Saturday, February 27, 2016

Windsurf Glasses and Sunglasses

When I recently discovered that I cannot use contact lenses anymore when windsurfing due to intense eye pain when putting the lenses in, I was quite unhappy. But as it often happens, what starts as a problem ended up as a blessing. It made me go to the eye doctor, who said the cause of the problem was dry eyes - but more importantly, she diagnosed cataracts which developed over the last 3 years.

Surfer's Eye (Pterygium), caused by UV and wind exposure
UV exposure causes cataracts (among other nasty things, like "Surfer's Eye" shown in the image above). I've been good about putting sun screen on, but never did anything to protect my eyes. I did, however, spend at least 500 hours per year on the water or on the beach, typically on sunny days. That's a lot of UV exposure.

Good sunglasses will absorb 99-100% of the UV; prescription glasses with polycarbonate lenses will do the same. But windsurfing will lead to water drops on the glasses, which disturb the vision. I typically sail on salt water, which is worse - when the water droplets dry out, they leave a thin film of salt on the glasses. And, of course, you can loose glasses when you fall. So when I switched to daily contact lenses for windsurfing several years back, I thought things had gotten a lot better.

My eye doctor said that I may have another 15 or 20 years before I need cataract surgery. That's when they make a little incision in the lenses in your eyes, and suck out the milky-white protein stuff that has accumulated over the years (and now inhibits your vision, and makes driving at night painful). They replace it with a bit of clear plastic. This is the most common surgery in developed countries - in Germany, it's done six hundred fifty thousand times per year. The risk of complication is small, perhaps 1%, and 90% of all surgeries improve vision. But there is a risk, however small it may be, so I'd rather delay the surgery as much as possible. Considering how quickly the cataracts developed over the past 3 years, the doctor's estimate probably would be too optimistic if I'd just keep windsurfing without any eye protection!

So I had to get glasses for windsurfing. In the past, I typically paid about $500 for a pair of glasses. That's just too expensive for something that I might loose at any time in a crash! But I needed something quickly - sailing without contacts or glasses is just to damn uncomfortable, since I can see neither the wind nor the chop well enough. I ended up getting two pairs of glasses for $200. The frames are cheap, and mostly picked because they looked sturdy. The lenses where upgraded to polycarbonate, the lens material suggested for sports since they are less likely to break.

The first time I used the glasses, the water droplets on the lenses took some getting used to. But the next couple of sessions, everything was fine, and I barely even noticed that I was wearing glasses. Things changed dramatically during our last speed session, though: my vision continuously got worse during each run. When I got of (fortunately in knee- to hip-deep water), I saw that the water on the lenses had dried, and left a thin salt film. So for the rest of the session, I ended up washing my glasses after every few runs, followed by shaking the drops off.

So what caused the difference to the previous sessions? The wind direction! This time around, we had northwest wind. Unlike the typical SE wind, which comes from the ocean, NW comes from the land. It's always dryer, but with virtually no rain so far this year, it was extremely dry - dry enough to dry saltwater drops in a minute or two.

I had been thinking about getting prescription sunglasses with polarized lenses, anyway, since the glare of the sun on the water in the afternoon often is quite bad. The local store wanted about $150 for the the lenses alone, plus another $100 for "sports" frames that I did not really care for. Next stop was the web. has tons of frames for $30 or less, and offers polarized polycarbonate lenses for $72. I also really liked their system where you can upload your picture, and then "try on" glasses that are super-imposed onto the picture. Very easy to try on dozens of frames in a few minutes this way! Unfortunately, they did not have any sports frames that would work for windsurfing.

Just then, Nina mentioned that she had seen a web site that offered sunglasses specifically for water sports - They primarily address surfers, but that's simply because in the US, there are 100 surfers for every windsurfer. Their sunglasses have essential features like retaining straps, are reasonably priced, and are also offered as prescription sunglasses - perfect! They offer clear advice, for example which of their frames to pick depending on head size and conditions, and which coatings or lens types make sense - great! And since they are targeting water sports, they also offer a "Hydrophobic Anti-Droplet/ Anti-Fog Cleaning Liquid Bundle". Cool. I placed my order right away, and should get the glasses in less than 2 weeks.
Update June 30, 2016: I received the Silverfish sunglasses quickly and liked them a lot, especially the retaining system. However, one of the lenses developed a small crack on the inside after a couple of weeks. A few weeks later, the second lens also developed a similar crack. At first, they seemed to be stable, so I put off contacting the company for a replacement - I was using the glasses every week! Then, on June 29, after using the glasses for about 3 months for windsurfing, I accidentally touched the glasses with a harness like while beach starting in small Kalmus chop. No big thing, but my vision seemed funny all the sudden. So I took the glasses off, and one lens had popped out! I wear glasses all the time, and have had much worse things happen a lot without lenses popping out. I was in hip-deep water near shore, but the water was a bit murky, and I could not find the lens again. I have contacted Silverfish about a warranty replacement. I'll keep you posted on the outcome!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fast Nina

