Approximately 75% of adult Americans use vision correction of some kind. Most wear glasses, but about a tenth of the population wears contact lenses.
As a result, the question of whether it’s okay to surf with contact lenses or glasses has been raised numerous times. So, if you wear contact lenses and you’re hoping to start surfing or trying your hand at other water sports, is it okay to keep those lenses in, or should you look for some alternative options?
Can I wear contact lenses in the ocean?
You can wear contact lenses in the ocean, but it comes with risk. You can lose a contact or much worse you can get an infection or a parasite in your eye that can be difficult to treat or can make you go blind.
Should You Surf With Contact Lenses?
The short answer is “no”. The long answer is “no because it might blind you”.
Although that may sound like an exaggeration for something so seemingly innocuous, it’s not. Surfing with contact lenses can create serious and lifelong problems.
Why You Shouldn’t Surf or Swim While Wearing Contact Lenses
You probably know not to clean your contact lenses with tap water. Doing so can lead to a serious eye infection as bacteria that live in water can enter the eye and damage the cornea.
For much the same reason, you should never swim or surf with contact lenses. One of the biggest offenders is something known as acanthamoeba keratitis, which lives in fresh water and seawater. Acanthamoeba keratitis is a parasite that can become trapped between your contact lens and your eye, where it begins to burrow into the eyeball.
It is every bit as gross and destructive as it sounds, and it can lead to serious vision problems and even blindness.
About a decade ago, newspapers in the United Kingdom reported on the case of a young woman who went swimming while wearing her contact lenses and contracted a serious eye infection. It left her blind in one eye—all because she didn’t remove her lenses before getting in the water.
Of course, the odds of contracting such an infection are incredibly rare, but it’s not a risk that’s worth taking.
That doesn’t mean that you need to be blind on the waves, though. After all, there are millions of surfers and swimmers who usually wear glasses and contact lenses, and they are able to enjoy their hobbies without issue.
It just means that you need to take extra care and try one of the following options instead:
How can I protect my eyes when surfing?
You can protect your eyes and/or lower your risk of getting an eye infection when surfing by wearing disposable contact lenses, wearing goggles and not rubbing your eyes.
Wear Disposable Lenses
The main problem with wearing contact lenses while you surf is that the bacteria can build up over time and become trapped behind your lens. If you’re wearing weekly or monthly lenses, you are more exposed to such issues.
But surfing with contact lenses is very low risk if you wear disposable lenses. Simply wear a fresh set before you enter the surf and then discard them afterward.
To avoid any risk of vision loss as a result of surfing with contact lenses, wear goggles instead.
You can get fitted for goggles that have corrective lenses and are designed to be comfortable when worn during long periods. They will protect your eyes against the water and ensure that you can actually see where you’re going!
Why Do Surfers Not Wear Goggles?
Some surfers who have tried wearing goggles while surfing reported that the goggles fall of their faces when they wipeout or duck dive.
Other surfers just don’t want to wear them because they say they don’t want to look like a kook.
Surfers who do wear goggles say they are just fine wearing them. You do you. Wear goggles or don’t, it’s your choice.
Don’t Rub Your Eyes
Keep your hands away from your eyes and refrain from rubbing them when you are surfing. The less contact that your eyes have with bacteria, the better, and your hands are riddled with the stuff.
We all learned to avoid touching our mouths and faces during 2020 and 2021, and as weird as that felt to begin with, it’s a little more normal now. If you can do the same with your eyes, you’ll reduce the risk of vision loss and other complications.
Can you surf with prescription glasses?
Yes, you can surf with prescription glasses. Talk to your eye doctor about getting prescription glasses for surfing.
Rec specs are one option for surfers. Take a look at the 2015 NSSA Kneeboard Season Points Champion, 2015 West Coast Champion and 2015 National Champion wear glasses while riding a wave.
Why do surfers have red eyes?
Most surfers get red eyes from sunscreen, sand, or other debris in their eyes or from rubbing their eyes for one reason or another. If a surfer has chronic red eyes they many have surfer’s eye.
Summary: Wearing Contact Lenses To Go Surfing
Wearing contact lenses while surfing is only a good idea if they are disposables and you practice good hygiene. You should never wear weekly or monthly lenses to go surfing or swimming and you should refrain from rubbing your eyes and going in dirty water.
If you notice any issues with your eyes, including vision loss, unexplained redness, and an itchy or uncomfortable feeling, visit an eye doctor immediately. It could be that you just got too much saltwater in your eyes, in which case the redness and discomfort will fade away. But it could also indicate something much more serious, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.