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Staring into your own eyes and spotting lumpy growths is a disconcerting experience to say the least. First reaction: panic, a bit more panic, followed by a hefty dose of PANIC! Next: internet searches and… relax (slightly) – surfer’s eye is a fairly common condition that doesn’t usually lead to serious problems.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s desirable – if it grows out of control, an operation might be on the cards – and preventative measures to stop it occuring in the first place are naturally a good idea.

Pterygium, to state its medical name, occurs when eyes are blasted with too much sand and wind, with over-exposure to the sun’s UV rays the predominant factor. White or pinkish tissue grows on the whites of the eyes, usually on the side closest to the nose. It can lead to inflammation, itchy eyes and eventually degredation of vision.

That month I spent in Bali without sunglasses probably wasn’t the best idea, and wearing disposable contact lenses all day (in and out of the water) is another idiot’s decision that has no doubt contributed to the trashing of my eyes.

The lesson to learn is, of course: be sensible and protect yourself. Get those sunnies on, wear a hat, and check out some of these products for keeping your eyes protected in and around the water.

The Marquis model from Dragon Alliance

The Marquis model from Dragon Alliance Eyewear

Dragon Alliance sunglasses

Dragon have been producing shades since 1993 and their range covers whatever retro or modern trend you might like to follow. We tried out a couple of frames from the H20 collection – as might be guessed, these specs float should the unfortunate happen and they slip into the juice.

The Marquis are billed as a unisex style, though being a smaller than average frame probably makes them more suitable for women. Made in Italy, they’re of understated design without any particular bling touches.

Stainless steel hinges stop corrosion creeping in, and the ‘6 Base Polycarbonate’ lenses do a fine job keeping the glare at bay. Such specs are for posing in pre and post-surf, not for wearing in pumping conditions, and they don’t feel especially bullet-proof. Put it this way: they wouldn’t last long if chucked onto a passenger seat to await an unsuspecting arse, but then, er, who would ever do that?

The Dragon Roadblock glasses which float

Similarly, Dragon’s Roadblock sunnies will float – they’re an eye-catching set of multi-purpose sunnies for wearing on and around the water.

Translucent frames look good and discreet little rubber pads – within the nose-bridge and at the end of each arm – provide some stay-put value in mild wet conditions. If you canoe, stand-up paddle board or spend time sailing in the sunshine, they fit the bill quite pleasantly for not too great an outlay.

If you require something a bit tougher, Dragon’s most practical shades for water-sports use are the SeafarerX and WatermanX. They feature an adaptable rubber headband that can be neatly interchanged with the standard arms for extra safety – a bit like an extreme sports version of your grandma’s glasses strap.

In truth, these specs aren’t up to the hard gruel of being used in the surf – but with impact-resistant lenses, tinting that works in differing light conditions, and corrosion resistant materials – they certainly improve any fishing or kayak mission that’s blessed with sunshine.

The two pairs of Surf Shades we tested

The two pairs of Surf Shades we tested

Surf Shades

Surf Shades produce a small range of products that are far more honed to the rigours of water-bound survival. I found the original frame design to be a really comfortable fit, with the polarised lenses providing a significant advantage on a clear blue-sky day.

Polarisation cleverly reduces the intensity of glare that occurs on a sunny day on the water. It gives a clarity to your vision that means you can even look down into the water and see more detail, and perhaps spot waves better as they roll in towards you. Perhaps. They also come in a third lens colour of yellow that really improves the contrast on grey days.

The patented sunglass retainer provided with the Surf Shades is a well-designed piece with a removable neoprene collar strap that will stop the shades blasting off into the abyss when getting hammered on the inside. It’s an unobtrusive little extra that makes a lot of difference.

Surf Shade comes

Surf Shades comes complete with a spray to keep them sparkly-clean.

Misting up on the lens inside was the unfortunate downside of wearing the Surf Shades, at least in 12 degree Cornish water on a sunny May morning. The old “spit-in-goggles” technique could be applied, yet with these sunglasses exposed to the elements – unlike sealed goggles – the misting would return for a little more annoyance after a few more duck dives.

One tip we have been advised from the manufacturer is to  “loosen the headstrap so you can slide the frame down your nose to move the glasses away from your face. This will allow more air flow and the steam off your face can escape with out fogging the lenses. Over 19 – 20 celsius – fogging is not an issue at all.”

Having said that, Surf Shades do provide anti-misting spray which is moderately effective, and presumably the problem is much reduced in less frigid waters.

