As a kiteboarder, if you’re like me, you’re constantly torn between the anxiety of your eyes getting damaged from exposure to the sun and the convenience and freedom of riding without wearing sunglasses.
Don’t you just hate it when your kiteboarding goggles start to fog up or get water-splashed, leaving you partly blind? Or when they get ripped off your face and you have to jump through hoops to try to find and grab them back!
Like most of us, I’ve owned my fair share of kiteboarding glasses, broke them, lost them. Then I just gave up on them. But I must admit I worry about the sun slaughtering my eyes slowly but surely. So I’m in the market once again for a good kitesurfing sunglasses.
Here’s what I’ve learned about glasses over the years:
The best kiteboarding glasses should be impact-safe, splash resistant, water draining to avoid fog, floatable and visible in the water. They should provide wide and clear vision when riding. They should stay on your head through most impacts and wave rolls and remain safely attached to your body in all cases.
In this post, I’ll start with a rundown of which specs to look for in a good pair of kiteboarding glasses based on my own experience. I’ll tell you about the kiteboarding sunglasses I’ve personally chosen, the premium Lip Typhoons, and why I chose them. I’ll also discuss another popular and cheaper alternative from Seaspecs (Amazon).
Features to look for in good kiteboarding glasses
It’s tempting to believe you can just grab your normal pair of sunglasses, strap it securely around your head and go out kiteboarding. Before you do that, though, let’s look at the things to look for in a decent pair of kiteboarding sunglasses.
1. UV protection
Eye protection is the main reason for wearing sunglasses when kiteboarding. It’s now common knowledge that continuous UV radiation damages the eye and provokes early cataracts and more serious retinal problems such as macular degeneration.
When you’re kiteboarding, exposure is even worse due to glare from the water, looking up at the kite (particularly for newer kiters), riding during the most UV-intense hours (in the summer), and riding towards the sun when it’s getting lower.
Some countries like Australia and European countries regulate and classify non-prescription sunglasses to ensure they offer a clear level of UV protection and sun glare reduction (using a scale from 1 to 4). Categories 3 and 4 (darker) are the most appropriate for kiteboarding.
In the U.S, the FDA does not impose a minimum level of UV protection so it’s important to look for sunglass labels that specifically mention blocking at least 98% of UVA and UVB rays. It’s probably better to stay away from sunglasses with no specified UV filtering as they’ll open up your pupil and allow your eyes to take in even more rays.
That being said, just because a pair of sunglasses is pricier doesn’t necessarily mean it will better block UV rays. Cheaper plastic materials can be just as capable of filtering UVs, just look at this graph:
Photo credit: wintergardenz.com.au
2. Impact protection
While they don’t regulate the level of UV protection, the FDA imposes a minimum standard for impact resistance on sunglasses to avoid cracking or shattering upon impact.
For kiteboarding nevertheless, you should make sure your sunglasses are capable of taking a decent beating – similar to skiing or motorcycling glasses. It’s quite easy to get hit in the face by your kiteboard after it whips back at you because of the wind while you’re doing a jump or a jibe.
Glasses for kiteboarding should also have some kind of impact absorption on the inside. Look for polycarbonate frames which are 10 times more resistant than plastic or glass sunglasses. They are also much more lightweight, flexible and float much better in the water.
3. Splash and fog protection
You want your kiteboarding sunglasses to stay clear in the water or when splashed. Your lenses should be hydrophobic (i.e. water-repellent) ideally with coatings on both sides of the lenses. This is probably where the best kiteboarding glasses stand out the most.
Not only should the lenses repel the water, but they should also ideally mitigate salt residues that form on them when dipped in saltwater. Some kitesurfers just take regular sunglasses and treat them with car polish or special wax spray – I personally haven’t tried that.
Your kiteboarding glasses should also have drain holes in the frame to allow water to evacuate – nothing worse than having water trapped under your eyes when riding.
Good airflow help reduce fog on the lenses. You can also use spray anti-fog spray on both sides of your lenses before going out. Or, you can just spit on your lenses and rinse them – that really works for me to reduce the fog.
4. Ultra-secure attachment
This is obviously a crucial point: you want your kiteboarding glasses to hold tight around your head in the face of various impacts or wave washouts..
The truth is, though, straps that really work are a rare thing. kiteboarding glasses will always end up coming off your face/head, perhaps even if you’re wearing a hat with straps or a buckled helmet.
Therefore, you should have some kind of backup leash (e.g. Croakie retainer) tethered to your wetsuit zip puller, harness handle, velcro or a necklace so you don’t lose the glasses even after a wipeout rips them from your face.
