Can You Surf with Prescription Glasses?

surfing with prescription glasses

You need to be able to see while surfing to avoid collisions and stay safe in the water. That said, your vision does not need to be perfect; just good enough to see what’s going on around you. So if you don’t have perfect eyesight, you have a few options to consider.

It is not a good idea to surf with your regular prescription glasses. Not only will you assuredly lose them, but an even bigger concern is that they will break and shards of broken glass will cut your eyes.

It’s also generally not a good idea to wear contact lenses while surfing, although many people still do. Contacts can be worn under swimming goggles for a cheap and questionably effective solution. The reason it’s not recommended is that water can still make it inside, wash out one or both lenses, or even introduce harmful bacteria to your lenses which can lead to eye infection.

Thankfully, there is a smarter and more effective solution: prescription surfing goggles. These goggles are specially designed for surfing. They are durable, will stay on your face, and can even protect your eyes from the sun’s bright reflections off the surface of the water. Unfortunately, they are significantly more expensive than wearing contact lenses under regular swimming goggles.

Lastly, you may not have 20/20 vision, but what if your vision is still good enough without any vision correction lenses? As long as you can still see what’s generally going on around you, then you might not even need any glasses or contacts at all. It’s up to you to decide which of these solutions is the best option for you.

In this article, we will discuss in further detail why you shouldn’t surf with regular prescription glasses, the pros and cons of surfing with contact lenses under swimming goggles, the benefits that prescription surfing goggles provide, and whether you need vision correction lenses at all. Our goal is to provide you with enough information to make an informed decision.

Can I wear my regular prescription glasses while surfing?

You can do anything you want to, but the question is is it a good idea? We’re going to go out on a limb and say that this is a terrible idea.

Traditional prescription glasses are not designed to be worn while playing any sport. It’s the same reason why you wouldn’t wear glasses while playing beach volleyball unless you want it to leave a glasses-shaped imprint on your face after a spike finds its way to your face.

Actually, chances are the prescription lenses would not be able to withstand much of an impact, and in the event of a wipeout while surfing, there are a couple of things that can happen.

First, you’d be lucky if all you did was lose your glasses. The second and less desirable outcome is that the lenses can literally shatter, sending a face full of glass right to your face. If one of those shards hits your eye, it’s game over.

Over a long enough surfing career, you’re going to badly wipe out or have a board smack you right in the face at some point, so it’s a guarantee that traditional glasses will break (and result in further injury) or be lost to the ocean.

As we mentioned, there is a better but more expensive option. But before we get to that, let’s look at another utilitarian solution: wearing contacts underneath swimming goggles.

Can I wear contacts while surfing?

do surfers wear goggles
Ben Aston, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike wearing traditional glasses for surfing, which is so obviously such a bad choice that nobody does it, it’s not quite so clear when it comes to wearing contacts while surfing.

If you just wear contacts without goggles, you’re probably going to get water in your eyes which can wash out one or both of the contacts. You can also get sand in your contacts or your lenses can fold over and hurt your eyes.

Even worse, the bacteria and microbes in the water will linger in your contacts if they manage to reach it. This can result in an eye infection that can lead to permanent vision loss. You should dispose of contacts that have come into contact with water as soon as possible.

To keep water from entering, you could wear goggles. This actually does solve most problems: your contacts help you see clearly, the goggles protect your eyes from impacts, water, and even from the sun’s bright reflections. On top of that, this combo is cheap and you likely already have contacts and goggles at home, so you don’t even need to spend additional money.

That said, it’s still not a recommended option. Water can still get inside the goggles because no seal is perfect. Goggles can also easily fog up and obstruct your vision, on top of restricting your peripheral vision, so in terms of whether they actually improve your vision, it’s a wash.

Goggles are also not foolproof. It’s not unheard of for a strong wave to literally knock the goggles off someone’s face (if the strap is not tight enough or if temporarily worn on the forehead), or for water to eventually seep in and still get into one’s eyes.

Plus, when you remove your goggles to clear the fog or to rub your eyes, that is when water can enter your eyes regardless and contaminate the contact lenses.

Also, saving the most important point for last, many people will think you look like a kook surfing with goggles on. I personally think if it works for you, then ignore what everyone else is saying.

Can I wear sunglasses while surfing?

To say that surfing is a sunny sport would be an understatement. Not only will the sun itself be in your eye vision, but its rays can reflect off the surface of the water and literally blind you.

If you happen to be surfing at sunrise on the west coast, the sun will be in your eyes while riding waves in, and it will also be there when you’re looking out to sea as you wait for waves during sunset. The reverse is true on the east coast. Nobody surfs at night, so the sun is something you always need to deal with.

