08/21/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
AT FIRST I THOUGHT THEY WERE some bit of tubing that was part of the drainage system, something that goes under the toilet," says Brandon Barkley, 14, of Nashville. But like thousands of other outdoor frolickers this steamy summer, he soon realized he didn't need a plumber's license to operate Funnoodles, just a body of water. On a recent weekend he jumped into a pool with one of the 5½-foot-long, 2½-inch-wide bendable foam rods and rode it like a horse. "They are more fun than a bucket full of spaghetti!" he declared.
At $2.99 each, neon-colored Funnoodles are spreading faster than ice cream on a hot sidewalk. "We bought 500 of them," says Lynne Yocom, aquatics director of the American Fork Fitness Center in American Fork City, Utah. "When they hit the stores, they're gone in a week."
Noodles were invented as a swimming aid in the mid-'80s by Rick Koster, now 53, a construction consultant in Oakville, Ont., and since 1994 have been mass-marketed by Kidpower Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn. "It was our idea, our product," says a rueful Koster, who never applied for a patent, "but you can't take that to the bank." Even Kid-power had trouble pitching the unsinkable—some say unsightly—foam snakes, but last spring Wal-Mart gave them a try. Since then, millions of Funnoodles have been sold nationwide. For Maggie Thompson, 18, a Nashville swimming teacher who tried using them in her classes, that's quite enough. "I don't know how you teach children to swim with a Funnoodle," she sighs. "They just want to play."