I know some of you are waiting for updates on Nina's Vulcan progress. No, she has not yet landed one. After the last post, she's had a day where nothing worked (her words, not mine), and another one where she felt the backwards slide a bunch of times, which made her happy.

Today was a speed day, though - we needed to improve our monthly ranking on the GPS Team Challenge, and practice a bit for the speedsurfer house in Hatteras in April. A "cold" front pulled through, bringing northwesterly winds. Temperatures dropped from near 80 F to 70 F during the afternoon - if that's a cold front, give me more! But more importantly, we got great wind - averages reached 30 mph, gusts 35 mph. 

We decided to look for flat water, and sail a further away from WorldWinds today. Here are Nina's GPS tracks for the day:
We had to sail upwind about 1/2 mile, but it was well worth it - the water was hip-deep everywhere, and the chop was small. After sailing around for a while, I decided to see how close to the island near the top (South Bird Island) we could sail, and walked along the shore. Quite close, it turned out: the water was knee-deep about 50 feet from the shore. The wind angle was not ideal for speed (a bit too square), but we did a few speed runs and had fun. I was happy to see 30 knots on my GPS for the first time here. Nina improved her top speed by almost 2 knots, and set a total of 4 personal bests! She beat my speed in several categories, including 5x10 seconds (often considered the most important speed category). Nicely done! Of course, she look fantastic on her speed runs, with perfect speed stance. Maybe I can convince her to use a GoPro next time...

Great to find a nice speed spot here. Thanks to Mike Murphy for creating the BIB Windsurfing Guide, which gave us the idea to follow his tracks, and for the  helpful feedback on the Corpus Christi Windsurfing group on Facebook!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Vulcans and Sunglasses

For all of you who don't read the entire article: wear sunglasses when windsurfing! I'll explain why further down in this post. But let's get to the more interesting stuff first: Nina learning the Vulcan.

Nina wants to learn the Vulcan. She thinks it's a cool move. She believes everyone who tells her it's the first new school freestyle move she should learn (if we forget for a minute that she has already made decent progress on the Flaka, and has landed some Shove-Its).

Last year here in Corpus Christi, she asked Randy from WorldWinds for a lesson. But Randy declined. He had seen her try on the water. He said the thing that was missing was commitment, which was the one thing he could not teach.

Nina kept working on pops and commitment over the year. She's had some spectacular crashes, and was sometimes able to turn the board by about 90 degrees in the air - definitively progress. So when Nina asked Randy again this year about a Vulcan lesson, he agreed. Here's a short video that summarizes the session:
 Before the lesson, her tries where inconsistent. She'd have a decent try sometimes, but a lot of tries were like the first try in the movie - pretty far away from a Vulcan. During the lesson, Randy gave her a few simple tips that improved her pop and her rotation. He also helped her adjusting the back foot strap, which had been a bit too loose, so that she lost it during some tries; and, more importantly, he showed her a few Vulcans and Vulcan parts (no, not the ears, silly - I mean the slide backwards and such!).

I took a break from my lawn mowing to film her, and I was quite amazed by the amount of progress I saw. She had several tries where she turned the board more than 90 degrees, and where the board started sliding sideways. Nice! She did not complete a Vulcan, but that was not to be expected - learning the Vulcan often takes 500-1000 tries. She's probably still below 200 tries. For that, getting the board to turn 270 degrees, and landing nose-first without being thrown backwards, is definitely good progress! Randy's tips during the private lesson were very useful, but she probably also benefited from hearing the Vulcan lesson at ABK camps many times.

My sailing that day was much less interesting (surprise .. not!). My big accomplishment of the day was to not sail into anyone, despite wearing neither contacts nor glasses. I could not put contacts in because that just hurt too much - unfortunately, it was not the borate in the contact lens solution, after all. I have only one pair of glasses - bifocals in a titanium frame that cost more than $500, not something I want to risk loosing during windsurfing. So I sailed half-blind. It was actually not too bad - I could see other windsurfers just fine. I could not see where they were looking, but I just stayed far away. What bothered me more was that I could not see the gusts or the chop. But at least, I had an excuse to not do any freestyle...

