I've been trying to figure out how I can effectively record video from my GoPro during an open water swim (without kayak support!). I've seen folks online try strapping it to their float or use a hand float and just hold it out in front of them. Those techniques just aren't up to my expectations.
So, while out shopping with one of my besties, I got inspiration from a pool noodle. I gave my idea a noodle and hypothesized that a pool noodle pontoon could probably solve my open water swim video goals.
The final product largely followed my initial vision for the pontoon, with the pool noodle giving the contraption all the float and the platform being some sort of hard surface. I normally do workworking projects, so it took me a while to think up the plexiglass solution. I was fortunate that my husband had some scrap pieces lying around.
The only thing I actually purchased was the pool noodle, but while I was at the hardware store I went ahead and scoped out some prices for a ballpark total cost. If I had made this 10 years earlier, I'm sure I would have had a spare noodle laying around from my now-grown kiddo and this entire project would have been no-cost for me. Oh well.
1/2 "wide" pool noodle ($4)
9" x 10" Plexiglass ($14)
6 each, 11" zip ties ($3 for a 10-pack)
4 each, 4" zip ties (or use the long ones left from the 10-pack)
2 each, 12" Funny Pipe Stick - seriously, it is called that ($1)
1 plastic soap box ($2)
2 each Vinyl Flag (<$1)
15' polypropylene rope ($2)
Optional: Bathtub Temperature Duck ($10)
Total cost with out the duck: $27
Total cost with the duck $37
Plus tax and all that stuff that applies to you.
I tried cutting the noodle with both a blade and with scissors. The blade was okay, but tore up the foam. The scissors were far superior. That said, my scissors are pretty awesome. If my scissors had been cheap or wimpy it would have been a different story.
The angled front for the pontoon proved to be vital to bouncing over the chop on the water and not creating that frontal drag as it was pulled, so I highly recommend the angled front end.
My original piece of Plexiglas was 18" x 24" but I didn't want a pontoon that big. Honestly, your pontoon could be any size, I suppose, but I wanted something compact, yet stable. So, I decided to cut the Plexiglas down to 9' x 10" for no reason other than it seemed reasonable.
Cutting the Plexiglas was a bigger hassle than I thought. I did one cut on the jigsaw and regretted that. It cracked corners, the edges were rough, and it wasn't great. I re-cut that edge using a chop saw, and that was better, but I still had slightly rough edges. My third cut was on the table saw and that got me the best results. That said, I say just cut the darn stuff and sand the edges to be smooth. After I sanded the edges I could not tell which cut was made by which tool.
Drilling the holes was very simple and I used a drill bit that was just bigger than the width of my zip ties. I did find that if I pushed to hard on the drill, the Plexiglas would crack, so taking my time was worth it. I fixed my one crack with Gorilla Glue.
Noodles + Platform
I drilled right into the pool noodle. Putting the zip ties through was a piece of cake.
I wanted my pontoon to be cute, and what is cuter than adding two safety flags? The Funny Pipe Stick is the perfect supply. I just cut the stick down to the size I wanted and stuck it into a hole I drilled in the foam. I used hot glue to hold it in. To secure the flags to the stick I drilled small holes through the vinyl flag and stick and sent zip ties through.
I really struggled with how to counterbalance the GoPro. I wanted it far forward on the platform so that the pontoon would not be in the video or photo. That meant that it was very front heavy (even though the GoPro is only around 5 - 6 ounces). I found a plastic soap box that I was using for fishing gear and filled it with pea gravel. I could have used wet sand instead. That turned out to be a crucial element of the pontoon. I drilled holes in the bottom of the soap box and zip tied those on as well.
This one was a hassle. I originally drilled two holes on the front of the platform and had the lead rope attaching there. When I took it for a swim the pull of the lead rope pulled the front of the pontoon down and into the water and I ended up with a lot of footage of life underwater. Mid-swim, my fellow swimmer, Heidi, and I untied the rope from the platform and slid the rope under the zip ties at the bottom of the noodle. That was the ticket. From there the pontoon stayed above water for most of the swim. The front of the pontoon does still dip underwater when lifted from behind (by a swell or wind wave), but the pontoon pops right back up. I actually like the affect of the occasional underwater dip.
So I threw this thing into the hot tub to see how it would do. I turned on max jets and bubbles and put my GoPro (Hero 8 Black) to max stabilization. I was thoroughly impressed by the GoPro (and my pontoon). In the ocean, the GoPro on the Pontoon performed equally as well as you can see in the footage from my ocean swim. I suppose if I wanted a broader perspective I would just put on a longer rope. As-recorded, the roap is 9 feet from pontoon to carabiner (I am 5' 9"). My duck tows behind at 30 inches.
Going Next Level
I turned up with my pontoon and GoPro to the Avila Dolphin's normal Sunday swim. Immediately, the group suggested putting a hula doll on the pontoon and making it a party boat. It was also suggested that I add "No Sharks" to one of the safety flags. I have a hula shark and a hula flamingo on order and will make my pontoon a party boat to up my game.
I also need to name my pontoon. Pontoony-McPontoon-Face is too long of a name. And the NCC-1707/7 never went in the water. I was thinking of going SG-1 and calling it a puddle jumper, but that isn't quite fitting. I've never named a pontoon before. So, it is up in the air.
I do think I will add the "No Sharks" to the safety flag. I think it will help...