Contact lenses: avoid wearing them while surfing | Photo: n41/Creative Commons

Many surfers paddle out wearing contact lenses. But is that a safe practice? And if not, what are the risks involved?

Water, wind, sun, and sand - surfers are overexposed to the elements and quite often for an extended period of time.

Surfing is often done in windy conditions, and those winds carry sand and soil particles from land, causing further irritation.

As a result, surfers' eyes are pretty much under attack all the time and may develop pterygium.

However, wave riders must stay in tune with everything taking place while taking off and riding a wave.

There are also obstacles - rocks, piers, corals - fast-moving masses of water, swimmers, fellow surfers, and sometimes even boats, jet skis, and marine life getting in the way every once in a while.

But most importantly, surfers need to see the waves coming.

For those who need vision aid, the small and flexible thin lenses are the best and most practical option available.

Contact lenses can help correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and poor focusing when reading while providing better peripheral vision.

Today, over 150 million people use these ocular prosthetic devices.

Surfers who wear contacts every day also take them to the waves and only rarely lose a lens.

Some of these tiny corrective lenses even have built-in UV protection.

"Contact lens technology is now so advanced that most any surfer who needs vision correction can be successfully fit by an eye doctor with a pair of contact lenses that can be worn both on land and when surfing," underline the authors of the book "Surf Survival."

Andrew Nathanson, Clayton Everline, and Mark Renneker note that "surfers who wear glasses on land but find contact lenses irritating usually do fine just putting on contacts before going surfing, then taking them off when they get in."

Surfer's eye: wave riders are overexposed to the elements and quite often for an extended period of time | Photo: Red Bull

Infections and Blindness

Nevertheless, the use of contact lenses in the surf is not unanimous among doctors and health care professionals.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should not expose your contact lenses to the ocean, lake, pond, distilled, bottled, or tap water.

The US federal agency also stresses that users must clean, rinse, and air-dry their ocular prosthetic devices each time they're removed.

The British Contact Lens Association also states that you should not wear contact lenses in the water without tight-fitting goggles over the top.

Surfers do paddle out wearing contact lenses all the time, everywhere around the world, with no significant issues.

But severe eye conditions have been reported. And in fact, they're at high risk of losing their sight.

Polluted waters and potentially dangerous microorganisms, viruses, and microbes are a serious threat to a surfer's vision.

The risk levels increase in warm water environments, where higher microbes concentrations mean they can also reproduce faster.

Whether you're surfing in saltwater seas or swimming in chlorine pools, you must avoid re-using contacts that have been exposed to potentially unhealthy waters.

If you don't use them properly, you could develop serious eye infections that may lead to vision loss and even blindness.

Contact lenses: they should not be exposed to ocean, lake, pond, distilled, bottled, or tap water | Photo: Marco Verch/Creative Commons

Taking a Calculated Risk

Have you decided to take the risk?

If that's the case, at least use single-use disposable lenses. They're cheap and the most hygienic option for your eyes.

Do not ignore symptoms of infection or eye irritation.

If you notice or feel pain, swelling, burning, itching, redness, sensitivity to light, excess tearing, blurred vision, or any discomfort, remove your contact lenses immediately and visit an ophthalmologist.

In conclusion, wearing contact lenses while surfing should be avoided at all costs.

Nevertheless, if you decide to paddle out, at least:

  1. Close your eyes while duck diving, kicking out of a wave, or wiping out;
  2. Do not rub your eyes while surfing;
  3. Wash your hands and then take the contacts out after each session;
  4. Clean your lenses thoroughly with your regular sterile solution;

Sunscreen is also not a good thing to get into your eyes while wearing contacts, so try to remember that while you're waiting for the next set.

Options for Vision Correction in the Surf

If you're a surfer who does not have perfect vision, the wisest option is to put the contact lenses aside and find a safer alternative.

The good news is that there are several options for those who need eye correction in the surf.

Only a few surfers use them, but swimming goggles with adjustable straps provide protection to those wearing contact lenses.

There are also prescription goggles and surf sunglasses with tethers designed to keep them close to you all the time.

The market offers floating sunglasses with highly buoyant frame materials, polarized lenses, and ultraviolet protection.

You can always go out for a surf with your regular glasses, but that is only a wise option in minimal wave conditions.

Ultimately, laser surgery is a popular corrective vision procedure for those with healthy eyes.

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