Original Swedish Goggles

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Among competitive swimmers that wear goggles four hours a day for weeks on end, the widely accepted gold standard is a type of goggles invented in the 1970s by the Swedish company Malmsten AB and widely copied thereafter. They will hold up to years and years of exposure to chlorine, replacement parts are easy to find, they are infinitely customizable to their user’s face, are very comfortable when dialed in, and yet cost only $4 a pair where others can cost $30. They’re called “Swedish” goggles.

The first thing you’ll notice about them is that unlike every other goggle on the market, they have no soft rubber/foam seal around each eyepiece. The sealing surface is hard plastic. What would seem to be a shocking design oversight actually makes a lot of sense. They were originally designed this way to accommodate people that might have a skin allergy to rubber or foam. Because the seal is hard plastic, it is impervious to chlorine and UV, and seals exactly the same way each time. Individual eyepieces will last forever and still seal the same long after soft seals have rotted away from the chlorine. They come in about eight million colors, but I recommend not getting the metallic eyepieces as the coating eventually wears off but they do look cool. There is an anti-fog variant, but I just spit and swish in mine and that works well enough. I suppose you could also buy an anti-fog cream.

The nose piece is another thing you’ll notice, in that it appears to just be a cheap piece of string in a rubber tube. Again, this design is very smart, as it is infinitely adjustable where other goggles have to use interchangeable nose pieces or some other part that will force the purchase of a new pair if it ever gets lost or broken, the Swedish goggles’ nose piece can be replaced with any bit of string you can find and a piece of clear tubing from the hardware store. Many swimmers like Michael Phelps also use a section of the head strap as a nose piece. I personally use a twist of wire.

The head strap is like the nose piece; instead of a proprietary strap like other goggles, it uses a simple piece of flat rubber strap that can be found anywhere. The strap can be configured to have different upper and lower lengths in order to sit perfectly.

Fitting them, of course, is more involved due to their customizability. There are detailed directions included with each pair, and it takes about 15 minutes. Just like any goggle, some people will fit them and some won’t. I have heard of a few swimmers shaping the sealing surface with sandpaper in order to make them fit, but they really do fit the vast majority of people. However, they won’t fit a lot of kids because kids’ smaller eye orbitals will interfere with the sealing.

I have had my pair of goggles for about ten years, and have gone through about five head straps and three nose pieces in that time while pool and ocean swimming 10 hours a week during college and 2 hours a week thereafter. My eyepieces are still going strong.

-- Jon Braun  

Original Swedish Goggles
$4

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Richey Industries



Corrective Swim Goggles

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I wear glasses (not contacts). Swimming underwater without glasses, using average swim goggles gave the world a uniform pathetic watery blur. A few years ago it finally dawned on me that I could get corrective goggles. I was surprised to discover that goggles with prescription corrective lenses were not much more expensive than plain ones — less than $10. These “optical” goggles are magic. For only a few dollars more my underwater vision is crystal clear. Anit-fog, fair fit, and prescription built in. So many brands make them (and of course many models are more expensive) that I wonder if I am the last person in the world to learn about them. In any case I only have experience with the ClubSwim models. They are available in a limited choice of diopters in half point increments from -2.0 to -7.5.

-- KK  

ClubSwim Antifog Optical Pro II Goggles
$5
Available from SwimOutlet

TYR Corrective Optical Performance Goggle
$14-25
Available from Amazon

Here is another brand:
SPQ
$14

And another for $10 (currently unavailable)



Wall Whale

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I used a normal pool brush before, and always had the problem with the brush not sticking to the wall. I would normally have to use a lot of force to successfully brush a vertical section of pool wall. Then the brush finally broke. So I went to a local pool supply to get another brush and came across the Wall Whale brush. It’s unique because in addition to the brush, it has a fin, which creates a powerful force, that basically sticks the brush to the pool wall. It’s pretty effortless to use, and successfully cleans the area that I brush.

I have had it for a few months and love it.

-- Mike Hedge  

Wall Whale
$20

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by GABco Products



TUSA Hyperdry Snorkel

I just bought a new snorkel after 20 years of use on my prior purchase. I chose the TUSA SP-170 first for comfort of the mouthpiece and bore width of the tube. Next, I evaluated how water drains from the tube. The purge valve under the mouthpiece is covered, so stray sand or kelp will not block it open and let water in, a problem I’d had with older snorkels.

