Tag Archives: goggles

The history of swimming goggles

This post came about as a touch of serendipity. After I posted about Swedish goggles Irish distance swimmer and former national four hundred mete champion and Channel Aspirant Colm Breathnach tweeted me about Godfrey Goggles, a type of goggle in use in Ireland and the UK primarily in the 1960s and ’70s.

When as a kid I started playing and swimming in the new indoor-how-fantastic-pool  we did’t use goggles initially and I clearly recall becoming more and more affected by the chlorine burn until we finally started using goggles. All I can recall of them is the squishy foam and that a pair of goggles was expected to last years and that visibility wasn’t as significant a requirement as chlorine protection.

It was easy to find some sources online for the history, notably the International Swimming Hall of Fame. So all I’m doing is collating some of that information for your entertainment.

14th century: The first recorded version of goggles may have been polished or layers of polished tortoise shells in Persia.

14th century Venetian Goggles

16th century: The Persian goggles were imported to Venice where they were illustrated in the image above.

18th Century: Polynesian skin divers used deep wooden frames. By keeping the face facing downward, air was trapped and protected the eyes from the salt water. Once glass became available (in Polynesia from European explorers) they were the first to incorporate glass lenses, though they were not fully waterproof and were easily dislodged.

Thomas Burgess in the English Channel
Thomas Burgess in the English Channel

1911: Thomas Burgess became the first swimmer to use goggles to cross the English Channel. It’s worth noting that both Captain Webb and Burgess were using breaststroke, front crawl still not having been fully developed.

1916: Swim goggles are patented by C.P. Troppman for use in underwater swimming but there’s no evidence of manufacture or use.

Gertrude Ederle face mask goggles
Gertrude Ederle wearing face mask goggles

1928: Gertrude Ederle becomes the sixth person, first woman and fastest swimmer to date to swim the English Channel, and the first using front crawl (aka freestyle), using a full face mask of motorcycle goggles sealed by parafin wax.

Gertrude Ederle's goggles now in the Smithsonian museum
Gertrude Ederle’s goggles now in the Smithsonian museum

1940: Popular Science magazine prints instructions on how to make wooden goggles.

1940s & 1950s: Florence Chadwick and other open water swimmers use their own versions with large rubber seals and double-lens glass.

1960: Individual swimmers started creating very basic goggles with plastic cups held to the face with elastic.1st goggles ad

1968: Advertisements appear for plastic goggles in Swimming World Magazine. Apparently they are not an instant hit.

1969: Godfrey Goggles are manufactured in the UK by Thomas Godfrey. He tried a couple of types of plastic before settling on one that hadn’t previously been used for sports but we now know well; polycarbonate. Thin, light and highly durable and shatter resistant. Scotland’s David Wilkie becomes the first every competitive swimmer to wear both a cap and goggle combination at the 1972 Commonwealth Games, taking silver in the 200m breaststroke. Wilkie later went on to become the only person ever to hold only person to have held British, American, Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic at the same time. Subsequently Godfrey Goggles are allegedly copied and pirated by many goggle companies.

Since 1972: Goggles become standard swimmer equipment. It’s strange to realise that so recently they were not used by swimmers. Anti-fog, UV protection and streamlining are all incremental developments. Malmsten Swedish Goggles are released in the mid-seventies, allegedly a rip-off of the Godfrey Goggles. Swim training sessions get longer, flip-turns faster. Goggles allow elite swimmers to swim more than 4000 metres. The Men’s 1500 time drops by two minutes (13%) over three consecutive Olympics.

2000’s: Hipsters everywhere, even in swimsuits! You can purchase these wooden googles. They might make for an unusual or fun English Channel photo. But still…hipsters.

2008-2011: A brief attempt by Tony Godfrey’s grand-daughter Ashleigh to resurrect her grandfather’s business does not seem to haven been to been successful.

The Future Is Here: Frankengoggles become a reality with Instabeat’s goggles which look to be the first in a new wave of high-tech goggles, providing heart rate information and timing to the wearer through the lens, with future versions planned to integrate GPS. Followed by Iolite GPS goggles and by On-Course magnetic line tracking goggles. Beyond that at some point goggles similar to Google Glass seem likely. All are similar in that they detract from the basic skills such as the challenge of open water navigating and sighting. Any open water swimmer regardless of swimming distance or skill level should refuse to use products which offer technological diversions to avoid developing the essential skills of open water swimming. Luckily when writing the Marathon Swimmers Federation Rules, we anticipated such products and they are assisted-swim device and hence illegal.

Second (updated) goggle review

I’ve previously reviewed Aquasphere Kaiman and Kayennes for open water swimming and that I hadn’t previously been successful with using low profile goggs. I had settled into my Aquasphere use over years.

