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A Sight for Sore Eyes

Eyewear not only protects players’ eyes from the ball or a partner’s paddle, it can protect you from long-term overexposure to the sun’s UV rays.

Across the sports landscape, eye health and eye safety during play has become an increasingly serious topic of discussion. Not surprisingly, this discussion has recently come to pickleball. The ability to both play safely and win is affected by how players see the ball, the court, their partners, and their opponents. As with many other ball sports that are played mostly outside, pickleballers face two distinct hazards to their vision when they play: impacts to the eye from the ball, their partners’ paddle, or their partners themselves; and overexposure to UV rays from the sun. Over time, exposure can result in cataracts (clouding of the eye lens) and macular degeneration (deterioration of the central portion of the retina), both of which can lead to loss of vision.

A lot of play happens at the kitchen line, which means that players are usually only 14 feet from their opponents’ next shot. Even a speed-up moving at just 20 mph in the kitchen leaves a player with 0.5 seconds to react. If players don’t have protective eyewear, all they have is their reactions to keep from getting hit. Most people seem to think that eye injuries happen, but not to them. The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that oftentimes getting hit in the eye is out of a player’s control, and when it happens, it can be incredibly serious—from detached retinas, to orbital blowout fractures, to even ruptured eyeballs.

The immediate solution to these problems is high-quality eyewear with polycarbonate lenses. While eye injuries from impacts can be serious, the good news is that 90 percent of these injuries can be prevented by wearing the proper eye protection (i.e. polycarbonate lenses). Not only that, but these lenses also block 100 percent of harmful UV rays. If the sunglasses are wrap-style, it’s even better. This extended curve helps prevent UV rays from reflecting off the inside of the lenses directly into a player’s eyes.

While protecting players’ eyes, the right eyewear can simultaneously enhance performance if its features are suited for the pickleball environment. Eye protection does not mean players should sacrifice on performance. With the proper tint, players can enhance the ball’s contrast against the court, improving their depth perception, timing, and reaction speed.

Recently USA Pickleball has partnered with RIA Eyewear, a startup based in New York that launched earlier this year. The new company’s first sports sunglasses line features polycarbonate ZEISS™ lenses that enhance the contrast of the pickleball against the court and blocks 100 percent of harmful UV rays. These proprietary lenses are housed in Italian-made frames that weigh less than 1 ounce and feature an interchangeable lens system to account for different light conditions.

RIA’s mission is to prove that eye protection doesn’t have to come at the expense of performance and, in fact, it can help players perform better. Its products have already gained traction with top professional players, partnering up with Michelle Esquivel and Rob Cassidy, founders of Ultimate Pickleball Academy, as well as Aspen Kern. “As an instructor, teaching long consecutive days under the sun can be brutal on the eyes. Quality sunglasses are essential,” said Cassidy. “From a player’s perspective, part of playing your best is playing without fear. Proper eye protection truly allows you to play with no fear.”

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