If you’re a surfer like me, chances are you spend hours in the ocean, summer or winter, exposing your eyes to hard sun glare and salty water during long sessions.
Quality surf sunglasses make a lot of sense for us surfers as we’re at high risk of early cataract and nastier eye problems because of our prolonged exposure to sunlight.
I’ve had many unsuccessful attempts at using surf sunglasses (I surf, kitesurf, and SUP surf). Most ended with me losing the shades in the water or tossing them because they were so uncomfortable they ruined my sessions.
Recently, though, I stumbled upon the LIP Typhoon surf sunglasses and decided to invest in a pair for surfing, kiting, and SUPing. I can honestly say these sunglasses changed my surfing life. Though somewhat pricey, they’re simply the best surf glasses I’ve worn in the water.
The Typhoon really stick to my head in the waves. The loss-proof retainer system makes them impossible to lose. The Zeiss lenses give me incredibly clear vision. The anti-splash coating is the most effective I’ve seen.
While the Typhoons are by far my top choice for surfing, two other LIP models may be worth your attention depending on your needs:
- The LIP Surge are a more affordable version of the Typhoon, with the same features but without the Zeiss lenses. Like the Typhoon, they’re meant for water use only. Jump to Surge
- The LIP Flo are floatable surf sunglasses but without a retainer system, best-suited for flat and light wind conditions. They are versatile and can also be used outside of the water – Jump to Flo
In this post, I go over the main things to look for in a pair of quality surf sunglasses, and I share my experience with the LIP Typhoons
Surf sunglasses common pitfalls
Let me first go over some of the things that made my early attempts at using surf sunglasses a failure.
As mentioned, I tried a lot of different surf shades, all of which ended up lost or forever forgotten. The main reasons were:
- They quickly got scratched from dry salt and sand, and I had to replace them as often as twice per season
- They filled up with water every time I fell or got hit by a wave
- The lenses eventually started to fog or get droplets all over them. You really have to keep the lenses spotless to avoid it.
- Low-quality film coating resulted in salt spots which ended up hindering my vision
- The frame quickly busted or rusted at the pins
- The straps weren’t strong enough to keep the glasses on me during crashes
The surf glasses I’ve owned were not the cheapest ($30 – $70), yet they were so uncomfortable I ended up leaving them at home (those I didn’t lose).
Also tried using cheap glasses I tweaked – attached leashes to them, sprayed all sorts of coating on the lenses etc. That didn’t work well for me and I went back to surfing and SUPing with no eye protection.
What to look for in surf sunglasses?
These are the main things to look for when choosing surf shades:
As surfers, the constant UV radiation combined with water glare can damage our eyes and provoke early cataracts and retinal problems such as macular degeneration. Surf sunglasses with category 3 or 4 UV protection helps reduce the impact.
Good surf glasses should withstand strong impacts, including getting hit by a board, without cracking or shattering. Polycarbonate frames absorb impact and are ten times stronger than plastic or glass shades.
Surf sunglasses should remain clear in the water, so you want hydrophobic lenses coated on both sides. The coating should also reduce residues from the salt.
The best surf sunglasses have decent airflow to reduce fog, and drain holes in the frame to let the water out (no trapped water under your eyes).
Stay in place
You want surf sunglasses that stick to your head pretty well. If you’re going to be duck diving and getting wiped out, you also want a strong leash and retainer system that keeps the glasses on you as they get ripped off your face.
An alternative to a strong leash system is surf glasses that float (rare). Floating sunglasses are only practical for very small surf and whitewater or for SUP cruising. A good option if you don’t like straps.
When surfing, you want sunglasses that give you a wide vision and peripheral range similar to ski goggles or semi-rimless lenses. You need to clearly read everything happening around you in and around the wave.
Non-glare treatment is important in surf sunglasses as it creates much better contrast and reduces ghost image impressions. Polarization provides improved eye protection but can make it harder to read the surface when the sun is directly overhead (best for low sun).
My top surf sunglasses: the LIP Typhoon
After years of surfing and kiting without eye protection, I decided to give it another shot and started researching and trying out various surf sunglasses following the above criteria.
I zeroed in on the LIP Typhoon surf shades and forked out the hefty $200+ for it – their price ranges from $218 to $228 depending on your choice of colors.
To this day I have NOT regretted my purchase! Here is why:
- The Typhoons give me a really broad vision and peripheral range when I’m on my surfboard or SUP. I can see everything happening around me without any hindrance – almost feels like I’m not wearing glasses. The Zeiss (German) lenses deserve their high-quality vision reputation.
- These surf sunglasses have a wrapping curve shape that results in a wide vision span. This combined with the highly-flexible and lightweight frame make the frame extremely comfortable. The wide nose section also fits my face well.
- Due to their curved shape, the Typhoons naturally stay on and barely move even in moderate wipeouts in the surf. The wide arm tips tucked behind my ears also help keep them in place when a wave hits me
- The clip-on leash and retainer silicon necklace are very reliable and keep my sunglasses attached to me even when a stronger wave rips the glasses off my face or when I crash in the water headfirst.
- The Zeiss lens coating makes them water-repellent, oil-repellent, and scratch-resistant. They don’t crust up from the salt during a surf session, and stay mostly clear even after drying – I can keep them on while on the beach.
- The vent system on these glasses is great, it keeps the fogging minimal and reduces heat. The holes in the frame also let the water drain out really well. Never had surf sunglasses that could handle fogging this well.