Surf Shades have recently introduced a new frame shape that is smaller and squarer – it’s stated to work best for women, and men with ‘up to average’ sized heads. Pictured below, this presumably is Mister Average.


Surf Shades new smaller and squarer frame shape as modelled by Mr Average

Personally, the original design was the more comfortable fit – yet in fairness, all of the eyewear featured here requires some degree of ‘try before you buy’ for maximum fitting satisfaction.

No-one in their right mind will stick with a pair of shades that’s uncomfortable. Undoubtedly, it’s best to track down these products in your local surf emporium if possible, rather than blow cash on a mail order lottery.

Sea Specs

Sea Specs felt brilliant quality for the price

Sea Specs

Sea Specs are a similar, wrap-around shades type of product with the sort of natty frame design that make you want to shout “Extreme!” A budget-priced product, you’ll find Poole-based MBK knocking them out at £35 a pair; and they feel as though they should cost significantly more than that.

The chunky headband can be tightened for different sized heads, though whichever setting I moved the strap to, the nose section on these still dug in – perhaps they’re made for smaller conks than mine?

Interestingly, Sea Specs provide clear-lens specs for low-light conditions – exactly what we’re blessed with in ‘good old’ blighty. Not sure if this isn’t overkill for protection, but for those with more extreme eye conditions it may very well be vital.

That Sea Specs provide good value replacement lenses of all shades is a welcome extra, considering the heavy use they might receive. The inexpensive replacement lenses are made using high-quality, impact-resistant, polarized, 100% UVA/UVB material which is reassuring to know.

The classic cobalt model from Sea Specs

The classic cobalt model from Sea Specs

Nevertheless, with no retainer strap supplied, losing the Sea Specs in a heavy wave is possible. And while they may float, locating them bobbing around on a chaotic day or back on the shore isn’t the best use of precious surf time. The manufacturer has advised that they personally advise against wearing any leash around your neck during any extreme sports.

I’d suggest getting hold of some kind of chord to attach between the headband and the back of your wetsuit – hey, the other manufacturers here will sell you one if you’re not feeling creative.

A curious plus point for Sea Specs is that they provide a prescription lens service – this could be invaluable for anyone who has trouble wearing disposable contacts. At $195 for the basic model, however, this isn’t in the budget category anymore, but the price is equal to other brands who offer this service and if you have a specific need it could be the answer you’re looking for. Again, trying out the frames before investing in prescription lenses is probably the best idea.


The Amphibian SPEX, one of the original players in this market

SPEX Amphibian Eyewear

Another Californian manufacturer, Amphibian provide an interesting oversized goggle-like product. It goes for a sealed on your face approach – there is still some venting to prevent mist but a rubberised seal connects with your face around the whole goggle. Amphibian have been producing these in some form or other since 1989, so there is also some heritage in the product.

If you need eyewear that will definitely prevent contact lenses from falling out, these are the shades you’ve been looking for – while there is some water flow, you can easily keep eyes open underwater, providing some interesting glimpses of the world below the waves.

Another clear advantage to the design is the extra peripheral vision they provide, with no spectacle frame in your line of vision.

The SPEX were not to my comfort preference – not sitting down fully on my face – but they seemed to fit a friend’s face perfectly well. Performance was pretty good; the spit and rub technique was worth the effort and kept lenses reasonably clear from fog.

Amphibian also provide their own SPEX Primodial Ooze to deal with water spot clearance and fogging. Indeed, out of all the products on test here, the SPEX suffered least from misting up in the chilly UK waters.

The Spex Green 2 Polarized Lens Kit

The Spex Green 2 Polarized Lens Kit

The chunky strap was comfortable and kept the SPEX on well, though I have no doubt that high intensity wipeouts in decent waves could result in these being ripped off the face. With that in mind, Amphibian provide a neoprene leash which attaches around the neck and clips onto the main head strap.

SPEX is billed as being a modular product – with replaceable frames, lenses and strap – the idea being that if parts get worn or damaged, they can be replaced simply. All sorts of coloured lenses are available for differing conditions – amber being good for medium brightness days, for example – and all are fully polarized (apart from the clear).

Depending on your style prefences, you’ll either think you look really cool in a pair of SPEX, or a total idiot. They’re not the least conspicuous shades, but are perhaps the most practical here for everyday use.

One thing’s for sure, whether you’re taking a beating, getting pitted or shamelessly dropping in on the competition, there’s no blending into the crowd when wearing the SPEX. Unless you and your chums become a tribe of mysterious SPEX-wearing surf-nazis. Like Point Break meets The Matrix. Sad or rad – delete as appropriate.

Main image: José Miguel Varas

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