Seeing Clearly: Sable WaterOptics Goggles

This may be the first and last time that I pick something that also has made Oprah’s “O List,” but in this case she and I are in total agreement. Apparently, the queen of talk knows her swim gear. Every so often, you (or I, or Oprah) find something that is head and shoulders above its competition. Unfortunately, that same item is often quite a bit more expensive as well. Sable’s RS101 competition goggle is true on both counts. They are easily the nicest goggles I’ve ever used, and they are also the most expensive at $45 for tinted, and $50 for mirrored (as compared with Speedo’s premium SpeedSocket at $25 for tinted and $30 for mirrored). Of course, you may be asking, how many goggles have you tried? Well, I’m a total goggle junky. I cleaned out my swim bag the other day, and took out six pairs of goggles, and those are just the relatively recent ones. I have another three pairs in my mighty bin o’ triathlon gear, and that doesn’t come close to including all the pairs I’ve thrown away because the lenses got trashed or because I just hated the goggles. Now, however, there is only one pair in my swim bag.

So what makes these goggles so special? Why on earth would I plow under the goggle farm I had growing in the bottom of my swim bag? The real value in the RS101 is the lens quality. According their website, the lenses feature “Aspherical & Flat Lens Technology,” which is supposed to eliminate distortion. Now that seems somewhat contradictory, since how can something be flat and aspherical at the same time? My guess is that one refers to the inside of the lens, and one refers to the outside. But regardless of what it means, it really works. It’s actually somewhat shocking at first. Everything looks perfectly normal underwater and above. This makes a huge difference in open water swimming, and not just because you can now see all of the crap you had a suspicion might have been growing in that lake you’d been swimming in. Sighting above water is very easy, as you get a very clear view of your landmarks with just a quick look. I found it very easy to pick a mark and sight it with only a very short glance, something that can save a lot of time during a race, as swimming head up is swimming slow. No more of that “is that a buoy or a seagull?” The underwater clarity helps for drafting. Spotting the feet of the person in front of you, especially if they are a hard kicking swimmer, can be a challenge, and sometimes a gap has formed before you even realize it. I found it much easier to pick out feet among the bubbles with the Sables.

Unfortunately, I was still relegated to picking out feet, not having my feet picked out, as seeing clearly doesn’t seem to actually impact how well you swim. No magical stroke improvements here. Oh well. At least I wasn’t promised it, but I always hold out hope that somewhere, there is a swim cap or some other innocuous item that will grant me 10 seconds per 50 of free speed. At least now I can REALLY see how much faster everyone else is than me. To aid in this self-realization, the other really nice feature is their “Super Anti-Fog” treatment. These goggles simply do not fog up. It’s like they have a SUPER anti-fog treatment. Wait, they do! But again, in practice, it’s not just marketing speak; it’s something that really does work as advertised. Sable’s very clear lenses stay clear for the whole swim. You do have to be careful about touching the lenses inside, and Sable gives you some bold warnings about keeping the anti-fog working, namely “DO NOT TOUCH THE INSIDE OF THE LENSES.” But if you read the semi-fine print, you can easily clean them with some mild soap by just gently rubbing it with your finger. Of course, you could also just not touch the inside, but if you do, fear not, your goggles are not ruined. To help prevent other things or people from touching the lenses, they also give you a very nice carrying case for the goggles to help protect them. It’s a very handy tube, without any of those crappy plastic hinges that are on other goggle “cases” (and I use the term loosely, since that is how the hinges work, or don’t work, as the case may be).

To add to the coolness factor, the lenses are swappable, so you can get a pair of mirrored lenses and a pair of lighter lenses that you keep pristine for racing, and then get a basic pair of tinted lenses for training. Of course, since the lenses are the expensive part, you could also just shell out for three pairs of goggles (just what we all need, MORE GEAR!!). Swapping lenses is also not super easy, and again, since you don’t want to touch the lenses more than is necessary (which is not very much), actually swapping the lenses is something that is cooler in theory than in practice. But if you are that guy who has the one pair of glasses with like 900 different lenses for every possible lighting condition, you are in luck.

What really sold me on the Sables was the optics, and while optical clarity in the pool is nice in terms of getting your flipturns timed just right, it’s not really that important. Fortunately, the other great feature of the Sables is the comfort. The silicone gaskets are very soft, and they form a tight seal without putting much pressure on your eye sockets. No more raccoon eyes. For adjusting the fit, the goggles come with three nosepieces, which I thought tended to run a bit on the small side, as I ended up with the largest, and by comparison, I used the medium for every other goggle I’ve ever used (I mostly used Speedo). So if you have a large nose, you may be out of luck, at least until Sable releases an XL nosepiece, which I hope they do. The nosepieces fit into two little slots, so if you are industrious, you could probably rig up a nosepiece string like on Swedish goggles, but that seems like a lot of work and a rather half-baked solution for something that is obviously supposed to be a premium product.

Now, as a great many of you are probably saying, “well, this is great and all, but what if you can’t see more than three feet in front of you without a pair of coke bottles stuck to your face.” As an added benefit for those athletes that wear prescription eyewear, Sable offers their goggles in a whole range of diopters, at a cost of $99 for tinted and $110 for mirrored. So now you can see clearly out of clear lenses during the swim, a blessing for athletes who want proper competition goggles that also support their prescription.

For those of you who want a whole stable of Sables (yes, that was intentional), they do offer a lower end model, which, like most triathletes, I wasn’t really interested in, since I do not do “recreational.” Sable’s RS922 does feature all of the important elements of the 101, except for the word “competition” after the name. It also has one feature the 101 lacks, a wider nosebridge (remember my complaint above). I'm not sure I understand why there is a difference in nosepiece widths between the two frames, but if you've have a slightly wider schnoz, the 922 is for you. The 922 also comes with three nosepieces, they just fit wider, so if you have a narrower nose, they will still work for you. In any case, Sable assures me they are "aware of the problem, and are working to fix it" (not their quote, it's from one of those funny cell phone commercials, but nevermind). These would also be an outstanding choice for everyday goggles, keeping your nicer RS101’s safe in their tube house until race day. Of course, I am sure that most of you, like me, will want to bust out the race goggles everyday, since let’s face it, mirrored goggles just look cooler. “So, hotty lady in the next lane, am I looking at you or not? You don’t know. I am hidden behind the poker face of my mirrored goggles.” That’s just what you could *theoretically* do, not that I actually ever do anything even remotely similar to that.

So, is it worth it to shell out what’s now maybe three-quarters of a tank of gas for a pair of goggles? In this case, I think it’s worth the premium. On a relative basis, they are still a very cheap item in a sport where most equipment is measured in how many hundreds or even thousands of dollars it costs. To add to your peace of mind when you cough up for these goggles, you do get some added-value from Sable. They offer a one time lens replacement guarantee if the lens is damaged. And you get a lifetime warrantee on the frame and strap.

For more on Sable, including all the various lens tints and where to buy, check out Sable’s website.