Earthworms’ Castings: Noodle Ode

By Jean Ponzi

Photo caption: Team EarthWays: Nature Noodlers Rally for Action.

This summer husband Dale and I celebrate 26 fabulous years — of the FunNoodle in our circle of friends.

We were newlyweds on a steamy midnight date — to our neighborhood Schnucks market — stocking up together for a big annual summer party. Cruising the store in festive bliss, we rounded the end of the Seasonal aisle to a gawking halt at a huge box of multi-colored long foam tubes.

Dale seized a pink one, I grabbed a blue and a fierce, waggling battle ensued. Out of the detergent aisle charged Jay Schober, old KDHX friend, co-host of the legendary Brain Sandwich show and retired professional wrestler of note (Insane Abdul Hussein).“Break it up! Break it up!” Jay roared. “That’s enough from you two!”

We seized green and yellow ones and whapped him into frozen food.

I read the box in the afterglow: FunNoodle – The Floating Water Toy. In a high, dry leap of faith, we splurged and bought four.

Our noodles were the hit of that summer party, winning dozens of buoyant friends. You could lounge on them, ride them – shallow or deep. Their elegant, slender five-foot length was a curvaceous Italian chair of flotation design.

At the next big party, on the Fourth of July, a rainbow of noodles bobbed in the lake. Inner tubes were abandoned, black donuts tossed on shore. FunNoodles were an instant hit, a product line to rule the waves.

A FunNoodle requires no assembly, needs no source of power. Though they’re not official safety gear, I’ve watched swimmers at all levels of ability gain confidence with noodle aid. They come hollow, solid, ridged, or smooth. I’ve seen an average noodle floating 260 pounds of flesh!

I pack a noodle off to summer conferences, lithe and mobile, curved into the bottom end of my suit bag. On afternoon breaks in a hotel pool, I bob on my noodle with ends in the air, novel in one hand and beverage in the other, perched pert, refreshed and dry.

Astride a noodle, I’ve often exclaimed, “I hope whoever invented these got really rich!” But who was that hero of civilization? What’s the noodle scoop? In a wake of curiosity, I dove into FunNoodle lore.

A couple of online research hours washed up no clue. Inventors of that closed-cell polyethylene foam seemed less open to publicity than their product is to air and water. I roamed a world marketplace of Water Logs and Pool Noodles, but no proud company claimed ownership.

Fitness proponents hailed the noodle’s “added resistance for strengthening and toning” for baby and kid classes to therapy with arthritis patients. Web reviews around the country praised one Karen Westfall and her noodle’s “phenomenal abdominal workout,” $21.49 for 47 minutes! –Aqua-aerobics sites detailed noodle maneuvers to slap your splashing heels while jogging, “sitting on the noodle (like a pony), sitting tall, shoulders back, traveling forward,” and “to cool down, on our sides, noodle under back and arms: Mermaids (light flutters, scoop over and do the other side) then Esther Williams (long, slicing legs using hip flexor and gluts).” Anyone have a waterproof viewing device?

Product variations were abundant noodle spawn. The Original Noodle Chair, while fully stitched (no loops to break) requires 1 Noodle (not included), and The Amazing Noodle Lounger is fun for ages 8 & Up to Cool Off Effortlessly! in purple or red. Noodle connectors can float complex building plans, or you could have “Fun-In-The-Sun, just noodling around.”

An article finally floated up from the August 12, 1995, Raleigh News & Observer naming the founders of FunNoodles, in a business section profile.

Nomaco, Inc., of Zebulon, North Carolina, extrudes those cylinders from a specialty niche in the “foam profile” industry, but their noodle power is international. Nomaco is not only part of a manufacturing group based in Belgium, the U.S. and United Kingdom, with marketing partners throughout Europe and North America, they are “The Recognized Leader in Engineered Polymer Foam Technology.” Ahoy and Hail, Nomaco!

But Nomaco’s name never appears on its products, not even the fabulous FunNoodle, made in partnership with Kidpower in Brentwood, Tennessee. Kidpower is elusive too. Except for the option to check on your order, their website is a single, watchdog page that growls, Our customers know who we are.

Nomaco makes Nomafoam®, an extruded, closed cell thermoplastic (low-density polyethylene) foam, “so versatile you can cover, float, insulate, play, protect, ship, and wrap with it…” into automotive and gardening products and into toys. CEO Marc Nöel is quoted on their websiteby a photo of a pile of grinning kids playing in a colorful mountain of noodles. Good deal, those noodlers are really rich, and it looks like they’re pretty happy too.

Bonus: FunNoodle-manufacturing waste gets recycled! Twenty-six grades of LDPE are listed in the plastics section of recycle.net, an industry waste exchange. While it’s true we consumers can’t take old noodles out to curbside in recycling bins, noodle durability is a Green built-in. My family’s four original noodles are still floating strong, if a bit surface-flakey after so many years.

So noodle away, summer fans! ‘Tis the season for floaty fun. On an acme of human invention, one great use for petroleum.

Perhaps some future researcher will unearth a vivid, linear, closed-cell relic. She may happily whack a fellow explorer, then thrill to discover its buoyant power. May she ponder, with cold drink in hand, the civilized mystery of FunNoodles.

Jean Ponzi floats useful Green ideas on Earthworms – her enviro conversation podcast from KDHX St. Louis Independent Media – and captains Green projects for the EarthWays Center of Missouri Botanical Garden. Summer is her season! In pool or pond, expect her noodle to complement her swimwear.