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by Duncan Parlett

December 31, 2010

Call them toys or training aids, they are GREAT

With my back troubles, swimming has become my main source of exercise. Naively, I thought that all I'd need to practice this sport was a swimsuit (and that only because of modesty). Wrong! There is nothing more addicting than swimming paraphernalia. Let me tell you my sad story.

I quickly realized that goggles were a must, unless I wanted to bang into the walls. So I headed to the local swimming paraphernalia dealers in the area, the seemingly good folk at the Swim Depot. Now, you'd think purchasing a set of goggles would solve my vision issues. Wrong again! There's the annoying issue of fog. Any swimmer worth his chlorine will work up enough heat to fog up the inside of his or her goggles and then you're banging into walls again. Some swear by spit, but my saliva seems to have limited defogging capabilities. So, purchase number two, at the Swim Depot, was a little bottle of defogger drops.

Then, after experiencing plugged ears for several hours after each swim session, I quickly acquired a set of earplugs—the Swim Depot conveniently had several styles to choose from. Now you'd think I'd be set after this, but that's just the nature of addiction. Like many bad habits, it starts with peer pressure.

I saw other swimmers. These superior athletes seemed to slice through the water like sharks, and they had weird things attached to their bodies. After a few judicious questions, I found out that one thing they had were hand-paddles attached with rubber tubing. These paddles come in all kinds of styles and colors but they all supposedly increase resistance (giving you a better work out) and help encourage better technique.

Well, I thought such things were too wonderful for me, so I just watched them jealously for a while until … I found some paddles stuck in the drain under the edge of the pool! They just needed new rubber tubing. I couldn't resist trying them out. I later learned that the paddles I found were really ideal for women but what did I care! I was now one of the elites (or at least looked like them). You might notice that this was the only item, so far, for which Swim Depot was not the supplier, although I suspect they may have planted them there—a free sample, so to speak.

Like with other addictions, you start with something simple and then you move to the harder stuff. I now had paddles. These isolate the arms, so most swimmers don't use their legs when they use the paddles. Do you just drag your legs awkwardly through the water? No, you have to get a pull buoy. A pull buoy is a piece of foam that you hold between your legs and it keeps your lower body afloat while your paddled arms churn away. Back at the Swim Depot, I found myself shelling out more money for a pull buoy that was just right for my rather hefty frame.

So far, I was a regular user of a swimsuit, goggles (with defogger), earplugs, hand-paddles, and a pull buoy. That was just the beginning.

If you start using paddles, it's almost impossible to resist the fins. These, of course, do for your legs what the paddles do for your arms. Once again back at the Swim Depot, I checked out a set of fins that were so scientifically sophisticated, I think they had college degrees. I bought them. I couldn't help it, of course. Fins are great fun, too. You can really power through the water. I think I was creating major white water for the poor folk swimming on either side of me!

Here's my problem. I want to improve as a swimmer. This is fatal if you are trying to kick the swim paraphernalia habit. And with the swim snorkel, resistance is futile.

I remember the first time I saw one. It was like seeing a great mythical beast. I had to rub my eyes. In the lane next to me was a man wearing one of the strangest things I'd ever seen. Yes, it looked a little like a great horn, but it rose up seemingly from the middle of his forehead, and arched up and over his head. The amazing thing about this device is that you don't have to do side breathing. It allows you to stare, fixedly, at the bottom of the pool, breathing freely.

Like other addicts, I was soon on the Internet checking things out in the privacy of my own home. I learned that the swim snorkel allows you to focus on the purity of your stroke technique. I couldn't resist, because if there's one thing I now wanted, it was purity. Back to the Swim Depot I went. They were glad to see me, as always. With the swim snorkel, we're talking real money. When you're addicted, you don't think about the money. You just need the fix, and what I craved was breathing freedom.

I can rarely buy just one thing. I forgot to mention that most people also need a nose plug to go along with the swimming snorkel otherwise you tend to suck water up your nostrils. Thankfully, the Swim Depot has these as well. They are very accommodating.

To cap it all off, I had to get a cap. There are two reasons for this. First, when I swim, I seemingly have 10 pounds of swim equipment strapped tightly to my head and the cap provides a thin layer of cushioning. And, my increasingly balding head needs protection from the frequent Southern California sunshine.

Pushers often try to hang out near schools to get kids started on vile habits. In the case of the cap, I found the Swim Depot had set up a convenient booth right outside the pool where I usually swim. (I think there was a big meet that weekend). I felt compelled to buy a cap. I had a choice between the cheaper cap or the better quality, long-lasting one. By now, I was fully addicted and nothing but the best would do. Swim Depot, once again, was benefiting from my lack of self-control.

Let's count: 1) Swimsuit, 2) Goggles (with defogger bottle), 3) Two earplugs, 4) Two hand-paddles, with tubing, 5) Pull buoy, 6) Two fins, 7) Snorkel, 8) Nose plug, and 9) Swim cap. If I am counting correctly, I could potentially wear 12 pieces of individual equipment in the water, if I wore every little bit.

That's just when I'm in the water. But there's more stuff I don't even use in the water. My swimming sessions would be intolerable without a water bottle, my timing watch, my large Nike swim bag (a gift from my wife, so she's co-dependent), my net-bag for wet items, my extra tubing (in case the ones in my hand-paddles break), sun lotion, a padlock for my locker, my flip-flops, and the various toiletry items, towels (a super shammy, no less), and the clothes I need for showering and changing afterwards. I even have back-up goggles and swimsuit in case something happens to my usual ones.

All I wanted, at the beginning, was an effective way to exercise. Little did I know I was being drawn, inexorably, to a full-blown swim paraphernalia addiction. It has cost me time. It has cost me money. It has cost me much of my dignity (see picture). And, if you can believe it, Swim Depot has denied all wrongdoing.


  • Technique and Training
  • Human Interest


  • Training Aids