Goggles are arguably the better eyewear choice when riding your PWC, but let’s face it...most of us wear sunglasses. It’s just convenient to go from street to surf and not worry about an extra piece of gear to contend with. And yes, sunglasses also tend to look a little cooler than goggles, especially on that casual ride.
But not all sunglasses are created equal. And not all sunglasses make that transition from street to surf. Here are a few items to consider when purchasing some all-purpose eye protection.
Most of us know ultraviolet (UV) radiation is damaging to our skin, but it’s brutal on the eyes as well. Long-term exposure significantly increases the chance of developing cataracts, in addition to numerous other eye diseases. UVB rays are absorbed by the cornea and cause temporary damage. UVA rays are absorbed by the eye’s lens, and can cause permanent damage. A small percentage of the latter can even penetrate the retina, which will not heal. Even short-term exposure can cause conditions like snow blindness, and we all know unprotected eyes are subject to an assault from wind, spray, dust, bugs and the like.
For obvious reason, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends sunglasses that block 100% of the sun's ultraviolet rays. This should be clearly labeled on any glasses you consider purchasing. PWC enthusiasts may also wish to consider polarized lenses, which reduce the surface glare that comes off the water. Glare fatigues the eyes, reduces visual acuity, and can even decrease depth perception.
A Clear View
Lens shape can also make a difference to your riding comfort. According to eyewear professionals, two essential elements to good vision are visual acuity (the ability to pick out details) and contrast sensitivity (the ability to judge differences in color and to recognize the distance between objects near and far). On cheap lenses, light waves can be refracted by the lens' aggressive curve, creating distortion. More advanced lens designs correct this distortion by progressively tapering the lens thickness, essentially thinning the lens out as it moves from the optical center toward the peripheral view. Objects are then clearly defined, eye fatigue is reduced, and distortion is virtually eliminated.
A Secure Fit
Of course, the catch to donning street shades for PWC riding is glaringly obvious the first time those pricey shades fall off your face — most sunglasses sink like a rock. For that reason, it’s essential to consider fit. If you’re taking your sunglasses out on the water, they had better fit snugly on your face. You may also wish to consider some type of lanyard or cord to secure them should they start to fly off. Fisherman have done this for years with simple line; products like Croakies are a more fashionable way to secure your glasses. We’ve even seen riders tie their glasses to their PFDs, so that if they do go flying off they’re tethered. The choice is up to you, but just remember that if you don’t have some type of strap, you’d better have a style that fits you pretty securely.
Looking for some suggestions? The choices are plenty, but two brands stand out for different reasons. The first of which is Bomber. Designed by former PWC racer Tommy “The Bomber” Bonacci, Bombers are made to float should the wind rip them from your face or an ill-timed spill send them into the drink. And the feature that makes that possible (foam lining along the lens corners and down the ear stems) also makes Bombers fit snugly and comfortably on the face, lessening the chance of them getting pried off by that wind in the first place.
Bombers feature polycarbonate lenses that offer both UVA and UVB protection, and are available in a wide variety of price ranges, all on the more affordable side of today’s eyewear. We like the polarized versions for their ability to reduce glare on the water. One caveat? Even though they float, a dark-colored frame isn’t always easy to spot on the water. Look for styles that offer the foam linings in a bright, contrasting color.
Though they don’t float, the other perennial favorite is industry powerhouse Oakley. Oakley has been at the forefront of both form and function for years. Sure, they’re stylish and cool, but they also feature some of the best optics around. Look through the lenses and you won’t see the distortion that’s common in many competitors’ shades, but instead an incredibly crisp, clear view. Oakley’s humorously named Plutonite lens material doesn’t just make a UV claim, it actually filters out 100% of all UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. That protection is also built into the material, rather than applied as a coating that can wear away over time. Hydrophobic lenses also naturally shed water.
For transitioning from the street to PWC, we like the polarized version of the Fuel Cell. It uses Oakley’s Three-Point Fit system to comfortably, but snugly keep the glasses on the wearer’s face when riding, and the wider ear stems block out sun from the sides. Yup, they’re expensive, starting at $150. But sometimes, you do get what you pay for.