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Mo Bettah Goggles

Adapted by permission from an article which first appeared in Swim Magazine in 1997.

Ever since man first placed his head below the surface of the water the search for methods to view the subsurface environment has been ongoing. The earliest efforts took the form of a large blown-glass bowl or a bucket with small glass windows turned upside down over the head, trapping a pocket of air completely around the head. As with early deep sea diving helmets these first attempts at underwater viewing were also meant to provide some limited measure of breathing accommodation. Eventually though, the need to see divorced itself from the need to breathe and less bulky diving masks evolved. Goggles, in roughly the form we know them today, date back well into the 1800s. Matthew Webb became, officially in 1875, the first man to swim the English Channel and did so wearing a pair of glass goggles.

When water comes in contact with the cornea of the eye there is a different refractive index than when air comes in contact with the cornea. This causes a swimmer's eyes to experience blurriness instantly upon diving into the pool and having his goggles ripped unceremoniously from the eyes and deposited in the mouth. (It is a little know fact that this refraction phenomenon, in reverse, is the real reason that fish do not willfully come ashore often.) The purpose of the goggle is to provide a small pocket of air directly in front of the eye and a transparent lens in a system that admits light into the eye so that near normal vision may be experienced. (Hmmm...what if we made up little fish goggles to keep small pockets of water in front of the fish's eyes—it could change the whole course of evolution on earth... alas, I digress...)

Continued advances in materials and molding technology have made inexpensive, compact, lightweight, comfortable goggles a reality. An ever growing number of people wishing to enter the freedom of the aquatic environment coupled with their willingness to part ways with hard earned cash have spawned a virtual cornucopia of goggle styles to choose from.

Then why do we still have to wrestle with even the most high-tech, up-to-date goggles to get them to fit properly? I've been coaching swimming in a goggle-rich environment for over nearly 20 years and a day has yet to go by where an inordinate amount of goggle related down time is not spent by at least one workout participant. One of the nearly universal goggle deficiencies noticed by coaches is their tendency to malfunction during long duration, high intensity training, requiring the unfortunate wearer to have to stop to fuss with the offending device and therefore miss out on valuable training opportunity.

It's safe to say that the perfect pair of goggles has yet to be invented. In fact it seems unlikely that perfection - the one goggle that fits everyone, doesn't leak, stays on during a dive, doesn't fog up, allows unobstructed vision, is UV-A,B,C,whatever filtered, doesn't add discernable drag and, perhaps most importantly, still looks cool - will ever be reached.

As such, the path to choosing your perfect goggles can often be circuitous and long. So I have cobbled together some observations about what makes one pair of goggles work for one person and another, very different, pair work for someone else. I hope this information will aid you in your search for Mo Bettah Goggles.

Shape

There are two basic shapes for goggles which I refer to as “sort-of-round” and “more-oval.” In general, if you find one pair of oval goggles that works well for you, then, most likely, any goggle that works well for you will have “more oval” tendencies. The same kind of thinking applies if you find that a pair of “sort-of-round” goggles gives you a comfortable, leak-free fit. Judging from the number of oval styles and the number of swimmers that stick with them long term, the majority of people will likely find their ideal fit with goggles in the “more oval” category.

Nosepieces

Most goggle styles come with an adjustable nosepiece of plastic, rubber or string. Most adjustable nosepieces can be manipulated without tools. Barracuda supplies a small wrench to facilitate nosepiece changes. A few models have non-adjustable nosepieces molded as part of the frame. If you have a very average nose you may find these to your liking. A word of caution regarding goggles with solid, molded-in nosepieces: forget ever tossing one of these and hanging it neatly over the backstroke flags.

Straps

A good fitting pair of goggles should be able to stick to your face without the strap for awhile purely from a bit of suction and a good seal. Nevertheless it is the strap that keeps your goggles from deviating wildly from their intended position once you decide to do anything more rambunctious than breathing. Most of the less expensive goggles come with a single strap—some wide and narrow. The only noted difference between wide and narrow straps is that a wide light colored strap allows plenty of space to mark the goggles for easy identification—a definite plus in a group workout situation (or if you just lose stuff a lot). Nearly all of the more expensive models come with a double or split strap. For some people the double or split strap may stay in place better during dives because the forces are spread around different parts of the head.

