Nov. 28, 2008 -- I received an instant message from a friend and teammate the other week.
"Guess what I just ordered?" he asked.
"I have no idea," I wrote.
Oh, no he didn't.
Nick Langan and I swim for the New York Athletic Club and I couldn't believe he was going to brave headphones in the pool. They are a huge swimming no-no, unless you want to appear like a total amateur. Running with headphones is acceptable and I do it, yet swimming in a pool with music is frowned upon by "real" swimmers.
I've been a competitive swimmer my entire life. Starting at the age of 6, I swam on YMCA teams before ending my career at the Division-I level. That was almost eight years ago and I'm still swimming. I've probably swum at least 100,000 miles in the past 23 years and my experience with the H2O Audio pack was the first time I'd ever attempted to swim with headphones.
I was eager to try the new toy, that is, until I saw its size. Langan's set was tiny and fit nicely on his goggles with little to no wiring. The H2O Audio's Surge Bass Amplified Waterproof Headphones ($59.99) I received goes around your arm. I've never been a fan of armbands -- when I run I wear a thin, travel-size waist belt -- and now I know why. This gizmo felt like the heart-pressure strap nurses wrap around your arm in the doctor's office. How was I going to swim with this thing?
I showed up at the pool for practice and as expected, my teammates looked on with laughter and bewilderment.
"Monica, what the heck is that?"
"Mon, what are you doing?"
"It's for work. Zip it," I said.
I played with the pack for a few minutes so I knew what to do once I hit the water. I dived in and surprisingly, all was well, though I had to considerably slow my arm's turnover rate for fear of the headphones flying off.
I approached the other end of the pool and the waterproof gadget's first test: the flip turn. As I flipped and pushed off the wall into a tight streamline, I felt one earphone come loose. Coldplay's Chris Martin was only singing in one ear. Rats. To fix this, I shoved the earphones in and made sure my swim cap was covering my ears. It was slightly uncomfortable but I sucked it up.
The next test would be how the headphones stayed on when I swam other strokes besides the freestyle. Butterfly proved the most challenging. As I swung my arms around simultaneously, the headphone wires couldn't withstand the motion and got caught in my arms and at one point it felt like it was mildly strangling me. I solved this by shoving half the loose wire underneath my suit strap. Now, if you're a guy, I don't know what the remedy would be.
I don't have a touch iPod so I admit I had a hard time finding the volume in the water with goggles on. And I found that no matter how hard I tried to turn the volume up, the music was mostly drowned out by the water gurgling in the space between my cap and eardrum.
After about a mile or so of fighting for the music, I gave up. I returned to my quicker pace and finished the rest of the workout in silence. Though I was surprised that the contraption had worked, I would not go through the trouble of using it ever again.
If you're a recreational swimmer who has one speed, the waterproof headset may be for you. Swimming is monotonous and to most, boring, so a few good tunes could motivate you to stay in longer.
If you're a competitive swimmer or triathlete like myself, however, and you're in the pool for speed work, wait for the walk home or the subway for your tunes.
When I asked my friend Langan how his headphones were working out, thinking his could be another option, he wrote, "Honestly, I broke them before I had even used them." So much for that idea.