I went to a local eye doctor the next day to get a prescription for glasses. The doctor visit was quite impressive - my eyes have never been looked at by so many machines. It was a big office with about 8 doctors and probably twice as many helpers. It was also run very efficiently - despite dozens of people waiting, the total wait time was quite short. The doctor noticed that my eyes were very dry, and showed a lot of signs of allergies. She thought that these two things cause the pain when putting in contacts, which makes perfect sense: after the first time I encountered the PITE (Pain In The Eyes) problem, I had other times where I could put the contacts in without problems. I thought that was because of the contact lens solutions I had used for soaking the contacts, but that turned out to be wrong; more likely, my eyes just happened to be less dry when I had no problems. So the doctor told me to take two different kinds of eye drops: one for the allergies, and one to wet the contact lenses and eyes before putting the contacts in.

So far, so good, but then, the doctor reported something that bothered me more: she had noticed cataracts in my eyes ("Grauer Star" for my German readers). It's just beginning on not yet troublesome, but it is also something new. I had eye exam by different doctors about 2 and 4 years ago, and neither had seen cataracts. Yes, cataracts are age-related, and I am not getting younger, so perhaps I should not be too surprised. But cataracts are also linked to UV exposure; one study found a more than 3-fold increased risk in a group of fisherman with the highest UV exposure, compared to the group with the lowest exposure. The mechanism is quite easy to understand: the UV radiation damages proteins in the lenses of your eye, which can lead to the formation of protein aggregates that lead to cloudiness as they accumulate, until you eventually need cataract surgery (the most often performed surgery in the US and Germany).

Since moving to Cape Cod 3 years ago, my eyes definitely have been exposed to much more UV - the number of windsurf sessions per year has doubled, and sessions tend to be longer since I don't have to drive far anymore. I almost never use sunglasses; for the past 5+ years, I only used contacts while windsurfing. Unlike glasses, however, contact lenses do not absorb UV light.

After the doctor's visit, I went and got two pairs of glasses for windsurfing. Both have polycarbonate lenses, which absorb 99% of the UV light; one of the pair has larger lenses for more absorption, the other one is smaller and lighter. They were reasonably cheap (probably a lot cheaper than on Cape Cod!), so it won't hurt too much should I loose a pair while windsurfing. I would have loved to get a pair of sports glasses, but the ones I saw all were not suited for the prescription I need (about -5).

I hope to be able to sail with contacts again in the future, and I'm pretty optimistic that I will be able to, albeit perhaps with the help of eye drops. We had noticed many times how fast the salt water on the sails can dry, leaving a white film on the sails - sometimes within a couple of runs. It's also been quite windy, with many days in the mid-20s and gusts in the 30s. So perhaps it's no surprise my eyes were dry sometimes!

But once again, what started out as a problem (not being able to use contact lenses) ended up as being positive: my cataracts were diagnosed earlier than they would have been otherwise, which gives me the chance to limit further damage by reducing UV exposure with glasses or sunglasses. So if you see me on the water with funny-looking glasses, you know why I'm wearing them! And if you also spend a lot of time in the sun, remember that UV exposure can lead to cataracts (and more), so wear sunglasses!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pain In The Eyes

I usually wear glasses, but I have used contact lenses for windsurfing for almost 10 years. But last week when I put the lenses in, my eyes started to hurt right away. Really hurt. As if I had put a blob of sunscreen on my finger and then put that in my eye. The "Get that thing out very quickly!!" kind of pain in the eye. Or rather, eyes, since it happen on both sides.

That is happened on both sides was good news and bad news. It ruled out scratches on the retina and similar causes. My next suspicion was a allergic reaction to one of the preservatives in the solution that the lenses came in (I always used the contacts directly out of the original packaging, without rinsing them first). So I got some contact lens solution, and soaked a pair for a while before putting them in - problem solved. Or so I thought.

Next time we wanted to go sailing, the pain was back - impossible to keep the lenses in. While waiting for my eyes to get back to normal, I did some internet research. I had not quite believed that the cause was an allergic reaction, since the pain was instantaneous - allergies typically take a little while. I know: I aced my allergy test, with 36 positive reactions against the 40 allergens tested!

