On Traveling and Surfing Semi-Blind

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

This is how I've been seeing the world for most of my adult life.

I was in high school when I discovered I was nearsighted and had to wear thick glasses. In college I progressed to contact lenses. By the time I started working, I had been used to wearing contacts and making sure I get fresh packs on a regular basis.

When I started to travel, I realized how difficult it was to go exploring semi blind. Contact lenses are crazy expensive in the US and in Europe and you could never get them without a doctor's prescription. Most Asian countries sell them cheap and in steady supply but it can be difficult to get the right brand and prescription. Not to mention always needing  a lens case and contact lens solution wherever you go.

Contact Lens 2
Photo Credit: maikel_nai
Chichi and I both have bad eyesight and shared a contact lens bottle during our Southeast Asian jaunt last year. We often complained and thought about getting LASIK surgery before going on our long term backpacking trip. But it was tough to give up half of our 6 month travel budget.

It became hellish when I got into surfing and active sports. I was forced to surf with my contact lenses on and  I've lost one or both lenses on several occasions. Imagine trying to ride a big wave, getting sprayed in the face, losing your lenses and paddling your way back to shore semi blind. It was downright dangerous!

Then it got worse.

2  months ago, I left my contact lenses in my eyes overnight- something every eye doctor will warn you against doing. I couldn't open my eyes the next day. They were both swollen shut. The doctor diagnosed  that I had eye ulcers which means my eyes were heavily scarred by infection.

His verdict: I could never wear contact lenses again or risk going blind!

I couldn't believe it! "But I surf! How will I do that now?", I asked. "Well, you're probably going to be the first blind surfer", he replied. Bad joke. I didn't want to follow his advice so I asked for a second opinion. And a third. And they all told me the same thing.

Surfing Dahican Beach Mati, Davao Oriental

I had to go on with life wearing those dorky glasses again. And I had to travel and surf semi-blind. I would not accept defeat. So I trained myself to surf without seeing anything clearly. I first tried it in Dahican Beach, Mati and with baby waves. Everything went well. I realized I didn't lose my ability to surf nor the desire.

But because I am bull-headed and surf addicted, I challenged myself.

I had been invited to cover the Majestic Puraran Surfing Cup in Catanduanes. And I couldn't leave without surfing those gorgeous Majestic waves myself. I had to risk surfing overhead waves semi-blind in shallow water or stay on the shore and watch!

But I didn't go all that way just to sunbathe.

Majestics Puraran Surfer Catanduanes

I grabbed my 6'6 fish surfboard Fuego and paddled out with a couple of new friends. Ryan Soria of Puraran Surf Resort and Brett Hembrough of Surf Quest Travel. They quickly charged and rode those heavy waves but I had to be more selective. I knew that making a mistake could mean going home with "souvenirs" carved into my skin. A handful of waves and even more wipe outs later, I had gotten comfortable in the water.

All of a sudden, huge waves came at us so fast that we didn't have time to swim out. We paddled for our lives, but all of us got caught inside. The current pulled me down and I surfaced with a cut on my lip and scratches on my leg. I still wanted to surf but I knew I had to wait another day when the Majestics were kinder and my vision, better.

Surfing Cantilan, Surigao del Sur
Photo Credit Tanya Hotchkiss

Months later, I got to surf in La Union and Surigao del Sur. I became used to my bad eyesight. I even dared to charge a few overheaders. I still couldn't see the waves clearly from a distance. But other than that, the only downside to my disability was not being able to socialize in the water. I couldn't recognize people without glasses even if they were only 3 meters away!

Wakeboarding was a totally different story. 

Wakeboarding in DECA Davao City

I tried wakeboarding for the 2nd time in my life last week in Deca Wakeboarding Park in Davao City. I was amazed at first at how easily I could stand and balance myself while holding on to the rope. But the sharp turns became my Achilles' heel. I couldn't see the path marked by the orange buoys clearly in the distance and so I couldn't turn in time. 

It was very challenging but it didn't stop me from having fun. 

I can say the same thing about my condition so far. Traveling and surfing half blind can be very challenging- dangerous even. I can only imagine more discomfort when I finally climb Mount Pulag and have my glasses fog up. And bungee jumping and sky-diving will be very different if you can hardly see anything, right? Nearsightedness hasn't stopped me from snorkelling in Coron, but what if I finally decide to chase whale sharks in Sorsogon? 

I've made a decision that will change how I see the world. Today, I'm off to the American Eye Center to get LASIK surgery. See you soon?

Excited for new eyes,
Sole Sister Lois

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17 sole trails

  1. Cheers to your operation's success! May you indeed emerge with 20/20 vision after! :)

  2. Tahe care Lois, be mindful not to push it until the doctors give you the go signal to go all out gain.,

  3. Praying for your successful LASIK surgery! I am having problems with my contacts too so I know the feeling of seeing semi-blind and wearing eye glasses all the time! I know many who had their successful laser eye surgery so no worries! Happy 20/20 soon! :)

  4. Take care Lois, be mindful not to push it until the doctors give you the go signal to go all out again.

  5. Ugh. I know what you mean. Having a 500/475 vision (me) is hellish when you love the outdoors. I will have LASIK pretty soon, saving up for it.

    Can you make another post and tell us how it went and how much the pocket damage was? :D Here's to seeing clearly! :)

  6. Hi Lois! I've been wearing contact lens for half of my life. This year, I got diagnosed with dry eyes, which makes me quite prone to infections when I wear contacts. Every hour, I need to put eyedrops to mimic tears, and this has gotten very inconvenient. I'm also looking at finally undergoing lasik surgery. Please do share about your experience (cost, short-term side effects if any). Thanks :) I've been following Sole Sisters for some time now but this is my first time to comment.

  7. Hi Lois! Everytime I read about vision problem, I get sooo emotional...I was diagnosed with retinal detachment 6 months after my first out of the country trip. After surgery I was left with a 100/450 vision, no peripheral vision on the damaged eye and no depth perception....But I never gave up.... especially the travelling stuff

  8. My son had lasik surgery several years ago. He no longer have any need for eyeglasses and contact lens. Good luck in your surgery.

  9. Thanks Bertn! I went very well! Perfect vision and I'm so happy with it.Thank you American Eye Center!

  10. wow, this must be very tough Rain. I also get emotional about eyesight. Especially before the procedure. And now, I just say thank you everyday!

  11. Hi Goddess, I will write about my experience soon. I was diagnosed with dry eyes also and I need to use drops for 3 more weeks. I really know how you feel. Hope you can also get LASIK soon. It's such a relief!

  12. Hey Mel, I can email you the details and contact info for Dr. Alnette Tan at American Eye Center. Please send me your email at solesisters(dot)weare(at)gmail

  13. Thanks Ms. Espie. I just got the go signal to get in the water after Christmas. I can wait 2 more weeks :)

  14. Thank you so much and glad you can empathize. I have perfect vision now and I'm really happy and grateful for the wonderful people at American Eye Center. Hope you can get LASIK in the near future too lakbaykix. It's life changing!

  15. I'll wait po :)

  16. Thanks Claire! This really helped me :) Happy for 20/15 vision now :)

  17. I still can wear my contact lenses but it's still difficult to open your eyes underwater for fear of losing them and resurfacing semi-blind. I wish to get a LASIK too.


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