At the top of the snorkel tube, TUSA’s Hyperdry System creates a separate pathway for water to eject, making for quicker clearing of the airway for my next breath. Other brands do have similar configurations and differ only slightly from the TUSA design. What hooked me on the TUSA is its Comfort Swivel, which allows me to change the angle of the snorkel without messing with the mask strap. It also has two parts that can disconnect as a quick-release to get the snorkel off the mask quickly. Using the old snorkel keeper strap was always a hassle for me.

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Snorkels are a very personal choice, and the number of features surprise people who have never purchased one at a dive shop. Some stores won’t allow you to put the mouthpiece in your mouth. If you can’t judge the size/fit, try to see if they rent the model you are interested in. Usually an experienced salesman can judge the size well and you can go by his suggestion.

I’m very happy with this choice, and have found it to meet all of my needs either in surf, open ocean or pool conditions.

-- Opher Banarie  

TUSA Snorkel SP-170 Platina II Hyperdry
$40

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by TUSA



BodyGlide

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As a cyclist and triathlete, I’ve been a fan of products like Chamois Butt’R for years, but it was only last year I stumbled across BodyGlide in a giant bin in the Triathlon section of SportsBasement. In a matter of weeks, I went from interested to addicted. It’s simple stuff you just apply anywhere you have rubbing issues: your netherbits, nipples, wrists, ankles, cankles, armpits or pretty much any other body part prone to chaffing, scraping, or friction. For triathletes, it’s great to put on the neck and shoulders to keep your wetsuit from chafing. I also smear it on my wrists and ankles to help me get out of my suit faster in that first transition. I even put it on the outside of my wetsuit at the ankles to make it nice and slippery. Cyclists can use it like chamois butter (although I’m not sure it’s good for your chamois like a traditional creme) and for runners it’s great for the inner thigh (or if you’re prone to bloody nipples. Naturally, it’s great for hiking and backpacking as well. There are even versions with sunscreen and analgesics to cover multiple bases. Just don’t share it, okay? That’s totally grody.

-- Mathew Honan  

Body Glide
$13
Manufactured by W Sternoff LLC

Available from Amazon



StrechCordz Short Resistance Training Belt

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The StrechCordz resistance training belt makes expensive, complex, “endless” pools obsolete. At one end of a 4-foot, black rubber tube is a nylon belt with a simple plastic snap-clip that slips around my waist. On the other end is a loop I attach to the deep-end ladder of our modest home pool. That’s it… just tether up and start swimming. Swim as hard and fast as you like yet stay in place.

I’m able to do backstroke, crawl, butterfly (well, I try to butterfly), even frog-kick with no interference. Stop swimming and the belt gently pulls me back to the ladder. And, no, my legs don’t get tangled in the line! The rubber tube is just stretchy enough to allow a good resistance for natural swimming feel, but I hardly notice the belt at all. Significantly, I even forget I’m wearing it. It’s completely comfortable for long bouts of swimming. The one I own has been in almost daily use for one swimming season in a relatively mild salt-water home pool. Not any sign of wear at all on the belt, but I do put it away out of sunlight between uses.

I wasn’t sure I’d need the belt, frankly, since our pool is big enough for actual swimming. In practice, however, even though our pool is 32 feet long, it’s not really enough to be comfortable for laps. The belt is an elegant solution. There’s no more constantly calculating the strokes left till the next turn. Swimming in place allows a steady, relaxed rhythm that would otherwise be impossible. I find I can swim longer on the belt and get more of a workout. Our pool is 18 feet from side to side. The short belt (4 ft.) is plenty long enough for me, but there’s a longer version for larger pools.

There are other products for resistance swimming, but I haven’t needed to try them. For one, the Super Swim — a suspension apparatus — is 10 times the price and needlessly complex. I can see the theory behind it, but it would entail major pool-side visual and actual clutter, and would be a bother to store away. With the StrechCordz it’d be easy to raise the point of the tether if necessary, but I hook it at the deck level and it’s fine. At only three-times the price of the Strechcordz unit, the RipTide’s a relative bargain. It’s a belt with shoes you slip on. I just don’t think I’d want shoes on in the water… just something funny about having my feet tethered. And then there’s having a size suitable for everyone. The StrechCordz belt is easily adjustable to basically any size. It’s very simple to use, safe (one snap of the belt and it’s on or off), and compact enough one could easily travel with it. Packing it really is a non-issue.

