Do Surfers Wear Goggles?

One of the more interesting questions I have heard from people who know nothing about surfing has to do with eyewear. Surfers are spending countless hours swimming and surfing around the salty ocean. Not only are they riding on top of the water, but anytime they crash, duck dive, or jump off a wave they’re underwater. Which while I did laugh when I heard this question, it also makes sense to why it was asked…

Do surfers wear goggles? Surfers do not wear goggles while they are surfing. The salt water isn’t bad for their eyes, and they don’t need to see underwater while they are surfing.

I can see where someone is coming from when they asked this question about goggles. Swimmers wear goggles when they get in a pool. People who enjoy snorkeling put on dive goggles. Even in wake boarding, there is a contingency of people who wear sunglasses. So why not wear goggles while surfing? And if surfers aren’t wearing goggles right now, should they start wearing them?

Here are some of my thoughts about surfing goggles:

Salt Water isn’t Bad for Your Eyes

A little bit of salt water isn’t bad for your eyes or eyesight. If you have ever opened your eyes underwater without goggles then you may have experienced a slight sting or irritation at first, but it quickly goes away. Your eyes adjust to the saltwater.

If you’re surfing correctly you shouldn’t spend that much time underwater getting salt water in your eyes. The majority of your time will hopefully be on top of the water rather than underneath.

Yes, it is possible for salt water to have bacteria in it from runoff. This is one of the reasons it is advised to not surf after the first rain in a long time. All the run off from the road and city can cause a high bacteria count in the water which could get you sick. This could also potentially get bacteria in your eye.

With all this said, I have never even thought of keeping salt water out of my eyes while surfing. Part of surfing in the ocean is getting wet. Sometimes that means a little salt water in your eyes. It comes with the territory.

No Reason to See Underwater

If you ever have gone snorkeling or scuba diving than you know that the ocean world is vast, exciting, and full of life. Every time I go scuba diving (I’m licensed!) I am amazed by the brilliance of colors, variety of plants, and many creatures that call the ocean its home.

While I love snorkeling and scuba diving to explore what is underneath the surface of the ocean that’s not my goal while surfing. A dive mask is great for seeing what is under the waters while snorkeling, but your goal while surfing should be to be above the water.

The only two times that I consistently find myself underwater while surfing is when I am duck diving under a wave while paddling to the lineup. I’ll push myself and my board under the water to pass through the other side. While doing this I keep my eyes closed.

The other time I am underwater is if I jump or fall off a wave. Sometimes this is intentional and other times not. Again – I keep my eyes closed as the wave is churning the water everywhere. My goal is to get back to the surface for air as soon as possible not.

Again, there’s not really a need for surfing goggles if you’re not going to be underwater that much. The point of surfing is to be riding the waves on top, and hopefully not to spend lots of time underneath the waves.

Potential Benefits of Surfing Goggles

While I would never personally wear surfing goggles I do know that they exist. There’s a few different company that manufacture and market them. They must not have gotten traction, because I have never seen them in all my years surfing the coast of California. Nor have I seen them while in Hawaii or Mexico. But I can see two reasons why they could be helpful…

Keeping the Sun out of Your Eyes – The sun can be brutal and if you have sensitive eyes it can be rough to spend so much time scanning the horizon for waves with the bright sun at full force. I know surfers who have used hoodies with a brim to combat the sun in their eyes. I also have seen a lot of surfers wear hats in the water to protect not only their head from the sun, but also get the sun out of their eyes.

These are both viable options, but I can also see a place for surfing sunglasses to help block the sun from your eyes. I’m thinking of all the times I was sitting in the water with the sun setting directly in front of me. I had to squint my eyes to spot incoming waves, and constantly look sideways to not look directly into the sun. I could see how some sort of shaded sunglasses/goggles could help. Again I don’t think I would wear them, but if you are ultra sensitive to the sun they could be beneficial for you and your eyes.

Prescription Goggles – One of my longtime surfing buddies has had to wear contacts or prescription glasses since elementary school. He just doesn’t have great eyesight and the prescription glasses help a lot. When he goes surfing he wears contacts, and just closes his eyes every time he’s underwater. I just asked him if he had any issues in his lifetime of surfing with contacts. His answer – nope. He can’t even remember losing a lens.

But maybe you’re not a fan of wearing contacts. Or you’re worried about losing a lens in the water. I don’t know what your particular eyesight situation is, but maybe a pair of prescription surf goggles would help? You could wear regular surf goggles to protect contacts in your eyes. You could also wear prescription goggles that were strapped to your head so they wouldn’t come off if you get pummeled by a wave.

What about sunglasses while surfing? I love wearing sunglasses. I think they’re cool and they make my eyes feel good in the sun. But I don’t wear sunglasses while surfing and have never heard of other surfers wear sunglasses while surfing.

If you are planning to wear sunglasses while surfing I would make sure you have a plan to keep them on your person while in the ocean. Any wave that tosses you off your surfboard will likely knock your sunglasses off your face too. Maybe tie them to your wetsuit or attach a floaty device to them for when they fall off?

Should you wear goggles while surfing?

I can say I have seen many different things while surfing. I’ve seen people wearing bizarrely bright wetsuits. I have watched people paddle out to the surf with a dog on their surfboard. I witnessed one surfer with enough zinc on his face that he looked like part of the blue man group. But in over fifteen years of surfing I have never seen anyone surfing in goggles, glasses, or sunglasses.

You’d definitely be making some kind of statement if you decided to try it out. People would call you a kook, but if you’ve got a good reason to wear goggles while surfing I say, “go for it!” Just know you’re one of the few (if any) surfers who wear goggles while surfing.

Tyler Smith

Tyler Smith started surfing in Carmel, California with no wetsuit and a board he traded for. Since then he's gotten a wetsuit and more surfboards than his wife approves of. He's been surfing for over 15 years, and is friends with beginners, kooks, and old salty surfers too.

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