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How to Surf Better Part 8 of 9: Dealing With Sun Blindness

The Phenomenon of Sun Blindness

If you spend enough time in the ocean—especially in the tropics, where the sun is strong and reflects off the surface of the water—you may run into an uncomfortable and inconvenient malady called sun blindness. This is especially likely when the waves are firing, because we surfers aren’t exactly known for having a lot of self-control. Sun blindness is essentially a case of sun burning your eyeballs. This happens due to sun exposure—obviously—but not just from direct sunlight. A lot of the impact on your eyes happens due to sunlight reflecting off the surface of the ocean, which means that simply wearing a surf hat isn’t always enough to protect your eyes.

Prevention is Key

Obviously the best way to deal with sun blindness is to avoid getting it in the first place—and as someone who has suffered through it numerous times, let me assure you that avoiding sun blindness is essential to your happiness.

The best way to do so is to wear a pair of surfing sunglasses while you are in the water, such as the Seaspecs and Oakley Waterjackets. These sunglasses have straps that go around the back of your head and a nose piece that helps keep them on your face. While they aren’t guaranteed to stay in place during violent wipeouts, they work pretty well. However, they do take a bit of getting used to, especially due to the water droplets that collect on the lenses. 

One alternative is to wear them while you are paddling and waiting for waves, and then pull them down to your neck before you spin to catch a wave. That way, you still have an unfettered view of the wave while you are paddling in and riding it.

How To Deal with Sun Blindness

If you are reading this article too late and have already burned your eyes, then you are probably in for a rough day or two. Sunlight and other bright lights will be glaringly uncomfortable to look at, but closing your eyes is also torturous because it feels like you have sand behind your eyelids. The best course of action is to sit in a dark room—possibly with a towel over your head to keep any extra light out—and simply wait it out. Eye drops also help—use them as often as you feel they will give you relieve, as your eyes are probably also dried out and need lubrication. One pro tip is to keep your eye drops in the refrigerator, as the cool eye drops provide extra relief—at least for a few seconds.

Coping with Discomfort and Recovery

Unfortunately, sleeping will likely be pretty hard the first night, since it is so uncomfortable to have your eyes closed. I don’t often advocate for sleeping aids, but if you have something that will help you stay asleep—or at least help you fall asleep, such as melatonin—this is a good time to consider using it. 

The good news is that you typically need only one or two nights’ rest before your eyes heal up. Once they do, they will likely be a bit sensitive to sunlight for a while, so do what you can to avoid burning them again. And make it a habit to be a bit nicer to them in the future! After all, you can’t surf when your eyes are fried—and there’s nothing worse than a mandatory rest day while the waves are still pumping!



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