Thursday, July 11, 2013

All float on OK**

With daily care, your butt buoy should give you a year and a half of useful service.*

Actual mileage may vary.

My mileage didn't — almost all of it came in the flat, calm water of Lake Natoma. The only stress on the device was me, tugging it through the fresh water behind me, 1.3 to 2.4 miles at a time.

Swimmers who use the Safe Swimmer®™ (the actual, far less interesting name) in fierce rivers or in the ocean may have to replace their devices more frequently. I don't know; I'd like the opportunity to find out.

As pictured, the SafeSwimmer™© is a bright orange inflatable bladder and dry sack designed to enhance a swimmer's visibility in the water. Some open water venues require swimmers to use such devices.

Mine finally sprang a leak, tearing at the welded vinyl seam. The bright orange web strap has yellowed with sun and use, but is still strapping.

Forty bucks or so later to the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the fine folks who drive all over dropping packages on your doorstep, and I have a new one.

It's different from the last one. Instead of a sturdy blue plastic handle kinda thing that attaches the bladder to the leash around my waist, the new one has two small plastic tabs that the leash is stitched to. Nor does the new one encourage me in bold all-cap type to "SWIM 4 HEALTH" and "SWIM SAFELY."

The new one just has the clip art-inspired SafeSwimmer™©® logo. Encouragement? I'm on my own there.

Given how few people in the world even use these things, I can see how the International Swimming Hall of Fame wants to pare production costs per unit.

Believe it or don't, it's not the only swimming safety device on the meager market. You can buy a belt with a flag on the back, that rocks with your rhythm and lets boaters know you're in the water. My long-lost swim friend Stacy has a boogie board fitted out with stretch cargo netting, a deep plexiglass fin and a foam-noodle arch and a flagpole for visibility. It'll sustain a swimmer on a 500-mile journey, as long as no wind blows to knock the thing over.

This swim bladder is the best in my narrow opinion. It floats benignly behind a swimmer, like another head, bright orange, on the water. The makers say you can use it to rest on in a swim, but I don't want to stress it more than it endures already.

"Does it cause drag when you swim?" is the question almost everyone asks right away. Not at all — though I should say yes and use it as an excuse for being so slow. It bumps against my butt, which I take as a sign I'm keeping my hips high for proper technique.

In the dry-sack pocket you can store keys, clothes, whatever — a feature I began using the day after our cars were broken into during a swim.

Buoy, I hardly knew ye … Me: "Can you take a picture of my swim device for a blog
post?" Son: "What kind of picture?" Me: "I'm getting a new one because this one died.
I'll leave it up to you." His solution!
Believe it or don't, the International Swimming Hall of Fame isn't the only provider of such devices. Some swim organizations sell them as fund raisers, and a United Kingdom group called Chillswim  (promoting what else? My kinda folks!) sells a large variety of similar devices.

Chillswim calls these tow floats, which is better than Safe Swimmer™©. But not the best name, not by far.

I used to call it rower repellent, because I swim by myself a lot in the flat lake, a mecca for many rowing crews.

(Who move backward through the water, so the device really doesn't do me that much good. It's false comfort …

… though it did stop a wayward rower from plowing over me last week, because he saw the orange blob in the rear-view mirror clipped to his ballcap.)

But I'm convinced the sudden proliferation of these devices in facebook photos of swimmers from around the world owes to the genius of a woman named Kirsten Bratti Lewis. She's a triathlete I swim with sometimes.

At first sight of the day-glo®™ bladder swinging from behind me like a rabid inflatable pitbull with jaundice as I waddled to shore for a swim, Kirsten said, "You brought your butt buoy!"

I've used the phrase ever since, and ever since, more and more swimmers have shown up in pix towing their own butt buoys.

I'll gladly accept a cut of the promotional fee. You're welcome.

* Yes, the narrowest of niche declarations. You have the power to make it more commonplace: Swim the open water and get yourself a butt buoy.


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