5. Buoyancy and visibility
If you don’t have a leash, you want your kiteboarding sunglasses to float on the water so that you can grab them back if you do lose them. Not all glasses float, however. You can also use a floating neck-strap such as this Bobberz strap (Amazon).
Even if the glasses do float, they can be very hard to find after getting ripped away from you. If you can, choose a flashy color for your glasses so they’re easier to spot on the water.
6. Vision range and clarity
For kiteboarding, you imperatively need glasses that will give you a wide vision range in all directions. Ski-type goggles can give you this type of range, but of course, they don’t always look very cool… Semi-rimless lenses can also provide high clarity and wide peripheral vision.
Ideally, the back of your lenses should have a non-glare treatment, which will result in better contrast and eliminate annoying ghost image impressions, improving comfort significantly.
This brings me to a common debate, should you have polarized lenses or not? I’ve tried a few polarized sunglasses for kiteboarding but they have always gotten in the way of my riding. Polarization often keeps me from accurately reading the surface of the water – I actually see through the water.
With certain positions of the sun, polarized glasses also seem to make me lose some depth perception – i.e. the water looks flat to me, making it harder to evaluate chop and waves. Nonetheless, the sunglasses I ended up choosing are polarized… Read on for more.
7. Common pitfalls of many kiteboarding shades
- Glasses quickly end up scratched from the dry salt and sand and have to be replaced, sometimes twice per season
- They fill up with water each time you fall or get hit by a wave
- Most lenses will eventually fog or get droplets all over them – you have to keep the lenses spotless to avoid this
- Low-quality film coating. Salt spots end up hindering your vision
- The frame quickly busts or rusts at the pins
- The straps aren’t strong enough to keep the glasses on you during a crash
With these caveats in mind, let me share the choice I’ve ended up making for my kiteboarding shades.
My choice of the best kiteboarding sunglasses: Lip Typhoon
In general, I try to stay away from the most expensive products. Particularly when it comes to kiteboarding shades, which I always end up losing, busting or scratching beyond relief.
Here’s my problem though: the shades I’ve owned (and haven’t lost), even though they weren’t the cheapest (typically in the $25-$50 range), were all so uncomfortable I ended up not wearing them. I couldn’t deal with the trapped water, the fog, the salt stains and scratches, the constant flying off my head.
So I’ve been back to square one leaving my eyes without protection and under the threat of cataract, macular degeneration, and other ugly things (think pterygium).
I see a lot of kitesurfers getting cheap safety glasses, tweaking them to attach some straps and leash onto them, and spraying all kinds of stuff onto the lenses. I don’t really trust that approach.
I want real sun protection, I want scratch and residue resistance and water repellency, I want loss-proof attachment. Don’t want to go the “disposable” route, I want something that can last for at least a couple of years – even though I mostly kitesurf in waves.
So after lots of research, I decided to bite the bullet and fork out the $200+ price for a pair of Lip Typhoon. So far I haven’t regretted it, and here are the main reasons:
- These glasses give me an amazingly clear vision and a wide peripheral range when kiteboarding on the water. For the first time, I can see and judge waves, chop, and rocks as clearly as I would without glasses! Probably due to the high-quality Zeiss lenses. No reflection or depth issues even though they’re polarized.
- They’re super comfortable and really stick to my head and face thanks to their wrapping shape and the wide arm tips that tuck behind my ears. They don’t move from my head even when slapped hard onto the water after a kiteboarding trick or when taking a beating in the waves.
- The adjustable safety leash clips onto the tips of the arms and seems bullet-proof. But what stands out the most for me is the silicon band you wear around the neck, which the safety leash attaches to. This setup really makes the shades hard to lose upon impact.
- Water really beads off the hydrophobic lenses when sprayed. The lenses don’t crust up from the salt while riding, and very little after getting out of the water and drying off – I can just keep the sunglasses on without any discomfort – in fact, they are so comfortable that I tend to forget about them on the beach.
- Unlike all my other glasses, the Typhoons don’t fog up much. When riding I never have to pause to take them off and spit onto the lenses. The water also drains very well through the small holes right above and below the lenses.
- The Typhoons fit my face well as my nose is a bit wider at the top, so I need sunglasses with a wide enough nose section to wear them comfortably. I guess someone with a thinner nose would need to tighten the cord a bit to keep the shades from sliding down.
- I’ve worn the Typhoons in waves and didn’t feel the need to take them off before dropping in as has been the case with other glasses. They barely move when I get washed out in a wave, and again they don’t get foggy or crusty or fill up with water.
