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How To: Swedish goggles (fit and review)

I’ve written a couple of previous annual posts reviewing various goggles, (one, two) that I’ve used, of which it seems there have been quite a few. (There are few greater swimming pleasures than wearing brand new goggles!)

I am a relatively recent user to Swedish googles (aka Swedes), I’ve been wearing them for less than a year. I had worn some Tyr Socket Rockets many years back but they didn’t last very long and never made it in a serious google review here. The Socket Rockets were possibly the coolest looking goggs on the market back then. They worked fine for about two months before starting to leak.

The Tyr’s were a modified-Swedish design (my own term), utilizing the socket design of Swedes but with a thin layer of silicon as a gasket. During last year’s open water season I was given a pair of modified-Swedish design goggles to try from a new American google company called Nootca. These were similar to the Socket Rockets in also having a thin silicon layer. They are also anti-fog and I choose a clear pair. I immediately liked them and have been using them for pool training until they began to approach end of life.

Only nine months use, so why are they dying? Mea culpa, partially. They suffer from two problems that most of my goggles have shared.

Anti-fog goggles

1. We all know anti-fog is a bit of a misnomer in goggles. It’s never 100% effective. With older goggs whatever is present deteriorates and more and more saliva or otherwise is needed. In the pool I take my goggs off a lot so I’m constantly licking the inside to clear them again.

2. The primary reason most of my goggles and swim caps die is mould (aka mold/ fungus)! I am not good at remembering to dry out my stuff after swimming, and combined with the damp of my swim bag, and the low ambient temperatures here in Ireland, means mould will eventually build up.

Nootca goggles with mould
Nootca goggles with mould. Time to throw out the goggles when you can taste it!

Regardless of what swim companies say, silicon is not completely mould-resistant and must be kept dry to be effective. Swedish goggle wearers tend to be evangelistic about them. In the Sandycove group Finbarr and Craig wear them. But here’s something that I confirmed with a few different Irish swimmers: Many of us had never heard of them until fairly recently (the last five or six years due to swim blogs). What I take that to mean is we may have heard the casual term sometime but we never saw them physically, never saw them in use in the local age-group club, never knew what Swedes meant, and probably all dismissed brief mentions of the term. Yet it does seem that they are hugely popular in the US where they are primarily used amongst competitive and former competitive swimmers.

So what are Swedes? Swedish googles are so-called because they are made by a Swedish company called Malmsten, who only have 16 employees, since the mid-1970’s. They are the simplest available goggle on the market. And the most complex. AND the cheapest. And, depending on your viewpoint, the best. They are in many ways the epitome of the Do One Thing and Do It Well and/or Swedish Minimalism schools of design.

Swedes out of the box & unassembled
Swedes out of the box & un-assembled

Swedes use a bare hard-plastic eyepiece. No silicon or rubber gasket. No case. They use string as the nose-bridge. You assemble them to your own supposedly perfect and unique fit.

The Australian company Speedo, the world’s biggest (somewhere between 100 and 250 employees, ten times the size) and oldest (99 years) swimming company, synonymous with the sport must have found the pervasive use of Swedes at Olympics and World Championship by many elite swimmers to be a significant marketing problem, because in the last few years they released Malmsten goggles under the Speedo label, and they are now finally and widely available to us commoners.

Ah, but that initial fitting. Well, that’s where the dissatisfaction comes with Swedes. With a pair of Aqasphere Kayenne open water goggles you open the box, slip them on and pull the strap for your fit and you are done. A button loosens the strap if you are having a massively-distorted-head-day, as we all apparently have had occasionally!

I like tool shops. I like tool catalogues. I like tools. I like the specificity of a tool designed to do a specific job. I like the heft of a drill, the knurled grip of a screwdriver in my fingers. A blue-steel standards-compliant set-square is to me a thing of purity and beauty, even if I am not a carpenter. It has an exact purpose for which it must be manufactured exactly and to which it should be applied exactly. Therefore I am attracted to the idea of Swedes, the simplicity and clean lines, the stripped-down but apposite functionality.

To get Swedes to function (i.e. seal) properly, you may need to take a different approach. You may have regular symmetrical ocular orbits, into which the googs sit perfectly. I don’t and that was part of my problem. Goggles leak mostly into my right eye, my eye socket must be less symmetrical under the skin. The approach below works well for me and isn’t in the very basic instructions Speedo include in the box.

The injection (flash) line is the very fine while line peeling up off the bottom lip
The injection (flash) line is the very fine while line peeling up off the bottom lip

1. Injection-moulded plastic produces a fine line of plastic where the mould halves meets called flash, familiar to model-makers. Take the back of a scalpel or box-cutter and scrape along this seam until this seam is removed.

2: Using an emery board (nail sanding board) sand along the seam until the edges are smooth under your fingertips.

3: Do a quick test of the eyepieces onto your eyes. Suction holding the briefly eyepieces in place show how they fit.

Nose string being attached
Nose string attached to one side

4: Run the string through one side and extrude both sides through the rubber tube.

5: Run the string through the other side from the top of the hole.

