The short answer is you probably shouldn't.
At least, that's the advice of Kelsey Williams, a practicing Optometrist in Oceanside, California.
"Surfing with contact lenses does appear to have a low risk of vision loss. [...] So ultimately, we are not advising anyone to wear contact lenses in the ocean due to the risk, however small, of someone losing their sight due to an infection or an abrasion."
And, indeed, some people have permanently lost their sight after swimming with contact lenses. One of these unlucky few was Jennie Hurst from Southampton, who lost all sight in her left eye.
However, while we cannot recommend you ever wear contact lenses in the water, there are some simple steps you can take to vastly reduce your chances of vision loss or catching an eye infection if you decide it's worth the risk. Please remember, however, that you do so at your own risk: it is never fully safe to swim with contact lenses.
1) Only wear daily disposable lenses while surfing
The biggest risk associated with surfing in contact lenses is the risk of eye infection. And, as any contact wearer knows, weekly and monthly lenses generate eye infections all the time. Put fresh lenses in first thing in the morning, then as soon as you're done for the day, take them out and rinse your eyes thoroughly with an unexpired bottle of saline. Yes, those expiration dates actually mean something, so throw out that bottle you've had in your bag for 5 years and grab a fresh one.
2) Don't rub your eyes while out on the water.
It's hard, we know. Any time you find yourself struggling with this, imagine a grain of sand caught between your contact and eye, and that'll help you pull through.
3) Close your eyes before you hit the water, and don't open them under.
Yeah, this puts a blinder on duck diving. However, this small step can vastly reduce the chance you'll catch an eye infection, or even just lose a lens. The one thing worse than diving while blind is surfing with one eye closed.
4) Don't ever wear lenses in polluted water.
Areas around towns and cities often have drainage running directly into the sea, and that drainage contains all sort of things you really don't want stuck between your contacts and your eyes. If an area looks sketchy, don't risk it. No wave is worth an eye.
If you follow those steps, watch carefully for any itchiness or redness, and immediately seek medical care if any appears, you can vastly reduce the danger of surfing in contact lenses. Or, you could just buy a pair of prescription sunglasses and avoid the risk altogether.
Either way, be safe out there, and as always, have fun.
You can get more tips like these when you learn to surf with one of our expert instructors. The group surfing lessons are a great way to have fun and rapidly become a part of the surfing community.