Innovations in sunglasses deliver better vision and safety.

If the images floating around the Web of hooks imbedded in anglers’ eyeballs don’t make you wear sunglasses when you fish, the following points probably won’t, either. But in recent years, sunglasses manufacturers have made improvements to frames, optics, polarization and lenses that enhance performance and further protect your eyes from the damages of sun and accident.

Whether it’s photokeratitis—basically eyeball sunburn—or longer term eye damage like cataracts, cancers and other maladies, the effects of overexposure to ultraviolet rays are never pretty. “The UV protection from polarized eyewear is invaluable,” says Pat Sheldon of Flying Fisherman Eyewear, “because the retina is so susceptible. When the retina opens, the UV comes flooding in. One good way to shield your eyes is with mirror coatings on the lenses, which knock down 10 percent of UV rays right off the bat.”

One notorious knock against mirrored lenses has been their degradability. In the old days, mirroring would literally chip or flake off. But Sheldon and his team experimented with ophthalmic glues until, after rigorous testing, they found the materials and process to permanently affix their mirror coatings to lenses. “We zip-tied the glasses to the bow rails of charterboats in the Keys and ran them around for four months and the coatings were perfectly fine,” Sheldon says. About 40 percent of Flying Fisherman’s eyewear line has mirrored lenses.

Anglers prone to losing items often prefer the dispensability of lower-priced sunglasses with plastic lenses. Plastic lenses aren’t very scratch-resistant though, so they’ll soon need to be replaced anyway to be at all valuable spotting fish, fowl and scenery. Plastic lenses provide solid shatter resistance, better than glass, but not as strong as polycarbonate material, generally considered the mid-level lens material between plastic and ophthalmic glass. “Our polycarbonate material, the RhinoLens,” says Sheldon, “we shot with a 20 gauge shotgun at 50 paces and put four shots in them and they were fine. They’re virtually indestructible. You could hit it all day with a hammer and it won’t break.”

Glass lenses provide the best optics, however, and the greatest resistance to lens scratches, but glass requires coatings to block UV rays.

Sheldon also encourages anglers to consider the light-blocking features of the curve of the lenses around the eyes and also the width of the frames.

“An 8-base lens curve (that curve scale goes from 4 to 8) with a flare around the temples, so that it wraps around and gives wind protection and UV protection totally to the eyes, and a generous lens cut that gives peripheral coverage, is what anglers who spend a lot of time on the water should be looking for. Our sidewindows are polarized, too. With a good curve you won’t see light leaking up from the bottom.”

Costa Del Mar Eyewear’s 580 lenses, available on many of Costa’s newer models, uses patented technologies to enhance colors and reduce glare by cutting out the yellow light in the spectrum. Yellow light, near 580 nanometers (which gives the lens its name), is difficult for the eye to process, causing glare, eye strain and reducing optical clarity. Every angler who strains for hours to see birds on the horizon or tails on the flats knows the value of a good pair of lenses and the pain of a poor pair.

“Costa’s 580 lenses not only block yellow light—the harshest light,” says Ed Moody, vice president of product development for Costa sunglasses, “but it also blocks an additional amount of blue light. Exposure to blue light has been linked to contributing to age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.”
Costa’s 580 lenses are available in gray, copper, blue mirror, green mirror and silver mirror.

Costa also introduced a new anti-rocking hinge on the frames of several 2010 models. It’s an advanced spring hinge, which improves the frame’s fit on the face, reduces movement between the frame front and the temple and increases the durability of the glasses.

Eyewear maker Wiley X has another twist on the protective factor of eyewear—structural integrity. Aware of strong demand for protective eyewear, Wiley X teamed with a tactical clothing maker, 5.11 Tactical, to create two new models—the 5.11 Shear and the 5.11 Climb. Both styles exceed the American National Standard Institute’s (ANSI) safety and optical standards. The lenses are a proprietary make of polycarbonate, and they provide the wearers with 100 percent of UVA/UVB protection as well. Safe to say that they’ll considerably improve your chances against errant flying hooks and leads and gaff handles.

Headaches, brain fatigue, eye fatigue, mental fatigue period, and failed performance—these are the more commonplace but irritating maladies from wearing substandard eyewear. It’s proven that athletes who compete outside perform better with complete, multi-spectrum UV protection.

“Let’s say that you get 90 percent UV protection, your pupils are still going to dilate and your eye will suffer,” says Louis Wellen, sports marketer for Oakley Eyewear. “Depending on how bad a lens is, you might be better off wearing nothing. The misconception is that if you pay $300 for lenses than they should be good, high quality products, but it’s really not true.”

Oakley uses two patented manufacturing processes to improve lens optical qualities. “You don’t want light rays to be distorted through that lens, and if they are,” Wellen explains, “your brain and eyes have to work a lot harder, producing a lot more strain. At the end of the day, if your eye muscle has to constantly work to focus, your performance and health will suffer.”  Oakley’s patented taper-correction lens geometry shapes lenses so that light travels through them for optimal optics. The lenses are thicker closer to the nose and thinner out away from the nose—structural compensation for the way light hits, spreads across and penetrates the lens. The design lets light through to the eyes without distortion.

Oakley has also developed a patented process to polarize lenses by infusing polarization rather than affixing it to the lens. Those adhesives and polarizing particles can distort the optics, while the infusion process, Wellen says, produces crisp, clear optics.

Consider the fit, durability and level of UV protection of your current pair of sunglasses, and don’t hesitate to try other brands or models that may work even better for your vision, safety and performance.

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