I did find a few references about the boric acid and sodium borate that is used in most contact lens solutions being a problem. The borate is used as a buffer, to keep the pH constant. But a second reason that it is used is that is slightly toxic - it is anti-microbial. You can use concentrated borate solutions to kill ants - they think it's sugar water, and die a bit later. A scientific study even showed that borate-based contact lens packaging solutions can kill eye cells (human corneal epithelial cells, if you want to know the specifics).

At the local drugstore, I found that almost all contact lens solutions contain borate. Even the "Sensitive eyes" and "Saline" solutions use borate as the buffer. But fortunately, one of the many solutions was phosphate-based and borate-free. In my initial tests, soaking the lenses in this solution fixed the problem. Let's hope this holds up!

A few hours after writing this post, I discovered that the pain is back, even with the new solution. Bummer! Time to visit the eye doctor, and get a pair of sports glasses. 

Below are a few pictures that Mike Murphy took during a recent session:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fancy Lawnmower

I love Texas. No, not the prevalent political views, or the guns, or the big cars. But I love the wind and winter weather. And they even made a beer for windsurfers like me:
Those of you who sail like I do know what I mean:
  • Go in a straight line
  • Turn around when you have to
  • Go back in a straight line, end up right next to where you started
  • Repeat. Repeat. ...
Sound like mowing the lawn, doesn't it? That's what I do. That what most windsurfers I know do. Watching it is about as interesting as watching someone mow the lawn. Are you really surprised that few people who see us windsurfing want to learn to do this?

I'm not sure about the "fancy", though. Maybe it refers to the pretty colors of my sails and boards? Or perhaps to the GPS I wear? I just got the new Locosys GW-52. It's very yellow - fancy yellow? It works just fine, and costs about the same as the old GW-31. It has a few new things I like (e.g. that is shows the distance in Speed Genie mode, and the touch screen instead of rubber buttons), and a few things I don't like (shorter battery life and recording time, no SD card, and you need Windows to get the data off). Overall, I'd call it a draw compared to the old GT-31, or perhaps a small improvement. That is, unless you're a Mac fan who never uses Windows. But even then, there is hope - future versions of GPSBabel will hopefully support the GW-52, and eliminate the need for Windows.

The GW-52 costs about 3x as much as the Canmore GP-102. Is it worth spending that much more? If you're halfway serious about speedsurfing, I'd say yes. For me, the big difference is that the screen is bigger and much easier to read. I'd also trust the Locosys waterproofing a bit more, based on the experience with the GT-31. But keep in mind that you MUST use both units in a waterproof bag - they are splash proof, not waterproof! I'd strongly suggest to double-bag the units in a small zip lock bag, in case the waterproof armband starts to leak (every single one I have ever used leaked sooner or later). If you want to get your own GW-52, contact Craig Bergh at the Midwest Speed Quest in the US, or your local speed gurus in Australia or Europe.

Back to lawn mowing. In the almost 3 weeks we've been in Corpus Christi, I have mowed the lawn 11 times, with a total distance sailed of 500 km. The most often used sail was a 5.0 - quite a bit smaller than the 6.5 I typically use at home! It's been so windy that we have yet to get our first light wind freestyle session in. I love light wind freestyle, and need it as a confidence boost. Light wind freestyle reminds me that I can do a bit of freestyle. If I go without for to long, any attempts to fancy up my lawn mowing by throwing in a few 360s or push tacks fail, and I go back to not-so-fancy lawn mowing, like yesterday. Yesterday was just not my day, but the lawn mowing was still fun. Nina did the tricky stuff, with a few planing switch duck jibes in the straps, good flaka tries, and a nice Shove It that I actually saw. No surprise she's tired today, after trying one thing after the other for more than 4 hours, without a break!

One peculiar thing about northerly wind around here is that it is so dry that the water on the sails dries in no time. Since the water in the Laguna Madre is extremely salty, that leaves a white film on the sails if you don't fall every few minutes. Maybe that's a sign that we all should work on freestyle tricks? 

I have been playing around with a few different mounts for the GoPro. We did get a Flymount for Xmas, but I don't like that it is pointed to one side of the sail - on the other tack, all you see is the sail. I then got a Masthero-like mount from Shapeways that allow the camera to be centered, and used it yesterday. But the lens also got covered by a thin salt layer in no time, so the image got blurry very quickly again after each fall. I'll have to try this again, but for now, I'll leave you with a screen shot from one of the "clearer" periods yesterday: