I like to think of myself as a person who doesn’t have a lot of gear. But I also like to think of myself as a vicious, killer ninja, and that’s not true either. I have gear, some gear, which I tote from home to pool or from office to pool on a regular basis.
You don’t need much equipment to swim. You definitely need a body of water. You probably need a swimsuit. Cultural practices vary. These days I’m wearing two swimsuits because my last two suits wore out so quickly that I have to wear one over the other to avoid scandalizing decent folk.
The one other piece of gear I really need is a pair of goggles, because I swim with my contacts in. My young swimming life was before I had contact lenses, which means that much of my childhood was wet and blurry. At my parents’ house, there is an old photo of me standing behind the blocks at a swim meet with a sweet, winsome look on my face. I look like an angel in a dark blue swimsuit, but the fact is, I was no angel–I just couldn’t see anything. One benefit of years of blurry swimming, though, was that I learned how to swim straight so as to avoid mangling myself on lane ropes, a skill that is useful to me in open water swimming.
The pair of goggles I’m wearing now are over a year old; I got them soon after the 2012 Olympics. They are awesome in every way, not least that they have lasted so long. They were on sale at SwimOutlet.com for only $7.25, so I bought two pairs, which is why I could take a picture of a pair still in their packaging.
I almost always wear women’s or junior goggles. So-called adult goggles, like so many other things, are sized to fit men, and even if you pull the straps tight, there is too much distance between the eye cups, and they will leak. You may pay more for goggles that are marked women’s, but you can pay less for goggles that are marked junior. I go for these Speedo Junior Hydrospex; they come in perfectly normal colors, but the sparkly gold stars were on clearance. Who can say why?
I read a product review article in SWIMMER last spring (the USMS magazine–here’s their video review) about goggles for open water swimming and got all excited because of course I wanted special goggles for open water swimming; I just needed someone to give me a reason why. And that reason is to have a wider field of vision. Regular pool goggles are made so that you can see in front of you down the lane. When you are swimming open water, though, you need to see all around you because some crazy person is barreling toward you and you need to take evasive action. Just to make clear, I happily swam open water for a long time, including several races, with regular pool goggles, so it’s not as if you have to have different ones. But I found some AquaSphere Kaiman ones, also women’s (or small) sized, and they work well and have given me no trouble.
Once when I was swimming out at Lake Hartwell, where many open water swimmers and triathletes train, I came up on a group of people treading water all together. As I got closer I could hear the leader explaining to the group that to clear your goggles when they are foggy you can pull them off your face a bit and rub them with your two thumbs to clear them. He was demonstrating. This seemed to me to be a piece of information so obvious that it did not need to be said, but in case you didn’t know, you can rub goggles with your thumbs to clear the fog. If you don’t have thumbs, you can use your fingers or maybe your friend’s thumbs (which is why you should never ever swim alone).
More on gear to come.