My office overlooks the pool and a swim workout is a good mid-afternoon tonic for neck and shoulders after hours of computer work. Looking forward to getting back to it now that the weather’s warming up!

-- Bill Womack  

StrechCordz
$34
Manufactured by NZ Manufacturing, Inc.

Available from Amazon



DryPro Cast Cover

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When my six year old daughter broke her arm, we figured our big lake vacation was going to be a real test of her patience. Then a friend told us about DryPro Cast covers. They’re essentially a super-thick latex mitten (or ‘crab claw’) that covers the entire arm or leg. Air is sucked out via a one-way valve to give it a snug fit, like a rubber glove. The device comes with a detachable bulb pump, but we usually just sucked out the small amount of air needed by mouth. Our daughter used it not only while swimming and bathing, but for water-tubing, rope swinging, and general sprinkler fun. She was able to submerge the broken limb completely. The covers are not indestructible, but the only thing I was ever worried about, and warned her to be careful of, was cutting the cover on a sharp rock. I actually purchased a second cast cover in case my daughter tore the first one — she didn’t. And it completely saved the vacation. I’m guessing these will last most kids at least one bone-mending cycle.

-- Chris Crawford  

DryPro Waterproof Cast Cover
$30+

Available from Amazon

Additional sizes also from Amazon
Manufactured by Xero Products, LLC



Day Trips with a Splash

A swimming hole
in the desert
is heaven.
Splash! Splash!
Here are 100 heavens.
And how to get there, without prayers
With GPS coordinates, topo maps, summaries.
No excuses.

-- KK  

Day Trips with a Splash: Swimming Holes of the Southwest
Pancho Doll
2000, 216 pages
$19

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The Jug

Smoothest water east of the Sierra Nevada. Water pouring out of the Salome Wilderness cuts through an exposed portion of the batholith, a large intrusion of granite that underlies many of the ranges here. It creates a sinuous channel of intriguing shapes. Directly at the bottom of the first access to the creek is a rock that so resembles the torso of a reclining woman that a crack runs directly across her back and shoulders where the bra strap would be. The rest of this miniature canyon has so many sinusoidal curves worn into the rock that you might think yourself in Yosemite except for the saguaro on the canyon walls.

Above the “sleeping lady” is one of the best late season spots I know of. I say late season because the water is awfully cool in the spring. Also because low levels let you appreciate the beautiful lines of this tub. It’s a near-perfect rectangle, twelve feet long, seven feet wide and just as deep. Water exits via a narrow spout etched exquisitely in the rock lip at the bottom of the tub. There is a two-person slab adjoining the pool to the right. An overhanging rock is there if you need some shade.

Warm days in spring can attract as many as one-half dozen cars to the trailhead. Consequently, the canyon can seem busy.

*

Cave Creek

The sweetest place to sit in the whole state of Arizona. There’s a perfectly flat stone the size of a park bench right next to a tiny waterfall. A juniper provides a low, dense canopy of shade that’ll keep you cool when the surrounding vegetation is at the flash point. The adjoining pool occurs where a handful of large boulders have tumbled across the stream. As it rushes over the boulders, the water accelerates just enough to scrape a modest pool out of the sand and gravel streambed. The pool is circular, about 30 feet in diameter, but none too deep, maybe six feet in the center although this will vary with water level and the amount of cobble in the creek bed.

Lots of people with side arms, it seemed. Rationally I know that the reason people carry combat automatics into the mountains is because they are more afraid of you than you should be of them — this or they believe that rattlesnakes attack in packs. Still, I got a kind of weird vibe and I’m a gun owner myself.

Aside from the firearm notice, be advised to bring something to sit on because the rocks are dark and will get very hot during midday. Also, it’s a short steep descent with loose rock. A walking stick is recommended.




SwiMP3

The SwiMP3 consists of swim goggles with an MP3 player using headphones that rest flat on the cheek bones, between your ears and your eyes, so that you hear the music through bone conduction rather than through your ears.

