Prolonged exposure to salt water can irritate your eyes. Most likely permanent damage will not occur, but it can cause excessive eye strain, fatigue, and temporary blindness. Contact lens wearers fear losing a contact lens in the water, while those who glasses often go blind in order to participate in these sports. Surf goggles can be worn to protect the eyes from the water, protecting your contact lenses, and can also be fit with a prescription so you can see. They also filter 100% of the ultraviolet light, and can act as a sunglass as well, blocking light to help you see better all around. They allow you to concentrate on the sport instead of having to get the water out of your eyes. Here is what to look for:
Ultraviolet Protection: Since these activities take place outdoors, you really need to protect your eyes from ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet has been linked to many diseases (see UV and its Effects on the Eyes for more information). Also, when on water, light is reflected off the surface of the water, and UV is in higher concentration. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the goggle you use absorbs 100% of UV radiation.
Lens Material: Use a polycarbonate lens when at all possible. This is an impact resistant lens, and sometimes a hard fall on the water can cause a lens to shatter. As they say, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Proper Seal: As mentioned before, prolonged exposure to sand and salt can irritate your eyes temporarily. A goggle makes it easy to see without having to constantly wipe your eyes, and will save minor eye irritations. Those who wear contacts will not have to worry about losing their lenses in the water, and those who wear glasses can see comfortably with the use of a goggle. However, for a goggle to properly work, it must create a good seal so water cannot seep into the goggle. You want the goggle to fit on the bone around the eyes, not inside the eye socket itself. An improperly fit goggle will cause "raccoon eyes". This is because the goggle rests on the socket, instead of the bone, and cuts off circulation. Also, the goggle must seal completely. Put the goggle on and make sure you can see no visible gaps between the goggle and your face. If making a prescription in the lens, you may want to take the goggle home first, and make sure it seals properly before you go through the expense of a prescription lens.
Polarized Lenses: Glare manifests itself in what is called polarized light. High glare situations include water and snow. Therefore, the light being reflected off the water results in glare, and causes you to squint. Polarized lenses can absorb 98% of the glare, so that your eyes can relax. This is an expensive option in this type of eyewear, and is not necessary to protect the eyes. It merely allows your eyes to relax more. The only downside to polarized is for surfers. Polarized lenses make it harder to read the breath/depth of the wave.
Lens Color: Since these activities are outdoors, you can get a colored lens in your goggle to shade your eyes from the brightness of the sun. This allows your goggle to function more like a sunglass than a goggle.
Prescription Lenses: If you wear a prescription, make sure the goggle you choose is available with a prescription lens. Many goggle companies do not offer this option. Some goggles come in step diopter options. Step diopter goggles are pre-fabricated, usually in half-diopter steps (i.e. -2.00, -2.50, etc.). Therefore, it is not your exact prescription, but it is a cheaper option than a custom made goggle. This option is only good for those with little or no astigmatism. Those with a large amount of astigmatism (greater than -1.00) should go into a custom made goggle. With step diopter goggles, it is better to round down than up. For instance, if you have a -2.25 prescription, use a -2.00 goggle lens. Some goggles may not allow you to put different powers in the right and left eyes, so if your powers vary greatly between the two eyes, make sure the goggle you choose allows you to put separate prescription lenses in each eye.
Recommended Styles: Barz is a company in Australia that designed goggles specifically for surfing, and the have an interchangeable piece that coverts them from the water tight goggle for surfing to a snowboard goggle with air holes. It even comes with a leash to hook to your wetsuit. SeaSpecs makes a water sport sunglass style that floats. Zeal also make the Swap It that has a floatation strap on it and is available with prescription. View has goggles that you can interchange with pre-made prescription lenses. This is good if your prescription changes or if you sometimes wear contacts. You can put the lens with no prescription on over contacts, or wear the ones with the prescription in them. Barracuda makes foam and suction seal swim goggles, and some styles are available with a step diopter or custom made prescription lenses. Hilco makes a step diopter prescription goggle in plus and minus prescriptions. Rec-Specs makes custom made prescription goggles. For regular polarized sunglasses, check out Legend or Peppers which have floating models, and Native which are all polarized,or Vuarnet, Smith, and Bolle,have some polarized styles as well (look for styles marked with an *). Kaenon Polarized has a new SR-91 lens that has the optical clarity of glass with the impact resistance of polycarbonate.