- The Lip frames are very flexible and lightweight which contributes to that great feeling of comfort. They’re also supposed to be extremely durable – time will tell.
These are no doubt the best kiteboarding sunglasses I’ve had so far. The only “beef” I may have about them is that I have to always take great care of them. These sunglasses are specifically designed for water use and shouldn’t be used for anything else!
You do have to keep them spotless, clean them with clear water after each session, and be very cautious not to scratch them. In fact, you should avoid touching the lenses altogether, including when riding. Once you’re done with your session, you should safely store them away in their EVA case.
This is in contrast with the Ocean Tierra Del Fuego (Amazon page) I’ve used for a while. The cool thing about these is that they transform into regular sunglasses for everyday use. After a session, I just clip out the elastic strap and clip in the arms, I pull out the interior watertight “mask” and voila, the Oceans becomes a normal pair of sunglasses.
At under $80, the Oceans are much cheaper than the Typhoons! However, my experience with the Oceans hasn’t been perfect:
- They don’t nearly have the vision quality and breadth I get from the Lip’s Zeiss lenses
- They wear more like goggles than sunglasses since you have to take out the arms and put on the clip-on strap before going out in the water – I don’t like having an elastic strap in my hair that much, plus the elastic pulls on the mask onto my face too much if I adjust it so that it’ll stay on.
- The clip-on interior mask keeps the water out but the rubber material it’s made of makes my forehead and cheeks sweaty. With the mask on, the lenses also get a bit of fog which I need to rinse out regularly.
- The frame is not that resistant, in fact, it ended up snapping underneath the right lens, perhaps due to the constant clipping on and off and the everyday use.
Following my experience, I decided to invest in a pair of high-quality glasses exclusively for kiteboarding even though they are much more expensive and require more care. Being able to ride comfortably while knowing my eyes are safe is very valuable to me.
UPDATE: LIP now offers 30-day free return if you don’t like the glasses or they don’t fit well. One more reason to give them a try – the return option wasn’t there when I bought my pair.
Lip’s more affordable option: the Surge
The Lip Typhoons have a more affordable sibling, the Lip Surge. At less than half the price of the Typhoons, the Surge shades are marketed as having the exact same features as its pricier sister, except the Surge doesn’t come with Zeiss Swiss lenses.
I haven’t personally tested the Surge so I’m not sure exactly how they compare in terms of vision and comfort. They also come with impact/water/oil resistant lenses and the same safety cord and necklace as the Typhoons. Had I not be willing to pay the hefty price of the Typhoons I may have considered them.
Or, I may have opted for something even less expensive yet still well-regarded in the Kiteboarding community: a pair of SeaSpecs kiteboarding glasses.
Decent inexpensive kiteboarding sunglasses: SeaSpecs
If you’re not ready to fork out $200+ for the Lip Typhoons – or even $100 for the Lip Surge – the SeaSpecs (Amazon) are a very decent, affordable alternative.
A LOT of kitesurfers have very positive feedback about the SeaSpecs – since they’re very reasonably priced, a lot of riders own 3 or 4 pairs. I know quite a few kiteboarders who have used them for several years.
The SeaSpecs generally stay on your head and rarely fall off, including when crashing or getting rolled in waves. Even if you do lose them, the SeaSpecs actually float in saltwater. Choose a pair with a yellow side and brown lenses so you can find it more easily in case they fly off.
SeaSpecs glasses provide decent impact protection, preventing your eyes from getting hit by a flying object or when falling on the water. Furthermore, in case you lose a lens from crashing, replacement lenses are available separately.
On the negative side, the SeaSpecs lenses have average quality and don’t provide very good vision when riding – something you might expect at that price point. Also, salt crust builds up quickly after getting sprayed in the water. Some kiteboarders have tried adding hydro coating onto the lenses but it doesn’t help much.
Overall, the SeaSpecs kiteboarding sunglasses offer good value at a very reasonable price, especially compared to the Typhoons. Just don’t expect the kind of clear and broad vision, and the kind of water and salt repellency for kiteboarding that you get from the Lip shades.
In this article, I’ve tried to recap the main features to look for kiteboarding sunglasses and share the results from my own research for getting a new pair – after trying a bunch of different products.
As far as I’m concerned, the medal goes to the Lip Typhoon, a pricey but high-performance kiteboarding sunglass that gives me the eye protection and comfort, impact protection, broad and clear vision, and secure attachment I look for when riding in waves.
For riders not willing to fork out that kind of money, though, the SeaSpecs are an inexpensive and well-tested alternative that can effectively protect your eyes (albeit with lower lens quality) and last for a while or be replaced cost-effectively.