OFF THE COUCH Novel toys will have everyone playing in the pool

AN IMAGINARY poolside conversation:

“Hey, Joe, did you hear about Cyrus? He’s stoked ’cause he got himself a XP-110 Super Soaker. He said he was tired of Samantha mowing people down with her XP-70.”

“A 110, is that all? I could spit farther than that. I just got myself a CPS-2500.”

“With the two-gallon backpack for instant reloading? Man, how did you score that?”

“I turned eight fingers old yesterday. I said to myself, None of this wet snapping towel stuff. I’m getting me some real artillery.’ I’m blowing both Samantha and Cyrus out of the water.”

“Dang, man, I’m afraid of you.”

This is how it starts, imaginary conversations in my head while staring at an arsenal of squirt guns, water pistols and water cannons in retina-shivering neon shades. The average chain discount store carries Larami, pump-action water guns that come with their own troubleshooting guides. The CPS line, which stands for Constant Pressure Shooter, can cost up to $39.99 for its elite 300 model with reservoir backpack.

Some folks don’t mind their kids toting guns as long as they remember to heed the warnings to not shoot at the face (as the directions specify). But those who fear that their young will become chlorine terrorists will be grateful for perfectly wholesome alternatives to pool frolicking.

Pool Tech in Lafayette, for instance, refuses to stock any toys resembling guns with one understandable exception: The Bumper Jumper Water Pumper. That comes from Moraga-based Short Stack, started up by Richie Stachowski two years ago when he was 10 years old.

“We are the store that started him out, ” explains salesman John Blatt. “He’s here every summer.” Kids ages 5 and older can ride this flotation device that bounces atop the water and shoots foam pieces. Actually, for $19.99, you get the jumper and just one foam piece, so it’s a one-shot deal. Blatt estimates the weight limit to hover around 60 pounds before it sinks faster than the Lusitania.

Another Short Stack item sold exclusively at Pool Tech is the Scuba Scope ($16.49), which gives you a submarine view of the world. While submerged, you can peek above the water line with the scope. The two toys follow Richie’s other creations, Water Talkies, available here as well as Toys R’ Us and Sportmart for around $12. Conversational sound waves travel through water with these bright orange bullhorns.

Pool Tech has standard sports games adapted for liquid terrain, such as water hockey, basketball and volleyball. Kids can forgo the concrete and still play a version of bumper cars with Aqua Fund’s Bump’n’Squirt ($30), which lets them squeeze a few sprays while jostling one another.

Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies in Walnut Creek eliminates the embarrassment of losing your trunks during an exuberant game of Marco Polo with Swim Ways’ Marco Polo vests ($12.99). Competitors yank at flags rather than more essential swimwear.

Assistant manager Richard Fernandez suggests other competitive sports such as water polo ($21.99), which comes with ball and inflatable goal net; Feeding Frenzy ($5.99), in which players attempt to gobble up starfish scattered at the pool bottom with their hand-held shark head; or Slalom Race Hoops ($9.99, set of three), in which swimmers jump through hoops without ever coming up for air.

Individuals a little heavy for the aforementioned floating devices can go to Sharper Image for the Hydro Lounge with built-in water guns ($50). Less confrontational (depending on where you aim it) are the rubber “toypedos” Trident + Twister ($36). Trident goes underwater and shoots up in the air, while Twister spins 20 feet underwater. Raka Sports is badminton for the beach ($30). Too cool for the pool is the remote-control 15-inch submarine, which will set you back $100.

Check out Pressman Co.’s Zoom Ball ($9.99) at Toys R’ Us. Participants face each other holding onto a string. The goal is to maneuver the ball gliding up and down the string toward your opponent. Something for more solid ground is Coral’s Slide’n’Strike, which allows people to coast along a 16-foot slide and knock down the 10 inflatable pins ($29.96 at Sportmart).

Pool games invite screaming and much laughter, so if you want to shut yourself out from the noise, invest in the Speedo America surf runner radio. For $39.97 at Sportmart, you attach the FM radio onto your goggles, float on the water and drown yourself in music.

Vera HC Chan writes “Off the Couch” once a month. Send product information or suggestions to her c/o Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099, or call her at 925-977-8428.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times

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