‘What. Are. Those?’
No, I’m not referencing the infamous shoe-based Vine meme from the mid-2010s, but rather the most common question I’ve been asked at the pool since owning a pair of waterproof headphones for swimming.
To head off the inevitable follow-ups: Yes, waterproof headphones do act like normal headphones, just underwater.
No, they won’t electrocute me or the rest of the people in the pool.
And I can confirm, I’m able to listen to Spotify as I complete as many lengths of front crawl as I can in an hour (or more accurately, 30 minutes).
Since I started donning them, there have been some curious queries from fellow swimmers.
Mostly people want to know if I have to keep my phone poolside or if I can leave it in the locker to be able to stream from Spotify (to which the answer in can be in the locker - it just needs to be within a reasonable range).
The main difference between my headphones and a traditional pair, is that these use vibration to transmit sound through the cheekbone to the inner ear (known as bone-conduction) as opposed to directly through the ear canal.
Outside of the pool, this also means I don’t have to have anything physically in my ear, which would completely shut out the noise around me. I can still hear cars and other pedestrians around me.
I’ve always been a keen swimmer. True, I’m no Rebecca Adlington but I’ll have you know I earned my Tony the Tiger swimming badges back in the day all the same.
It’s been the one activity I return to time and again to keep fit, but as I’ve grown older and more aware of the world around me, I have increasingly associated it with anxiety.
I don’t mean a fear of sharks in the deep end – though, if you ask me, that’s still a very valid concern – but just your general, run of the mill apprehension that comes with being a woman in 2023.
The first, and possibly most obvious concern that rears its ugly head is body confidence.
There’s a moment when I slip into my swimsuit where I’ll analyse every part of my body.
‘Do I have cellulite? Will anyone notice that I’m bloated today? God, I wish my legs were skinnier.’
All those deep-seated body image issues, I’ve found, become more pronounced as you stand in the unforgiving white light of the changing room in nothing but some stretchy black spandex.
Helpfully, as these thoughts begin to creep in - I’m able to switch my earphones on and blast some of the most body positive songs I can find - the flavours of this month are Lizzo’s Special and Scuse Me because who better to silence those intrusive thoughts than the body confidence queen herself?
Without them, every glance from other people in my direction – even if seemingly innocent – sets my mind racing.
If the glances were apparently meant in an appreciative (read: creepy) way, that was worse.
I remember one time, pre-headphone discovery, one bloke even tried to chat me up.
Not pre-swim. Not post-swim. But *mid* swim.
It was during my set and he tapped me on the shoulder just as I was about to push off.
Getting chatted up during your workout, for example at the gym, can be unsettling at the best of times, but throw in scantily clad bodies and nothing but a lane rope to separate you and it instantly takes you to a whole new level of vulnerability.
I remember making polite chit chat, but I also felt immediately unsettled.
So, as most women do when they feel this way after being approached, I tried to get through the conversation as quickly as possible without giving much away.
I associated swimming with anxiety - the run of the mill apprehension that comes with being a woman in 2023
That was easier said than done though when he began asking me how many times of the week I swim, what days and if he could join me for training sessions!
I didn’t go back to the pool for a few weeks after that. And when I did, I made sure to go at a completely different day and time.
Of course, now that I have my headphones, interactions of any kind are almost non-existent, especially mid-swim.
However, anxiety doesn’t just manifest in the pool, but every time I step out my front door.
Whether I’m trying to walk the dog or attempt to jog a 5k on my own, I have to think carefully about where I’m going, the time of day it is and if someone knows my whereabouts.
While all this is still true - and I never leave my friends without saying ‘let me know you got home safe’ - having these open ear headphones, as opposed to earbuds or noise cancelling ones, has helped me keep my wits about me when out and about on my own.
And if you don’t understand why I, and much of the female population, are on edge, just read a news article.
Women are scared. We have to be cautious. But we’ll also do whatever it takes to come home safely.
So as silly as it may sound to some of you - a pair of headphones that not only help to silence the world, and shut my own self-criticising internal monologue when I’m at the pool, but also help me be aware of my surroundings when waking alone - are well worth my investment.
And there’s a real science to finding the right pair.
While there are a number of brands making these types of headphones, only a handful have a waterproof rating of IPX7 or higher – this means they can be submerged up to 3ft for 30 minutes.
For me, Aftershokz are the undisputed kings of bone-conduction headphones, and their OpenSwim headset can store up to 1,200 songs without being connected to another device like an old-school MP3 player.
But my favourites come from a lesser-known brand, Naenka. Both its runner pros and runner diver headphones are MP3 and Bluetooth compatible, which means you can download your own music as well as stream directly from Spotify.
With these ones, however, you’ll need to keep your phone poolside and within Bluetooth range if you wish to stream your favourite playlists and podcasts.
This is the feature I tend to use the most.
Though be advised, if you swim deeper than 1m you will lose Bluetooth connection temporarily.
As much as I sing the praises of this technology, I’ll be the first to admit it doesn’t come cheap.
The Shokz pair come in at £169.95 while Naenka’s headsets are priced at £79 and £119 respectively.
Ultimately it depends on what your budget is, but personally, the payoff has been priceless.
From the person who allowed a setback to keep them away from the pool, I’m now excited to swim.
I’m no longer fixated on my thighs or wandering eyes
In fact, I’m more concerned with trying to catch my breath after attempting to swim in time to the beat of Mr Brightside, which I do not recommend.
Even those at the pool who ask ‘what are those’ are usually following it up with ‘where can I get a pair?’.
And while you still won’t find me walking outside after dark, I’m certainly much more comfortable heading out on my own with these on my ears as I can still hear my music while being aware of what’s going on around me.
Aside from my swimming costume and goggles, my headphones are my most essential piece of kit.
In fact, I feel so much more confident, that I’ve even signed up to swim the equivalent of the Channel for charity.
Wish me luck.
The Tech I Can't Live Without
Welcome to The Tech I Can't Live Without,Metro.co.uk's new weekly series where readers share the bit of kit that has proved indispensable for them.
From gadgets to software, apps to websites, you'll read about all manner of innovations that people truly rely on.If you have a bit of tech you can't live without, emailRoss.McCafferty@metro.co.ukto take part in the series
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