Music breaks up the tedium of lap swimming, of course, but even better is the fact that it encourages proper form. It sounds better when your head is in the water, so I keep my head down.

-- Bill Altreuter  

SwiMP3 2G
$101
Manufactured by FINIS

Available from Amazon



Total Immersion Swimming

It’s amazing to me that it took thousands of years before we humans really began to understand how best to swim, and how best to teach swimming. Terry Laughlin is perhaps the nation’s best swimming coach. Over his lifetime in pools he has figured out the best ways for teaching all kinds of people how to swim. His teaching is all about lowering your resistance in the water, rather than increasing your strength or force. He teaches every kind of swimmer, from beginners to Olympic athletes, how to be more like fish and less like the humans we are. The advent of underwater viewing and particularly video taping and slow motion helped Terry make breakthroughs in understanding the basis of efficient swimming. Terry’s methods still suffer the slings and arrows that any breakthrough idea that dares to challenge conventional thinking endures, but the truth and usefulness of his ideas are winning out.

I love when a book or DVD can teach me physical things. (I’ve also experienced this with kayaking, particularly learning to roll, but that’s another story.) I had a mortifying experience in my first triathlon. I can run and bike pretty well and thought I could swim. But out there in the ocean I exhibited the grace of a wounded wildebeest. I had to flop over on my back and gasp the whole way, arms flailing. I was close to panic from it all. I swore I’d either give up this nonsense or learn how to swim well. When I found Laughlin’s DVDs and books, I felt they had been created just for me. Through him I discovered for myself the benefit of lining up my head and using my core body to move. There’s no pulling at the water and hardly any kicking. I could try to describe it more fully but Terry does it so much better in his DVDs and books.

– Steve Leveen

I’d start by watching the DVD and then go on to the book for supporting details.

– KK

Easy Freestyle: 21st Century Techniques for Beginners to Advanced Swimmers
DVD
$40
Available from Total Immersion

Total Immersion
Terry Laughlin, John Delves
2004, 320 pages
$12
Available from Amazon

 

Sample Excerpts:

In 1988 I had the good fortune to meet Bill Boomer, who planted the intriguing idea that the “shape of the vessel” might have just as much influence as the “size of the engine” on a swimmer’s performance. I had been teaching balance in an instinctive way – and with exciting results – to butterfliers and breaststrokers since 1978. Also in 1978, while watching my swimmers from an underwater window, I had realized that swimmers moved fastest while just gliding in streamline after pushoff. Once they began kicking and stroking, far more of their energy seemed to go into making bubbles than into effective propulsion.

*
Throughout most of the animal kingdom, the really fast creatures – race horses, greyhounds, cheetahs – use about the same stride rate at all galloping speeds. So do most really fast humans, such as Marion Jones and Michael Johnson. They run faster by taking longer strides, not by taking them faster. It’s only when humans get into the water that we suffer a form of momentary biomechanical derangement, resorting to churning our arms madly when we want more speed.

*
The reason stroke length (SL) doesn’t have a lot to do with arm length, or with how far you reach forward and push back, is because SL is how far your body travels each time you take a stroke. So it’s mostly your body position – not your height or strength or the length of your arms – that affects the distance you will travel on each stroke. The best way to measure your SL is simply to make a habit of counting strokes – at all speeds, and on virtually every length you swim.

*

Stroke length can be improved in two ways. The easiest way is to minimize drag, and you do this by simply repositioning you body in the water to make yourself more slippery. The effect is that your body goes farther, with more ease and less deceleration, on a given amount of propulsion. The other way to improve SL is to maximize propulsion, and you do this by focusing on doing a better job of moving your body forward.

*
Kick For Efficiency, Not for Speed

Kicking can add only a modest amount of propulsion to an efficient stroke, while it can add a significant amount of drag and enormously increase the energy cost of whole-stroke swimming, if overemphasized. Therefore swimmers should do all they can to maximize the benefit of their kicking while minimizing the work they put into it.

“Fine,” you say. “If all kicking does is burn energy and cause drag, why bother to kick at all?” Well, because that’s not all kicking does. An efficient kick will improve your stroke and, in fact, is essential for the kinetic chain to produce anything like the power it’s capable of producing for you.