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TikTok Loves This Minnesotan’s ’90s Keychain Pool Floaties

Millions of people have seen Lauren Bowe's nostalgic summertime pool toys... but there's a dark side to adorable viral fame.

11:13 AM CDT on July 7, 2023

TikTok: @laurenapolis

There's a very cool ceramic artist named Jeff Rubio who, in addition to creating cheeky vases and squiggly pots, has spent the last few years making giant beaded lizards from oversized ceramic beads, rope, and steel. They're a playful shot of nostalgia for anyone who grew up using colorful pony beads and plastic string (we called it "gimp" in Pennsylvania, but I think that's regional?) to make little lizard keychains that dangled from our backpacks and fanny pack zippers.

Here in Minneapolis, Lauren Bowe has spent the last few weeks making big "beaded" creatures of her own—these ones out of styrofoam pool noodles, which she cut into chunks, beveled into bead shapes, and fashioned into oversized floating "keychains" with string she had lying around the house.

"My friends and I like to spend time at the lake, and we're always buying floaties. And I had my bead-making stuff out because I was going to Taylor Swift and I needed to make a friendship bracelet for my friend," Bowe laughs. "I saw the beads, and I had floaties on the mind, and I was like, 'You know what? I can do that.'"

Because I'm a millennial, I saw Bowe's creations first on Instagram over the weekend, where her first '90s keychain floatie—a classic gecko—has amassed more than 100,000 likes since she posted it on June 27.

Over on TikTok, a follow-up floatie—this time, a turtle—reached more than 200,000 likes and 2 million views in just two days.

"I don't have like a niche craft that I like to do, but I've always just liked to make things," Bowe says. And she's no stranger to going viral, either—back in our City Pages days, we wrote about a popular prank in which she printed out and laminated an unlimited breadsticks pass to trick a friend into thinking he couldn't have any during his first Olive Garden visit. "This was just an example of me getting an idea, and being like, 'I can do that,' and then doing it."

"I've gotta tell you, though, there is a downside to this," she says. "Going viral kind of sucks!" Bowe mainly uses Instagram to "shitpost" and keep up with friends. It's a place where she's authentic and genuinely herself... a self that's not exactly known to the thousand or so new followers from her viral noodle craft.

He floats *and* he parties | Lauren Bowe

Having gone viral before, she knows that the popular floatie posts will be followed by an ongoing loss of those same followers once they realize she isn't exclusively making fun crafts for strangers. Some will go quietly; some will be kind of an asshole about it. "I take it personally! And now... when I post something personal they're gonna be like, 'I don't care.' I'm gonna just have to post floaties for the rest of my life."

"At the same time, it is a good push to keep creating things, because that is what I like to do," she admits. And there have been nice things, too: For example, someone she's followed on Instagram for a long time messaged her to say they made a floatie inspired by hers.

For Bowe, that's the whole idea behind the content she makes—these are fun, accessible, low-cost crafts that anyone could try themselves. All you need is two pool noodles from the $1.25 store ("It's a little out of reach now, with that extra quarter," she laughs), two hours in front of the TV, and voila—a '90s-inspired pool toy of your own.

Winky the cat su-purrrr-vises the floatie-making operation | Lauren Bowe

And there is some good news for Bowe's floatie-obsessed new followers: Before the summer's over, she wants to make another, bigger keychain floatie, complete with a key ring. She just has to find a few more noodles first.

"I've been looking for bigger pool noodles so I can make an even bigger one, but they have the back-to-school stuff out, so I think I'm a little late," she chuckles—though we wouldn't write off the possibility that hoards of would-be floatie crafters have cleaned out local dollar stores. "If you have a good idea, you have to do your shopping first, for the next one, before you post about it."

If you have any big pool noodle leads, you can let Bowe know on Instagram or via TikTok.

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