6: Loosely tie the ends of the string together by a simple over-and-under (the very first part of a bow-knot that you use to tie shoelaces) and slip onto your eyes. You can squint to hold the eyepieces in place if necessary, or hold them in place while someone helps. Pull the string a little tight but not to pull the eyepieces closer together than they already are.

Loosley tying the nose string
Loosely tie the nose string

7: Complete the knot by another over-and-under in the opposite direction to the first. This is a simple and secure square knot.

8: Rotate the completed knot back into the rubber nose-piece.

9: Insert the strap into the two side holes of the eyepieces and tie in place around your head. DON’T tie it too tight or it’ll be too uncomfortable and may in fact leak.

Square_Knot_animated

10. Once you have your fit I’d recommend  that you test them in the poor for a couple of days while having a backup pair ready. I’ve found that if I don’t have another pair to compare strap length against, I’ll usually tie them too tight initially. Some goggles like Finis or the Nootca’s use a plastic buckle that makes adjusting straps easier than retying them.

I’ve found the effective seal of the Nootca and the Swedes to be about the same, which is better than any other googles for the pool. Except my one pair of now retired and sadly irreplaceable in Europe, View Fully Sick goggles from Oceanswims.com which are just too expensive to get shipped to Ireland.

I don’t completely buy the “100% fantastic” recommendations but I do appreciate them. In a purchase of two pairs of Speedo Swedes, one clear and one mirrored, the anti-fog in the mirrored pair lifted off the plastic and cracked immediately that I got in the pool while wearing them. Also I think the mirrored are too dark for most Irish days and certainly too dark for the pool. The clear and blue pairs have excellent visibility however. I also still have other goggles that I like and use, such as Vanquishers and Lightnings.

Swedes are mould resistant, though if you look carefully at the Nootca’s, mould still builds up slightly in the angle between the front and side so it is likely to also do so with the Swedes. (Yes, I do rinse them daily). If anyone has any good tips for control of mould on swimming gear in a damp country apart from air-drying everything every day, or ways to clean the inside of goggles, please let me know. (I have used a slice of potato or carrot, yes really, to clean off some of the much that builds up without destroying the goggles).

Take your time to get Swedes properly adjusted though and you will certainly have a pair of googles that will be excellently suited to all uses, pool and open water and that will last longer than any others for significantly less cost.

Swimovate watch review

This is an update to my original review from a couple of years ago. I always place reliability at the forefront of product requirements, and too many reviews are based on initial experience. -

When I started putting in big metres some years back, because I swim by myself and am slightly OCD about many things, I always tried, yet failed to count my laps. One big hurdle I face to lap counting is that I swim in an odd-length pool so I am not always finishing eery set at the same end of the pool. After many repeats you forget which end you stated or finished   last set. A standard 25m pool is easier, but on long sets, I still lose count.

sportcount-finger-lap-co-17668-975oAfter initial Heath-Robinson-esque lap counting methods that failed, I next tried a Sport Count waterproof finger counter. I would press the button every 2 laps. It worked well, gave me the total lap counts and the time for each double lap, and by the end of a session it gave me the average, fastest and slowest periods. I got used to using it, and it was cheapish and I used it for two years. But the Sport Count had no pause, no stroke count or watch, & you couldn’t change the battery but it apparently lasts for ever. It’s still going years later sitting in my swim bag.

As my metres went up, especially from 2009, I needed another solution. And just then the Swimovate Pool-Mate Watch arrived on the market. I got my first one in The Edge Sports shop in Cork and it immediately became invaluable.

Swimovate-Pool-Mate-automatic-lap-and-stroke-counter-for-swimmers

It’s designed specifically for pool swimmers. The useful functions include;

  • Automatic lap counting. (Yes, it does work.)
  • Adjustable pool length
  • Session totals
  • Set totals
  • Pause & Stop
  • Calorie counter (based on body weight – adjustable). I’ve long stopped believing or even looking at this)
  • Stroke efficiency counter
  • Watch and alarm

However…

You’ll notice I said my first one?

I had to return it after six weeks because of leakage in the case. The manual had specified to never depress a button underwater, so I never did. Yes I read the manual. Manuals are fun. But it leaked anyway.

Simon had no problem with replacing it with a second. One feature of the watch is you can see the reported battery capacity. When I got the replacement, it was at six. (The scale runs up to eight). I used it everyday in the pool until May when I moved to the sea. Remember that was a LOT of use, 2/3/4/5/6 hour sessions.

When I came back to the pool in September, the battery was at five. The manual had said about a year depending on use.

However after three weeks it dropped precipitously to three, and the display started fading. Next day it was at two and the display was almost unusable, I was barely able to see the battery display. There was also at this stage some slight condensation inside the face again.

I emailed Swimovate, explained I had really only used if for six months, and they offered to replace the battery gratis, “this one time”.

I posted it off and went back to losing track of my lengths.

When I received the watch back it wasn’t the original watch. It was a new replacement! I had actually been wondering if this would happen so I had made no mention of the slight leak.

I suspect there was a leakage problem with maybe the early Swimovates, as they are dependent on seals. If they sealed the watch in a low pressure chamber it would be better but also more expensive. Less though than the amount of returns I imagine they got.

