By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
Competitive swimmers have a penchant for minimal goggle designs. It’s not unusual for the “socket rocket” crowd to snicker when they see the miniature SCUBA-mask style open water eyewear favored by some triathletes. Pool swimmers don’t have to contend with elbows and feet to the face in a crowded mass swim start or rough, open water swims with big surf. Aqua Sphere has found a middle ground between minimal pool goggle designs and open water mask styles with their K180 and reduced size K180+ goggles.
I was introduced to Aqua Sphere goggles at one of Doug Stern’s open water swim clinics on the island of Curacao in the Dutch Antilles. With extended pool sessions in the morning and long open water ocean swims in the afternoon we were in the water constantly at Doug’s camp. When I had problems with goggles my friend Andrew Kennedy, an experienced open water and pool swimmer, recommended the original Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggle.
Aqua Sphere goggles were the first brand I didn’t have problems with during open water swim. Less fogging and leaking, better comfort and their wide, curved lens provided better peripheral vision than smaller pool-specific goggles. They made open water swimming more comfortable and enjoyable.
Aqua Sphere also makes a popular series of open water swim eyewear that is a combination of low-volume dive mask and swim goggle. The Aqua Sphere Seal Mask, Seal XP and Vista Mask all combine the protection and visibility of a dive mask with the performance and lower volume of a goggle. But many triathletes and especially pool swimmers want lower volume still. Aqua Sphere continued to reduce the volume of their open water eyewear with their Kayenne, Eagle, Mako and iconic, best in category Kaiman goggles- the ones I was introduced to in Curacao and used in many events and training sessions since. Aqua Sphere’s newest product is their lowest volume goggle yet, the K180 and K180+.
The new K180 and K180+ low volume designs merge pool goggles with open water fit, comfort and peripheral vision. The result is a goggle pool swimmers will like and triathletes can do long, rough open water swims in with great comfort and peripheral vision for siting from one course marker buoy to the next.
Two unique features that differentiate the K180 and K180+ from more conventional pool goggles are their curved, 180-degree “panoramic” lens for a wider field of vision and the forgiving “Softeril” eye gaskets that form a reliable seal but don’t feel like they’re sucking your eyeballs out.
The back of the goggles features a strap design that also merges pool and open water themes. The strap is minimal and features a single adjustment point for quick, easier adjustments. This strap works well under swim caps for swimmers who don’t want to lose their goggles to an elbow or foot in a rough open water swim start.
As goggles get smaller in volume fit seems to become more individual. Aqua Sphere addressed adjustable fit with a set of interchangeable nose bridges for different size faces. The owner’s manual for the K180 and K180+ goggle showed four different size interchangeable nose bridges for both goggles. Three nose bridge are included with either goggle. The nose bridges are easy to replace and the clear plastic case that the goggles come in, which serves as a carrying case in your transition bag, holds your spare nose bridges to prevent loss.
The most notable feature of the new K180 is how it feels in the water. It is very nearly as comfortable as the larger Kaiman goggle with only a slightly different fit, mostly where the goggle contacts the area around the eye. The Kaiman has a seal that describes a larger shape around your eye and has corresponding larger volume. The K180 is a more compact, lower volume fit.
The strap design on the K180 is actually easier to adjust and wear than the stap on the classic Kaiman. The Kaiman has an adjustment system that stays put in the water but takes a little work to adjust quickly. The single point adjustment on the K180 is so simple you can easily tighten the goggle when it is on your head. Since it adjusts from a single point as opposed to either side on the Kaiman you don’t have to worry as much about making the same adjustment on both sides.
Another attractive thing about the Aqua Sphere K180 and smaller K180+ is the price; at $24.95 for a goggle you’ll get more than a season out of these are a strong value.
Aqua Sphere has carved a strong niche in swim with their open water specific designs and now merges great design for pool goggles with open water design themes for a strong design in a low volume goggle that still meets the needs of the triathlete. This is a goggle choice that could take you from pool to open water swim start.