The Coastal Star

Made for Shade: Sunglasses are vital when it comes to eye protection

Scott Koedel of Ocean Ridge models Electric Swingarm glasses with matte black frames and bronze green mirror lenses. $200.99.

By Brian Biggane 

Did you know that one sunglass lens is better for fishing in shallow water and another for deeper? Or that golfers should consider taking off their polarized glasses before putting?

As both Father’s Day and the start of the long Florida summer approach, many consumers might as well have their eyes closed when they head out looking for the right pair of sunglasses.

“It’s a blind purchase if you don’t know,” said Alan Ross, owner of Shades of Time in Lantana. “And so many people don’t know.”

We polled four shops — Shades of Time, Eye Catchers Optique in Boca Raton, Nomad Surf Shop in the County Pocket and Seaview Optical in Delray Beach — and learned that while most people see sunglasses as a fashion accessory, they also serve a more important role in South Florida: safety.

“One minute unprotected in the sun is like nine hours unprotected on your computer,” Seaview manager Chris Childress said. “You can get cataracts at a young age, glaucoma, macular degeneration. There’s a push toward eye health, and all you have to do is put sunglasses over your eyes and you’re going to take care of them.”

Otis Eyewear’s Casa Bay LIT polarized, O/S sunglasses in matte black gray. $250.

As for what brand to buy, two consistently stood above the rest in a very crowded field: Maui Jim and Costa del Mar. While prices fluctuate, their best models average in the $230-$260 range.

“Maui Jim probably has the best lens in the business, and Costa is right behind them,” said Nomad owner Ryan Heavyside. “Right now, they’re the best.”

In the market since 1947, polarized sunglasses have become the accepted norm, comprising 70 percent or more of sales and, in the case of Shades of Time, nearly 100 percent. Polarized glasses reduce glare and flatten contours, making driving safer and making it easier to see down into water.

“You can walk outside and see the difference,” Eye Catchers owner Lauri Saunders said of wearing those lenses. “People live around the water, so they want to see into the water.”

The feature of flattening contours, however, isn’t great for golfers or skiers, who need to read greens or see bumps. One option is removing the polarized glasses before putting, but Heavyside has another.

“Oakley has been good in that area because they’ve geared their Prizm lens toward golf,” he said.

Glare coming off the water makes sunglasses all but mandatory for boaters or anglers. Those who make their living out there — fishermen, boat captains and mates — typically switch between brown lenses for shallow water and gray or blue mirror for deeper.

Costa del Mar’s Rincon glasses in matte Atlantic blue with silver mirror lenses. $199. All at Nomad Surf Shop. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

“Most fishing guys wear blue mirror glasses,” Ross said. “The mirror as opposed to non-mirror, they buy for the look. But it isn’t just cosmetic. It reflects more light. So, with a mirror on it, it might come across as a shade darker.”

There’s science behind the idea that driving with polarized sunglasses is safer than the alternative. Studies have shown such a driver has an average stopping distance of 23 to 27 feet sooner than one wearing standard lenses. That’s about the length of an intersection.

“It makes a difference even on a day when it’s not sunny,” Childress said. “There’s glare coming off the road, coming off the grass, the bushes, everything.”

There was a time when beachgoers who enjoy reading would bring along a pair of reading glasses or prescription clip-ons to wear with sunglasses. The relatively recent arrival of bifocal sunglasses has made that unnecessary. Nomad carries the Costa C-Mates line that is clear at the top with a variety of lenses (1.5, 2.0, 2.5) on the bottom.

As with any glasses, the big concern with sunglasses is a scratched lens. Heavyside said a popular option at Nomad is the Australian brand Otis, which uses a mineral glass “that is really hard to scratch. They have a test where they drag a key across it to show how it’s scratch-resistant,” he said. “The price difference is probably $100, but you are getting better quality.”

So, with sunglasses having become almost a necessity, one question remains: Should you have one pair or two?

“You have a spare tire for your car in case you get a flat,” Eye Catchers optician Jaime Mirsky said. “Same thing goes for sunglasses: You need a backup. You can have an inexpensive pair, especially if you’re traveling.”

Ross said South Floridians should recognize that having high-quality sunglasses is a necessity.

“You’ve only got one set of eyes,” he said. “And when you say you don’t want to spend X for sunglasses, how many pairs of shoes do you have?

“If you buy the wrong pair, or spend $20 at Walgreens, they might not have the protection you need. You end up doing more damage trying to save a buck than it’s worth.” 

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