Surfer’s Eye and staying fit for competition

The youngest surfer to qualify for the world championship tour, USA Surfing member Caroline Marks discusses the important role preventative eye care plays in her sport—and her future in general—as someone who is regularly exposed to the elements.

“My favorite thing in the world is surfing with my brothers … doing what I love most with the people I love most.” That’s how Caroline Marks—19-year-old pro surfer and Tokyo-bound athlete—describes the sport that’s elevated her to an international stage. To her, surfing is as much a family bonding experience as it is a career path, which is why she takes the eye-health risks of her sport so seriously.

As her father, Darren Marks, explains, “Caroline’s brother, Luke, is a commercial fisherman, and he experienced eye difficulties at a young age from being on the ocean and the reflection from the sun.”

In fact, Luke suffers from what eye doctors call a pterygium— also commonly known as “surfer’s eye”—which is a growth on the cornea caused by over exposure to UV light. Being so close with her brother and witnessing his eye-health struggles firsthand has reinforced the importance of prevention and regular in-person eye exams to Caroline. It’s also been the impetus for her to use her platform to speak out to other surfers and young people in general—who may not even be aware of the eye health risks associated with spending a lot of time in the sun.

“I’m in the sun all the time and I’m always on my phone, and that obviously isn’t great for your eyes. I don’t think there are many people my age thinking about it. But they should,” says Caroline.

While Caroline’s eye health is critical to her performance as a pro surfer, she believes prevention through eye doctors is important for everyone—particularly her peers who shrug off in-person eye exams because they don’t currently suffer from eye-related problems. “We’re all young and healthy, but now’s the time to prevent having any issues in the future. That’s the message I want to get out.”

Caroline’s eye doctor echoes her message of the importance of preventative care. “The most important, and simple, means of achieving optimal eye health is by making an appointment with an eye doctor for an in-person comprehensive eye exam once a year, ” he said.

Practicing in sunny San Clemente, California, with a number of pro and casual athletes as patients, the eye doctor continues, “As we transition to more outdoor activities, sunglasses provide the needed protection against UV light, which can lead to many sight threatening problems such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. There’s also a condition called pterygium that causes tissue to grow on the eyeball and can affect anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun without protection—even when it’s overcast. It’s also important to wear proper safety eye protection for certain sports activities.”
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