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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?: Instabeat’s goggles look to be the first in a possible 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. Beyond that at some point goggles similar to Google Glass seem likely.
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-Swedishdesign (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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wherever you gather a few swimmers together, you can be certain the subject of goggles will arise. And pool swimmers and open water swimmers often differ quite widely.
In pool swimming people often go for smaller goggles, either Swedish or goggles based on the Swedish design. For those who don’t know, Swedish goggles are the cheapest goggles you can find. They are made by a Swedish company called Malmsten and often sold under other labels such as Speedo, as Swedish Style Goggles. Indeed the Speedo double-pack from Amazon are good value since they come in a two-pack of mirrored and clear.
They have no frills, just plain plastic with string as a nose guard, no rubber gasket or seal, usually no anti-fog. Some people literally can’t wear them. They can take days to get the fit right, with people going so far as to file down edges to get the fit correct. They are light and low profile. For those who can wear Swedish goggles, they swear there is nothing better and they never come off and are the most personalised goggles possible.
However … as said above, some people can’t wear them or get them to fit correctly. They are not really designed to wear for extended periods of time like a marathon swim. And the lack of anti-fog is a problem. The growth in triathlons worldwide meant that pretty quickly there was growing demand for goggles for open water. Goggles that would stand up to rough water, be anti-fog, be easy to fit and comfortable for long periods of time and yet still be 100% watertight. Ease of adjustment is often a consideration.
In my first year I went through <a lot> of goggles trying to find the right ones. I actually gave them all away last year to my local pool to use for school kids who came in having forgot their goggles. There were twelve pairs if I recall, all practically unused. (The first thing that happened was two of the staff took some for themselves and their kids, but the local pool is a different and longer and more depressing story!)
And then I finally found Aqua Sphere Kaimans. (Mainly because some of the other guys started using them).
These were designed specifically for open water. They have good visibility, anti-fog, secure no leak, and most importantly, I can wear them for ever with no problems whether swimming the Channel, or doing a 24 hour pool swim.
I have bought one pair of the mirrored ones, which had no anti-fog on them and were useless. I’ve used clear, dark and amber ones though. They come in different frame colours and different sizes, Junior, Lady, Regular and Small Face. They are also very easy to either loosen or tighten. I prefer clear frames with amber or blue lenses for open water and clear or amber lenses for the pool. There was one problem with the some of the straps splitting at the back in the same place after six months, but I complained to Aqua Sphere and got a bag of straps in return.
I get about 9 months to a year from a pair of heavy use. I’m good at remembering to rinse after the pool, but not after the sea, so they tend to grow a mold line inside the lenses.
The Aquasphere Kaimans have been superceded by the newer Aqua Sphere Kayenne, which are slightly more expensive. The frame is lower profile, the visibility is still excellent. I’ve only used them in the pool so far. The box is better and the living plastic hinge should last longer that the Kaiman box before I have to duct-tape the halves together. I wore them for six hours yesterday and can report they are just as good. I’m struggling to understand, other than styling and box, why they are €4 more expensive.
I know some of the guys like Karen Throsby use Blue Seventy Vision goggles, also designed for open water, and swear by those also, but I haven’t tried them, since Aqua Sphere work so well, I see no point in changing anymore.
EDIT: I’ve since added another goggle review here and I haven’t used Aquasphere myself in a few years, though I still believe they are excellent open water goggles for those who prefer a fuller gasket-type goggle.