Do Surfers Wear Sunglasses? 6 Reasons Why Most Don’t (+Tips)

Robert Elgar

The sun seems to get hotter each year, and as surfing is an outdoor activity, it is important to protect our eyes.

Naturally, we would wear sunglasses, but they are not as functional while surfing.

Surfers can, and sometimes do wear sunglasses, but it is not a common practice. This is because sunglasses are not practical when you are surfing.

Although they are not ideal, some surfers choose to wear sunglasses on occasion, which is why we will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of wearing sunglasses while surfing, as well as what options you have if you wish to do so.

Can You Wear Sunglasses While Surfing?

It is possible to wear sunglasses while surfing, although you will likely run into more problems doing so than simply leaving them in your car.

As surfing is a rough sport, the chances of your glasses falling off of your head are high. Not to mention the annoying drops of water that will stick on the glass.

If you choose to wear sunglasses while surfing, the best way to make it work would be while surfing small waves on a board big enough that you will not need to duck dive.

3 Benefits of Wearing Sunglasses When Surfing

Sunglasses have one main purpose, which is to filter out the sunlight’s UV rays. They also help to reduce glare and the intensity of the bright light.

When wearing glasses while surfing, this is still their purpose, and therefore the benefits in the ocean are much the same as on land.

1. Filter UV Light

The sun’s UV rays have been found to cause long-lasting damage to our eyes. It is important to protect our sight – and sunglasses do just that.

When in the ocean, the glare from the sun is worse than on land because of the reflection off of the surface of the ocean.

Wearing sunglasses while surfing can help protect your eyes from these harmful rays.

2. Avoid Surfer’s Eye

Surfer’s eye, also known as pterygium, is caused by blood vessels in our eyes becoming damaged from prolonged exposure to bright light.

Although surfer’s eye is not usually a health risk, it will leave your eyes red and can damage your eyesight in extreme cases.

Pterygium is primarily caused by the reflection off of the surface of the ocean, and therefore sunglasses can help reduce these effects.

3. Remove Glare

Looking in the direction of the sun is difficult, which is why we choose to wear sunglasses. This is no different when we are surfing. 

When the sun is directly in front of us, it can be difficult to see the oncoming waves or other surfers, which could be dangerous, or simply annoying.

Wearing sunglasses while surfing could help you see better when the sun is bright or directly in front of you.

6 Downsides of Wearing Sunglasses When Surfing

The downsides of surfing with sunglasses far outweigh the benefits.

This is why it is rare to find a surfer wearing glasses in the water.

1. Danger of Broken Glass

Surfing can be dangerous, and it is made even more so when we take easily breaking objects such as glass, or sharp objects like a knife into the water with us.

Even if you have only been surfing for a short while, you probably know the feeling of hitting yourself with your own board.

If you are wearing glasses and smash your head against your board or another surfer, the glass could break and leave you with deep cuts or small shards of glass in your face or eyes.

Taking glass into the ocean is never recommended, and this is especially true when there are waves.

2. Could Cause Eye Damage

It may surprise you to find that wearing any old, cheap sunglasses can lead to more damage than not using them at all.

And since you are more likely to lose or break them when surfing, you may opt for an inexpensive pair of shades.

Wearing sunglasses that don’t offer 100% protection against UV light can lead to more damage than not using them.

This is because the tinted glass or plastic on cheap sunglasses may not (or only partially) filter out UV rays, but does shade our eyes.

Because our eyes are shaded, their pupils open wider, which allows even more harmful UV light to enter.

In addition to the involuntary adaptation of our pupils, our other natural defense against sunlight is to squint and slightly shut our eyelids to reduce incoming light. But cheap glasses remove the necessity for this as well.

3. High Chance of Loss

Taking sunglasses into the ocean when you plan to surf comes with a high chance of your glasses being knocked from your head and sinking.

Since you now know that cheap glasses can damage your eyes, you will likely be surfing with a more expensive pair, which makes the loss even greater.

To counteract losing your glasses you will need to secure them with a cord or strap.

4. Becoming Tangled In the Cord

As it is never nice to lose something, securing your glasses will be important.

