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Innovative Glasses Go Windsurfing

May 11, 1990|SHERRY ANGEL | Sherry Angel is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Dr. Arthur Charap is a little embarrassed to admit that, until recently, he rarely wore protective eye gear while windsurfing. He didn't want to worry about losing expensive sunglasses in the water--or having them shatter on his face.

But Charap never felt comfortable leaving his shades on shore. He's an Anaheim Hills ophthalmologist, and he's seen the injuries that can result from engaging in water sports without protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light or sudden impact.

Now he wears the kind of protection he recommends for his patients, because after years of searching, he's finally found sunglasses that provide safety without cramping his style.

They're called Spex, and if you take a spill in these sunglasses, you can retrieve them easily because the frames float, and they come in trendy neon colors visible from quite a distance.

They're made of a soft, pliable material designed to bend on impact.

They were invented by a windsurfer who, like Charap, was unable to find the right kind of protective eye gear for water sports.

"I couldn't buy one, so I went out and made one," says 33-year-old Casey Patelski, who is senior vice president of Costa Mesa-based Sport Eyes Enterprises--the company created to market his invention.

Patelski made nine different prototypes before he finally found the right formula for a frame that would float, using a material that he created with help from a chemist and patented under the name Floatron.

His prototypes also reflected his efforts to structure Spex--a cross between sunglasses and goggles--so their shatter-proof lenses wouldn't fog or collect water and so wearers would have peripheral vision.

Spex--now being sold for about $65 throughout the United States and in more than 60 other countries--come with an amber lens that provides 100% ultraviolet light protection and can easily be interchanged with clear or gray lenses, available for about $10 for each pair of lenses.

Although they were designed for windsurfers, Patelski says they're being used in a variety of water sports--jet skiing, surfing, sailing, water skiing. He's even seem them used for protection from impact in racquetball and karate matches.

Once he had a prototype, it didn't take Patelski long to get his product into the market.

One of his high school surfing buddies, Steve Teregis, 33, liked it so much that he showed it to Shawn Troup, a friend who had been a professional windsurfer but had never worn eye protection. Troup, 28, was equally impressed and took a prototype with him to a popular windsurfing spot in the Caribbean.

He was the only one in the water wearing sunglasses, he recalls. "I felt funny, so I took them off. But it was so bright that I put them on again. Then I took them off and threw them. I could see them floating 200 yards away."

Soon he had some of the world's top windsurfers asking to try them out. The demand has been growing ever since.

Sport Eyes Enterprises was incorporated in April, 1989, with Teregis as president, Patelski as senior vice president in charge of research and development and Troup as vice president of sales and marketing. Jim Nanko, a 29-year-old Newport Beach attorney who loves to surf and sail, is the fourth co-owner and handles the firm's financial and legal affairs.

Teregis says they sold about 5,000 Spex in last month. At the end of last year, they were selling about 1,750 a month.

Spex are sold locally by Nordstrom, Bruce Jones Surfboards Inc. in Sunset Beach and Newport Ski Co.

Scott Owen, manager of Newport Ski Co. and a windsurfer who wears Spex, says he hasn't seen any other product on the market that offers the same protection for high-speed water sports.

"They do float," he says. "And you can step on them and turn them inside out and they don't break. They can take a lot of abuse. In windsurfing, your equipment has to hold up or it's no fun."

Bill Nolan, product manager for Denver-based Bolle America and a windsurfer, says it's been frustrating to work for a sunglass manufacturer that doesn't provide protective eye gear for his sport. But that will soon change. He says Bolle America is developing a pair of sunglasses for windsurfers with a lightweight frame that will float. They're expected to be on the market by summer.

Oakley Inc. in Irvine also is developing special goggles for windsurfing and other water sports that will be designed to float, Advertising Director Kris Anderson says.

Patelski, who is now working on prescription lenses for Spex, says he sees the competition as a compliment rather than a threat.

The trend thrills Charap, who is an assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology at UC Irvine. He feels protective eye wear for water sports is long overdue.

He hopes products such as Spex will become as fashionable as regular sunglasses, which, he says, "are not made to take any of the punishment these sports deliver.

"Spex aren't a crash helmet," he says, "but they will give you 95% protection against most things that can happen to you in the water."

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