After I wrote that article Paul Ellercamp of oceanswims.com in Australia sent me a pair of his favourite goggles, low-profile competition/racing View Visio aka Fully Sicks. Paul said they lasted him very well (the biggest problem with the Aquaspheres was their shortened lifespan) and that they fit perfectly out of the box with no adjustment. And he was correct. Despite my oddly-shaped noggin and huge nose, they also fit me perfectly immediately. They had excellent visibility and unlike some mirrored goggles, weren’t too dark. I love these goggs. Damn you Paul Ellercamp, for getting me used to great goggles! :-)

Visio View Fully Sick mirrored goggs

I swam in them in pool and open water from November until last month when the heavy usage was starting to take its toll with the mirror finish wearing off. I went looking for a replacement pair but discovered that View only sell in the US or Australia and with rather expensive shipping costs, which would have made replacements almost the cost of the new Speedo Fastskin goggles, i.e. the most expensive goggles on the market, so I had to discard the idea.

The advantage was that I now had a good idea that competition goggles would fit me fine, and were in fact quite good for open water if you were comfortable with them, and that I knew which type to choose.

Thanks to two vouchers for writing an article for an online swim shop and a gift voucher, I selected a few pairs that seems closest.

All these goggles come with adjustable nose bridge pieces. Most were tested over the course of a few weeks, in both pool and sea.

Maru Pro mirrors

I started with a pair of Maru Pro competition googles. Maru are especially popular as suppliers of swimming equipment and basic goggles and caps to pools for kids in Ireland and the UK. They are obviously trying to break into a wider swimming market. They were also the cheapest of the lot.

Unfortunately while the fit was okay, they were far too dark. It was like swimming just before dark. The red plastic confused my peripheral vision, I couldn’t tell if some was passing me in the lane and even my arm was barely visible. The gold trim and straps may appeal to some kids people. I am not one of them.

After staring at all the range available in a Cork sports shop (which shall no longer named), most of which were useless, I picked up a pair of Finis Thunder goggles, black with smoke lenses (almost clear). I would have chosen a pair of Mirrored ones, but the only pair were accidentally on the shelf after being returned for a broke strap.

Finis Thunder, Black with Smoke lenses

I loved these. They were very similar to the Fully Sicks. But the end of the strap snapped  off the second day. That pair that were returned to the sport shop obviously weren’t an aberration.

But they were comfortable with fantastic visibility, so I got a pair of the mirrored Jade ones online using my voucher. It got odd. The mirrored pair of the same goggles just wouldn’t seal. I took them to the pool where they leaked immediately. I did get them to fit over a couple of days by changing the nose piece … twice. So on one pair I use a medium bridge, and on the other an Extra Large.  Though once I had them fitted, the visibility on the mirrored pair was fine, clear and not too dark. When I added a third pair, I needed another different size nose bridge, large. They look great but this is typical of my experience with Finis products. Their design is unparalleled, but they are regularly let down by reliability (SwiMP3 which died, PT paddles which split, & now odd goggles). In this case at least, spare straps aren’t a big deal.

Since the first Thunders had been so good, I ordered one pair of Finis Lightning googles, which were only available in blue when I was purchasing.

Finis Lightning Blue

I think the Lightnings are meant to be slightly above the Thunders (duh). These were fantastic. Similar to the Thunders, the translucent white silicon gasket of the seal was softer. These were super comfortable and perfectly fitting immediately, with the same great visibility of the Thunders.

I still had a pair to test. You’d probably never do this, buying a bunch of goggles at the same time to try them out, without having a gift voucher of some kind. I’ve certainly never done it before, but I found some great advantages from doing it. And it made me wonder, if then I was going through the fifteen or so goggles I tried in 12 months when I was starting, if everything I’d chosen had been just leisure swimming goggles. They’re all long gone so I don’t remember.

Speedo Vanquishers

The last pair was the famous Speedo Vanquishers. Renowned in competitive swimming, I bowed to finally try them (I kind of dislike Speedo’s synonymous-with-swimming branding, so had restricted myself to Speedo Endurance swim briefs, the best chlorine togs, bar none, that I’d tried).

They were worthy of the reputation. These were also great, comfortable, the blue frame and lens were a little dark for the pool but the fit of the nose bridge was better than any of the others, due to that slight concave shape on the bottom.

So out of all, only the Maru Pros failed. The rest were all good or great. I went through this so I could get at least two pairs tested for Manhattan, with which I would be most comfortable.

In the usual pre-swim panic, I’ll probably have brought most to New York. My first choice will be the Finis Lightnings if the day is brighter and possibly the Speedo Vanquishers as the probable choice for a duller day.

Update: I’ve been using each pair of Thunder and Lightning googles now for over a year in open water, the blue Lightning on dull days and the mirrored Thunders on sunny days, and both are excellent recommended with the Lightning placed ahead as the Thunder does occasional separate at the nose-bridge when putting them on (but never in the water).