukewarm—you don’t need it chilled. No lime, no salt.
Jennae: He scares me. He actually just got into our grad program here at Texas State.

Hey guys, mind if we take a look in your cooler and see what you’re drinking on the water today?
Orlando: OK, but don’t judge us.

OK, I see Bud Light, peach Twisted Tea, Blue Moon Mango Wheat—
Orlando: Don’t forget to mention the Mighty Mango Madness!

Where are you guys from?
Orlando: Houston.

Oh wow, you drove all the way here to tube?
Orlando: Yup!

What do you like best about tubing?
Orlando: Being outside.
Jin: The company.
T: I like how this one is long— it’s, like, three hours!

Can we ask what you’re drinking out on the water today?
Mia: I’m drinking water.

Well, that’s smart! What else is in your cooler? I see some White Claw… What else is in there?
Millie: Angry Orchard Hard Cider, lemonade, Simply Spiked variety pack and… [holds up a bottle].

A handle of Doers vodka! So you’re going to be making mixed drinks right on the water?
Millie: Something like that, yeah. Hopefully somebody brought cups. Did anyone bring cups?

What’s your favorite music to listen to while tubing?
Danielle: Whatever someone plays for me.
Mia: Funk and R&B.

If you could turn the perfect summer day into a drink, what would it be?
Mia: Shirley Temple.
Millie: Frozen Margarita.
Danielle: Frozen Piña Colada.

What did you guys bring to the river today?
Katie: Cut-up fruit, lemon Truly seltzers, Waterloo sparkling water and some Austin Eastciders cans.

And is that Jelly Belly seltzer I see there?
Dan: Yup, juicy pear [flavor].

What do you like best about tubing?
Katie: Being with pals!
Robin: Being outside, but not being too hot… Cooling off in the water, but not in a pool.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while tubing?
Cody: Today, we’ll definitely listen to Renaissance by Beyoncé.

If you could turn the perfect summer day into a drink, what would it be?
Katie: Spiked lemonade.
Cody: Piña Colada.
Robin: Those Gin & Tonic slushies from Loro!
Everyone: Ooooh, yeah!

Hey guys, what’s in your cooler today?
Elvis: We have a lot of, uh… carrots.

Healthy! And I see some turkey and chimichurri in there too. What drinks do you have with you today?
Everyone (at once): All different White Claw, some Wild Basin black raspberry hard seltzer, cranberry citrus sparkling water, Red Bull and Voodoo Ranger IPA.

Where do you live?
Elvis: We’re from Austin [gesturing to T-Pot and Taylor].
David: Toronto.
Jesse: Chicago.

Are you in town visiting your friends?
David and Jesse: Yeah!

Is there anything you wish you could’ve brought, but didn’t make sense for tubing?
T-Pot: Yes, there’s one thing. There are these mini sake bottles I love, with all different characters on them, but they’re glass. [Shows me a photo from her phone.] Aren’t they cute?? I am definitely their target audience!

Is that wine in the thermos?
Nikki: Yes, that’s my red wine.

What kind of wine is it?
Nikki: Pinot noir. It’s called Forever—it’s left over from our wedding. We also have Arnold Palmers, Pure Leaf iced teas, blue Powerade, water, craft beer…
John: Saloon Door’s chocolate stout.

Wow, this is an interesting selection. I don’t know if I’d think to bring stout or red wine onto the water!
Caitlin: I know, we’re weird! Where’s the Corona?

Well, I can see both the stout and the red wine are super cold, and that’s important out here! So where do you live?
Nikki: Houston.

When was the last time you went tubing?
Madison: Last year.
Caitlin: Yeah, this is the first time this summer that we’ve gone.
Madison: Since it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we really only come once a summer.

What do you like best about tubing?
Nikki: Lying there and drinking! [Laughs.] And it’s fun, you never know who you’re going to meet.

What kind of music do you like to listen to on the river?
John: Daryl Hall and John Oates!

If you could turn the perfect summer day into a drink, what would it be?
Nikki: I would say an agua fresca.
Madison: Lemonade or a drive-thru Daiquiri.
Caitlin: I would say a Strawberry Acaí Refresher from Starbucks—but spiked!

Hey guys, looks like you rented a cooler today! Mind if we take a peek in it?
Kaleb: Yeah, for sure!
Spencer: This is my high school favorite—Four Loko!

Do you like the Blue Razz specifically?
Spencer: I like the Blue Razz and I also like the grape. Blue Razz tastes like a blue Jolly Rancher, and the grape tastes like a purple Jolly Rancher—at least, to me it does.

Do you drink these normally or just for tubing?
Spencer: This is all I drink!
James: It really is all he drinks. He won’t drink any of these!

Tell me about these spiked sparkling waters you have in here!
Kaleb: So, we’re from Louisiana and [Mighty Swell] is an Austin seltzer brand, right? So we figured we’d try something local.

What flavor is Mighty Swell’s Tiger’s Blood supposed to be, anyway?
James: It’s like a sour-y red grenadine-y thing almost. Just like sugary, red…

And I didn’t know Sonic made hard seltzers either. What’s that flavor?
Kaleb: Ocean Water. It’s kind of like coconut and Sprite.
James: There’s a bunch of different Sonic seltzers. They’re awesome— nice and refreshing! And don’t forget our essential snacks: Grandma’s peanut butter cookies and Rold Gold pretzels!

Is there anything you wish you brought that you didn’t?
James: Bud Light Seltzer Cocktail Hour—the best seltzer in the world, but we couldn’t find it anywhere here!
Kaleb: We looked everywhere!

What’s this beer that you’re holding?
James: It’s just a Michelob Infusions with lime and prickly pear. We couldn’t find our favorite, so we took the second-best thing.

What’s your favorite music to listen to while tubing—who’s going to be DJing?
Kaleb: I created a playlist! It’s a mix of the trashier country you’d want to hear while you’re on a tube, and I threw some Austin flair on there, too. I like Houndmouth—they’re pretty good, so I put some of their stuff on there. It feels like you’re in the city! Not sure how that vibe’s going to go on the water, but it should be fun!

If you could turn the perfect summer day into a drink, what would it be?
Kaleb: I want, like, the fruitiest drink you could imagine. I want, like, Piña with extra everything.
James: Miami Vice. If I could’ve had a gallon of those out here…
Spencer: Four Loko! You drink one and you’re good for the whole day—and it only costs two bucks! I drink that and a purple Powerade, and that’s all I need. With all the electrolytes, you won’t be hungover the next day, so that makes it so much nicer.

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