Surfing Effects on Eyes

Not many of us, surfers, are aware of the fact that surfing can reduce the health of our eyes. Yes, we can protect our skin using a wetsuit and sunscreen to a reasonable degree – but our most sensitive organs, the eyes, are still unprotected from the rough elements in the surf.

Surfing is a sport like nothing else out there, let’s all agree on that as surfing has always been a rising trend that attracts many enthusiastic athletic individuals from around the world to participate in that freedom-offering sport. In many cases, the people who’d like to get into surfing may not be “as equipped” with appropriate genes that are suitable to be exposed to extreme sunlight for hours at a time.

Fair skin, bright eyes? Welcome abroad, fellow sufferers.

Downsides of paradise

Spending countless hours in the water is both a great physical workout and perfect time-off for the mind. The sun and the ocean can be extremely vitalizing for our physical and mental states, which is great! But, there’s always that ‘but’. Can’t have too much of the good stuff, right?

What are the damaging effects that cause your eyes to swell?

– Wind, spray, salt, sand, dust, bacteria

Exposing our extremely sensitive and vital organs, the eyes, to saltwater and the sun might have some damaging effects, and especially for people with bright eyes. In most cases, people coming from the northern parts of the world have bright skin and light eyes that are not as adaptable to excessive amounts of saltwater, which dries the sensitive eyes. There are also intense reflections from the water, which doubles the intensity.

THE GOOD NEWS! Stingy eyes can be prevented to some degree. If you don’t want to look like a devil who has just smoked a fat blunt after each session, follow these steps down below to avert your eyes from getting red after the session.

surfers walking at a beach on sunset

So, how to protect your eyes when surfing and prevent the sting?

  • Drink water. If you drink plenty of water daily, your body is well hydrated. Another good trick to keep your body hydrated during the surf session is to eat watery fruits before going to a session — apples, oranges, etc.

PS: Avoid drinking alcohol in excessive doses. It drains your body from nutrition and water! The human body consists of 60% of the water, so be wise what you “dilute” it with clean water regularly.

  • Wear proper sunglasses. For SUP surfers it’s easy, you don’t have to duck-dive the waves so you could wear your regular sunnies (For people who are into water sports, it’s highly recommended to wear UV-protected and Polarized sunglasses). There are specially designed watersports sunglasses for water-sport enthusiasts. They not only keep your eyes away from the damaging UV rays but protect you in any case of an injury as well. It’s like wearing a helmet to a bike ride, and I believe it is getting more widely used over time. Do you want to be a pioneer in surf sunglasses? That’s a great way to go!
  • Use moisturizing eye drops. Using extra moisture before and after surfing is a great way to stabilize the pH levels in your eyes. Easily accessible from supermarkets and pharmacies. Using droplets daily is a simple habit that makes a big difference!
  • Do not surf a few days after heavy rain. Heavy rain causes flooding, which unfortunately flushes lots of drainages (which contains loads of chemicals and rubbish) to the oceans. Yes, the swells are usually perfect right before and after the storm, but consider the fact that it is probably not the safest and cleanest water out there at this time period.
  • Avoid surfing during the day-time. Surf only in the mornings and evenings. Whenever the sun is the highest or so-called in the zenith, you’re better off doing something more productive than whipping your eyes with a batch of dryness and UV rays. You not only save your eyes but your skin as well!

PS: Even on cloudy days, the UV rays are still reaching the earth. For example, New Zealand gets a lot of overcasts but has one of the highest skin-cancer percentages in the world.

  • Wear good-quality sunglasses. Not all polarized sunglasses protect your eyes and have real UV protection. Yes, any pair of dark lens sunglasses make the sight through the lens darker, but if there’s no real UV protection inside the lens, your are eyes are still all wide open and the UV rays shining right through your retina. The fact here is that without the sunglasses, you are naturally squinting your eyes to protect yourself from the sun, but with cheap sunglasses, you’re not. So – make sure you buy proper sunglasses. It’s a solid investment for your health!
  • Wear a surfing hat. Available in many well-equipped surf stores. The surf hats are designed to be submerged and protect the view range quite a bit from direct sunlight.
  • Use alcohol-free sunscreen. Many beginners make a mistake using cheap sunscreen to protect their neck and face. Most cheap sunscreens contain some % of alcohol, which makes the eyes sting badly. Also, rinse your hands after applying sunscreen and zinc, so whenever you have to rub your eyes when surfing, you don’t get it in your eyes. Which sunscreen to use when surfing? Read our post about Surf Sunscreen 101 to find out more.
  • Contact lenses. It’s not recommended to wear contact lenses when swimming or surfing. If your eyesight is poor and you have to wear contact lenses to see clearly, only wear daily disposable lenses, avoid rubbing your eyes and do not open your eyes underwater!

What else do I need to know to protect my eyes as a surfer?

Water as the mirror. The UV rays coming down the skies reach down to deep waters, whereas most of the rays are reflecting from the glassy water. Light eye color is extremely sensitive against bright light and can cause eye damage in the long term.

It is recommended to surf early in the mornings or late in the evening when the sun is low.

Surfing on cloudy days. Even during the overcast, the UV-rays are always there, shining through. Make sure to always wear sunscreen & zing when surfing!

What is the surfer’s eye? Surfers eye, also known as the ‘Pterygium’, is a growth of pink, fleshy tissue on the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that lines your eyelids and covers your eyeball. It usually forms on the side closest to your nose and grows toward the pupil area. Generally, the surfer’s eye is not a critical condition, but it should be taken seriously. Read more about it from here.

Short-sighted surfers

Bad eyesight is very common these days. Did you know that almost 70% population of the UK wears spectacles?

Surfing is one of the few sports out there where you really can’t go in with a pair of prescription glasses. You can get special lenses done to your diving mask, but for surfing – it’s simply not possible.

Laser Surgery – One of the greatest ways to improve your overall eyesight. The quality of laser surgery is getting more advanced each day. If you truly are an avid surfer and looking for that last push before going for surgery.

Contact lenses – Simply avoid that. You don’t want to get that bacteria trapped in your eyes


SEA SPECS Prescription Watersports Sunglasses – One of the best alternatives to enjoy surfing as a short-sighted by a brand that specializes in that field.

black precription glasses


Read next

Surf Safety 101

Surfing & Ears
A protection guide

Surf Sunscreen 101

Most Common Surf Injuries

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I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.

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