UDPATE: I do get some amount of fog on my glasses during a surf session. After digging a little I found this is a natural consequence of the heat from my body and hot breath combining with the humid conditions and cold water – apparently the best possible combination for getting fog! Still way better than I’ve experienced with other surf glasses though.
- I’ve had them for months now and they’re still good as new. The frame is made from an extremely durable TR-90, a Swiss polymer that can resist anything you can throw at it.
- Even though the Typhoon lenses are polarized, I haven’t experienced any significant depth issues in the surf. This may be because I rarely surf when the sun is directly overhead. When I do, the water surface is usually choppy which reduces the verticality of sunlight and the associated distortion effects of polarization.
On the minus side, you have to take great care of the LIP Typhoons. These surf glasses are meant for water use and shouldn’t be used for everyday life. You have to keep them very clean and rinse them after each surf session.
I avoid putting my fingers on the lenses as much as possible, and store them away in their case before I leave the beach to avoid any scratching.
To recap, the LIP Typhoon watershades are high-quality sunglasses for surfing but are not for everybody. They’re specially designed for water use and must be handled with care and stowed away after a session. In return, they give you unmatched clarity of vision and superb comfort for surfing, SUPing, and kitesurfing.
Check out the Typhoons here on LIP’s website.
Affordable surf sunglasses: the LIP Surge
The Lip Surge surf sunglasses are a more affordable version of the Typhoon, priced at $100 to $125 depending on color.
The Surge basically boast the same features as the Typhoon – same advanced frame material and curved shape, same leash and silicon necklace system, same fog vents and water/oil/scratch-resistant coatings.
The only difference is, the Surge doesn’t come with Zeiss lenses or Zeiss treatment! The Surge lenses are polarized as well, but not “Zeiss polarized”.
You can feel a notable difference in the clarity of vision between the two surf sunglasses. The Typhoon will also typically give you more mileage (if you treat them well) due to the well-known durability of the Zeiss lenses.
If you’re not ready to fork out $the 200+ for the Typhoon, however, the Surge are probably your next best choice for surf sunglasses. I would certainly have picked them up had I not invested in my beloved Typhoons.
Best surf sunglasses for very small days: the LIP Flo
I explained the Typhoons are high-performance watersports sunglasses with high comfort and stickiness for surfing or kiteboarding. However, they require high care and should generally not be used out of the water.
While the LIP Flo surf sunglasses don’t come equipped with a loss-proof retainer system like the Typhoon, the unique thing about them is that they float on water! They’re unsinkable.
Thus, the Flo are best-suited for smaller surf, light wind kitesurf, and SUP cruising or fitness SUP.
The Flo can also be a cool option for real surf as long as you don’t have to duck dive, e.g. there’s a quiet channel for you to paddle back out to the lineup.
The Flo are more versatile than the Typhoon and are designed to be worn in and out of the water. So if you need versatile sunglasses, they are worth considering.
Here’s a quick comparison table between the Flo and the Typhoon:
|Fail-safe leash & necklace||No||Yes|
|Wide arm tips||No||Yes|
|Zeiss lenses and coating||Optional||Yes|
|8-base curve radius (periph.)||Yes||Yes|
|Anti-fog/water trap vent system||No||Yes|
The Flo boasts the same lightweight, flexible, and durable frame material as the Typhoon. Their frame has a lower height, which may be an easier fit for some people.
The Flo frame doesn’t have the Typhoon/Surge’s vent system, so they are not as well-suited for duck diving into waves and handling heavy water spraying from waves and wind.
The Flo, however, are great for paddling around, riding fun mellow waves, or hanging out at the beach or at the mountain. The Zeiss lens option gives you the same high-quality vision you get with the Typhoons.
Polarization is optional – you may choose it if you spend a lot of time in the water when the sun is low with strong horizontal glare.
The floatable Flo watershades are priced from $78 to $198 – the higher pricing is for polarized Zeiss lenses versions with specific colors for the frame and lenses.
Best surf sunglasses for a landlocked surfer
I thought I’d add these sunglasses to my surf list, even though they’re not for paddling out at your local surf break. Rather, you put them on after your surf session – that is, after stashing away your precious Typhoons.
The LIP Jazz sunglasses are stylish, surf and skateboard-style sunglasses most surfers and skaters will dig. They’re also fitted with Zeiss lenses and the same robust lightweight frames as the other LIP models.
Unlike the LIP watershades, the Jazz lenses are not polarized. However, they’re hard-coated for serious scratch resistance, which makes them rugged enough for everyday use on dry land.
Check out the LIP Jazz urban shades here on LIP’s website.
If you’re a hardcore surfer and your summer sessions involve lots of sun and harmful UV rays, you’d better get yourself a pair of surf sunglasses before your eyes get damaged!
For moderately strong waves and whitewater with some duck diving, I find the LIP typhoons work best and give you great frame comfort, a broad and clear vision, and an effective loss-proof leash system.
If you’re on a budget and don’t mind forgoing the high-quality Zeiss lenses, the LIP Surge is a good compromise as you still get the premium frames, fog-reducing lenses, and bullet-proof attachment system.
If you typically ride in mellow to flat conditions, you may opt for versatile surf glasses that you can also wear on land. Go with the Flo – optionally with Zeiss lenses if you can afford them.