The downside of this is that it is usually done by attaching a cord to your glasses and then around your neck.

Although unlikely, this creates an opportunity to become tangled or possibly strangled in this cord which could be extremely dangerous in the ocean.

5. Reduced Visibility

Although on land sunglasses generally improve our ability to see, they can do the opposite in the ocean.

Surfing often involves wind, which leads to spray-back from the waves.

When drops from this spray-back land on your glasses they could obstruct your vision.

This is a problem as you will often find yourself in a situation where you cannot simply stop to wipe them off.

6. Limited to Small Waves

As sunglasses make duck diving difficult and are likely to fall off your head when you wipe out, choosing to use sunglasses will limit you to smaller swell that you do not need to dive under.

This is okay for a casual day in the ocean, but does not work when you are looking for a more intense surf or to improve your skills.

Are There Special Surfing Sunglasses?

Sunglasses are not typically designed for surfing because surfers tend to not use them much anyway.

As they cause such an inconvenience, surfers usually choose to deal with the sunlight on their own.

However, some surfers who struggle with the light or other eye issues may choose to surf with specially designed goggles to counter the problem.

Other than this, when surfing in relaxing waters, you may want to choose a good quality pair of sunglasses glasses with stainless steel screws and a solid frame.

How Do I Keep My Sunglasses on While Surfing?

If you decide to take your sunglasses surfing, the biggest trouble you will have is keeping them on your head.

Between duck diving while you paddle past the break, and being wiped out by a crashing wave, you will likely lose your sunglasses.

To counter this, you have one of two options: Use an elastic strap (similar to those used on goggles) or use a glasses cord.

Both of these have their downsides, and neither is guaranteed to secure your glasses on your head.

Should I Wear Sunglasses When Surfing?

Wearing sunglasses or prescription glasses while surfing is not recommended.

The chance of you losing them or injuring yourself far outweigh the benefits that you may receive.

Of course, when you go surfing it is your time, your sport, and therefore your own choice.

You should do what makes you happy and comfortable, as long as it does not negatively affect others in the water.

Why Most Surfers Don’t Wear Sunglasses

As we’ve seen above, there are several reasons why most surfers do not wear sunglasses while surfing.

Sunglasses are inconvenient to surfers, potentially dangerous, and in most cases not necessary.

If you need to constantly worry about your glasses, you will lose a lot of the peace and enjoyment that surfing usually provides.

Furthermore, it could become dangerous as you will pay less attention to the waves.

This is similar to why most surfers do not take cameras into the ocean to film themselves surfing.

Yes, some do, but most surfers simply want to enjoy the waves without any distractions.

How to Protect Your Eyes Without Sunglasses

Protecting your eyes while surfing is tricky.

As sunglasses are the primary means to do that, we as surfers do not have many alternatives.

There are, however, a few tricks that may reduce the damage caused to our eyes from the sun:

  • Use UV-protected goggles.
  • Face away from the sun when possible.
  • Avoid surfing in the middle of the day.
  • Squint your eyes when there is a big glare.
  • Wear a hat.

Although none of these are perfect solutions and will not work as well as sunglasses do on land, they are among your only options while surfing.

Even a small amount of protection from the sun is better than none at all.

6 Tips to Surf With Sunglasses

Although most surfers do not wear sunglasses in the water, you may still feel as though it is something you want or need to do.

In this case, the following tips may be helpful:

  1. Surf in smaller swell.
  2. Always use a cord or head strap to secure your glasses.
  3. Use polarized glasses to avoid glare from reflections.
  4. Make sure your glasses float (plastic frames are best).
  5. Always be conscious of where your board is to avoid breaking the lenses.
  6. Be prepared to lose what you take into the water.

Conclusion

Surfing with sunglasses is not recommended as they will cause more problems than they are worth.

Most surfers do not use sunglasses while surfing for exactly this reason, although some still do.

When surfing large and fast swell, glasses should definitely be avoided.

But on a chilled 1 – 2 ft day when you simply want to float on a longboard and enjoy the sunshine, sunglasses may still be an option.

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