It’s two and half years since the original review finished there. I still have the Swimovate. I’ve swum about four million metres using it. It’s still going. I get about late autumn, winter and spring out the battery. The last few summers I’ve only been in the sea so it went unused for a few months.

For the past couple of years I’ve changed the battery myself. There are four small Phillips only screws to be removed. I’ve had no further issues.

The Swimovate became essential to my swimming. The cost is ok at about €80 euros, but the battery life is really short. If it had provided me only 6 or 8 months swimming though with no replacement, I’d be far less happy.

There’s a Pro version for almost double the price for the ability to sync to a PC or Mac and special swim tracking software with the results. One friend of mine uses it, but I’ve never remembered to ask him his opinion.

By the way, the Swimovate uses an accelerometer so your arms must be moving. If you are doing kick drills the watch won’t know. Also, it determines the lap count based on your glide at the turn. If you don’t glide enough (at least one sec) it will get confused, but you should be doing this anyway.

The efficiency counter is like swimming golf, a score is given calculated from stroke and distance in a given time. It’s a good way for long distance swimmers to monitor how they are feeling for long sessions. Under 30 it gives as Professional or Expert, 30 to 40 as Very Good, 40 to 50 as Good, 50+ Needs Improvement. It’s something that’s useful for a Lone Swimmer.

The plastic face scratches easily. The only way to fix this without adding a more expensive lens would be to add a bezel around the edge, but the face is fairly easily polished out should you care, which I don’t.

Pros

  • Counts laps automatically for all 4 main strokes
  • Can adjust for different pool lengths and metres or yards
  • Stoke efficiency counter (useful for monitoring your stroke)
  • Calorie counter
  • Session and set tracking
  • Watch
  • Stop & Pause
  • Customer service was pretty good
  • Blue, black or pink

Cons

  • Short battery life
  • Leaked too easily. But second replacement has worked for three years.
  • Can’t use it for Open Water except as a watch, or kicking
  • Face scratches really easily

Buy Swimovate on Amazon UK.

Review: The Crossing by Kathy Watson

The story of Capt. Matthew Webb is the starting point for modern Open Water swimming.

While there are other famous open water swims from before this time, Byron & Hellespont being the most famous, the dream of swimming the English channel was alive and well in the late 19th century, with other attempts before Webb’s first successful swim.

Watson’s book is a brief affair and an easy read, focusing on Webb’s biography as well as the successful Channel Swim itself, following an unsuccessful initial attempt.

Webb’s life was not a happy event. He was successful in his Merchant Navy career and a decorated hero for a mid-Atlantic life-saving attempt. After the Channel swim made him famous though he spent the remainder of his life chasing further fame, to lesser and greater degrees of success, but never to the same level as his Channel swim had achieved.
He drowned attempting to swim the rapids below Niagara Falls. It’s a depressing enough life but the book is enlivened by such items as the story of Paul Boyton , the “Fearless Frogman”, & Webb’s main rival, (and funnily enough to us), not a swimmer and wearing a an inflated rubber suit, who papers reported appeared before 100,000 people in Ireland.

This isn’t the definitive book on Channel swimming, which hasn’t yet been written, but it of interest to swimmers nonetheless. My main problem with it was the workman prose, which never matched the flow of its subject.

Open Water Swimming by Peggy Lee Dean

I read a lot. More than I swim. So I’m going to add a few reviews of some books closely, loosely or tangentially related to Swimming, and Open Water.
There are a few obvious starting places but I’ll go with:
Open Water Swimming by Penny Lee Dean.
Penny Lee Dean is a former record holder for the English Channel amongst many other swims, Open Water Coach, sports professor and member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Her book Open water Swimming remains the only current book on Open Water swimming.

It’s a few years since I read it so I had a quick revisit of it last night. It is intended for both triathletes and Open Water Swimmers and obviously there are far more triathletes than Open Water Swimmers, so it’s not too surprising that occasionally it focuses more on those. Maybe the tri-athlete though will feel it focuses too much on long distance.

Last time I read it I had much less Open Water experience. I recalled how much it seemed to me like a collection of magazine articles. I think that still holds true but it’s not a bad thing. It’s easy to dip into various sections, and the progression of topics covered is logical from the lure and safety of Open Water through equipment, navigation, technique and physical and mental training. There are many

I’d like to see some sections expanded, perhaps a more lyrical expositition of Open Water itself, as someone who loves OW and understands both the lure and the many differences of Open Water to pool. Her section on injuries is very brief, and her re-mediation suggestions are one sentence. All accurate but hardly explained, especially given the very common experience of shoulder problems for swimmers in general and non- swimming-club affiliated swimmers in particular like myself when I started.
The Training sections are good, especially helpful for tri-athletes I’d imagine. The section on technique of course is necessarily brief as the subject is and covered in many books, the definitive of which I’ll cover in the future.

From an Irish point, it’s funny to read her chart on water temperatures. The lowest she covers is 10 Celsius!

For an beginner or new Open Water Swimmer though (not necessarily a new swimmer), though overall it’s a good book, but it’s not a complete work, that is, just reading this alone won’t be sufficient.