To protect your eyes from the sunlight, you can wear sunglasses. Like prescription surfing goggles, there are also sunglasses designed specifically for surfing. They are a lot more durable and will stay on your face. Don’t wear regular sunglasses for surfing unless you plan on losing those too.

For the vision-impaired, there are also prescription sunglasses that you can wear also. For those with normal eyesight, you can get surfing sunglasses (non-prescription) which is honestly not a bad idea if the bright sunlight keeps getting in your eyes.

Why you should wear prescription surfing goggles

You don’t see many surfers wearing goggles because they think it makes them look like a kook. Ignoring its aesthetics and what other surfers might think about you for a moment, goggles do provide some advantages and they should at least be considered.

We’ve talked about some of the downsides of wearing goggles in the “Can I wear contacts while surfing” section. However, many of these downsides are in regards to wearing swimming goggles. Did you know that prescription surfing goggles are designed specifically to correct your vision and offer protection to your eyes while surfing?

Seeing as how we’ve already mentioned it a million times by now, yes, prescription surfing goggles are a thing if you need them. Now what makes them so good over wearing traditional prescription glasses or even just wearing contacts under swimming goggles?

For one, prescription surfing goggles are designed to be extremely durable. They have shock-absorbing frames and the lenses are made to be shatterproof. These things can take a beating; they have to, otherwise they’d be useless.

Being goggles instead of glasses, they are more likely to stay on your face (and keep water out) thanks to their adjustable straps. It’s important that you get the right fit for the most comfort and to reduce the chances of water leakage.

Since everyone has different eyeglass prescriptions, naturally prescription surfing goggles have bespoke lenses. You will have to find out your exact prescription from your optometrist so that the prescription lens manufacturer knows what you need.

The buying process is something like this: you find out your prescription, then you select the frame and lenses that you want before placing an order. There are many options for the lenses such as polarized, tinted, or clear. You can also choose between bi-focal, anti-reflective, progressive, and more. What’s offered depends on the company, but these are pretty common options.

Your local surf shop may already have connections with prescription surfing glasses manufacturers, or you may have to order a pair online yourself. Give your local surf shop a visit first to see what kind of help they can offer you, or you can do it yourself online (make sure you enter the correct information).

With prescription surfing goggles, you don’t have to deal with the muss and fuss of the other solutions like putting on contacts and making sure no water or sand gets in them, etc. I hope you weren’t seriously considering wearing traditional glasses while surfing either.

The two biggest downsides to wearing prescription surfing goggles are the price and the funny looks people might give you. You may not be able to justify the price, nor do you want to be called a kook, so these might be deal breakers for you.

It’s up to you to decide if getting funny looks from other surfers is a big enough issue. Your ability to see clearly on the surface (and even underwater, if you want) can do wonders for your enjoyment of the sport and to keep you safe.

Surfing without any vision correction

Finally, you may not have perfect eyesight but you might be able to get by without any vision correction either.

This is a choice that only you will know to make and is a personal decision at that. There is no rule forcing you to wear prescription goggles while surfing.

However, be honest with yourself. Do you feel like you are safe while surfing? In a similar vein, are you a threat to other surfers because of your poor vision?

If you had a few close calls or actually were in accidents that could have been easily avoided if you had better vision, you should definitely get yourself a pair of prescription goggles.

Even if you and everybody else around you is safe, maybe you want a pair of prescription goggles anyway because you want to see everything in more detail.

Wearing glasses for the first time is like switching from watching standard definition videos to incredibly detailed, ultra-HD 4K resolution videos, except it’s real life. And surfing your usual break with this new clarity can greatly improve your enjoyment even if you didn’t need it.

Perhaps you want to surf with vision corrective lenses but you don’t have the money. You’ve also decided that you don’t want to risk wearing contacts because of the chances of eye infection, so prescription goggles are what you want, but the price is a tad high for you.

Again, this is up to you whether you feel like you surf enough and love the sport enough to justify a costly purchase. This is a personal decision that is up to you to make and whether it’s worth it for you.


If you are a glasses wearer, it is still possible for you to go surfing, just not with your regular prescription glasses. You may even go surfing without vision correction at all even with less than perfect vision if your eyesight is still good enough.

However, those of you who want perfect vision while surfing only have two real options: wearing contact lenses with swimming goggles, or wearing prescription surfing goggles. You can similarly get prescription surfing sunglasses.

We discussed the pros and cons of each of the methods. Whichever solution you choose, you must carefully consider the pros and cons of each, and whether you can keep yourself and the surfers around you safe.

Your eyesight doesn’t need to be 20/20 in order to go surfing, but it does need to be good enough so that you can see other surfers and avoid any dangers. Failing that, you should try one of the solutions above to be able to see clearly while surfing.

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