Strap Adjustment

One of the few things you can concretely discern about a prospective new pair of goggles before you reach the checkout counter is whether the strap size adjusts easily or not. There are a wide variety of strap buckle systems. Some are molded into the goggle frame while others are separate pieces that the strap passes through. Older swimmers with arthritis or any other dexterity limiting condition should pay particular attention to this ease of adjustment. Rest assured that it doesn't get any easier to do poolside. (This brings up one of the often-overlooked benefits of swimming in a coached program. A swimmer is able, in a moment of goggle induced equipment crisis, to toss the offending pair to Coach, blurt out “Coach! Can you tighten these?” and then barely catch the beginning of that next repeat, knowing the goggles will be waiting, properly adjusted, at the end of the swim. I only charge a dollar for this service.)

Gaskets

Foam, silicone, polyvinyl, or none. For pure simplicity, ease of care and length of service, “none” tops the list. Popular Swedish style goggles are characterized by the conspicuous absence of a soft gasket, allowing for the most streamlined fit (though Speedo has cashed in on the Swedish goggle craze with a it's Speedo Master Deluxe model which has, strangely enough, a gasket option. Excuse me. Isn't this a little like turning up the air conditioning enough that you need a sweater to stay warm?). However, if your face wasn't molded to exactly the same contour as the goggle you will probably find a gasketed goggle more to your liking. The purpose of the gasket is to adjust to the minor deviations in the goggle/face union. As long as the general shape of the goggle is correct for your face any gasket should be able to fill the voids, literally and figuratively. Solid silicone or polyvinyl gaskets make a good seal if the goggle is the correct shape and offer excellent resistance to microbial growth. Foam gaskets, while more forgiving in making a leak-proof seal, are more prone to grow low order life forms if not properly maintained.

Anti-fog

This is a highly touted selling point for a variety of goggle styles. I thought I'd throw my two cents in. In the many years of swim coaching I've done I have yet to encounter, through experience or anecdote, any better anti-fog system than good ol' American spit. 'Nuf said.

Aesthetics

Goggles either look cool or they don't. Actually, you either look cool wearing them or you don't. Sometimes the goggles that look great in their box, or on the Styrofoam head in the swim shop, or on the magazine model who couldn't swim a stroke to save his/her life, can make you look like a sideshow geek. Swimming, in its essence, is an aesthetic sport. These considerations are important.

Cost

Your goggles could easily be the least expensive item in your entire swimming bag—or they could just as easily be the most expensive. In my years of experience it has become quite obvious to me that price has nothing to do with which goggle is right for any given swimmer (although triathletes, in general, seem to be mysteriously drawn to the most expensive goggles—at least initially). In the long run, swimmers are just as likely to choose their own personal “perfect pair” from among the least expensive goggles as from the most expensive.

Strategy

In searching for your personal perfect goggle start with the least expensive goggles. Most swimmers will be able to find a comfortable, leak-free fit in this range. Then, over time, experiment with other styles by borrowing goggles from other swimmers. As you gain experience with different goggle styles you will get a better idea of what qualities are most important to you in a goggle. Move up the cost ladder cautiously. I've watched many a swimmer doggedly apply the "whatever it takes" attitude to fussing with an expensive pair of goggles, trying in vain to coax perfection from them. After spending $30+ on a pair of the latest high-tech goggles, some people are loath to abandon their investment for a pair of $4 goggles that they know fit better.

Finally, once you do find your personal perfect goggle, buy several pairs. Murphy has a law. I don't recall it exactly, but it has something do with the availability, at any point in the future, of the only goggle style that fits your face.

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

See also: Keeping Your Perfect Goggles Perfect

See also: Goggles of the Future

Copyright 2000. Houston Swims, Inc.

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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