Optilabs adventurers

EMMA RUSSELL: Making a splash in the world of Kayaking

Earlier in the year we met Emma Russell who wanted a pair of our SWIFT sports glasses to wear whilst kayaking. Although only 16 and still at school, Emma is already making a name for and is currently on the British Canoeing Marathon squad as well as the England National Talent Squad. She sent us this lovely review after competing at the World Championships in South Africa this year.

“I have been kayaking for around 8 years and my love for the sport is forever growing! In 2015, I competed internationally for the first time, representing the Great British Junior Development team. My first major international race was the Canoe Marathon European Championships where I raced with my partner Freya Peters in junior women K2 and we came 6th. A year later (and a many more races under our belts) we lined up for the Europeans once again. A brilliant 3rd put us on the podium and gained us selection for the World Championships, which were being held in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Throughout my paddling career I’ve continued to face the same issue. I am long sighted with an astigmatism so cannot paddle without glasses or lenses. I often use contact lenses when paddling, however my vision is not as clear and they can sometimes go blurry. I searched for alternatives and quickly came across prescription sunglasses by Optilabs.

When I arrived in store, I was greeted by friendly and welcoming faces who were genuinely happy to help wherever they could. I had a good browse at all the sunglasses available (there are lots – for such a wide range of sports!). After trying them on and taking advice from the very patient Manager Tony, I chose the Swift sunglasses with prescription inserts. Before I left, Tony made sure I had optimum vision and that I knew how to change the lenses and remove the inserts.

I could not be more impressed with how fantastic these sunglasses are! My vision is perfectly clear enabling me to see everything on the water and they are very comfortable. The glasses are so light and are great for kayaking as they don’t slip down my nose, nor do they steam up. All these factors meant I had one less thing to worry about in South Africa.

Our race at the Canoe Marathon World Championships was 19km long with 4 portages (where you must get out of the boat and run with it for around 100m before getting back in). We had a flying start and worked with two different Hungarian crews during the first two laps. After the first portage we got dropped and we were left to hold our ground. We powered on through the rest of the race to finish 3rd – a result I am truly proud of! The atmosphere was phenomenal with lots of local supporters as well as my parents, coach and teammates. As you can imagine in South Africa, we were fortunate to have bright, blue skies and pure dazzling sunshine! It was a huge comfort knowing that I had perfect vision throughout the race and there was no danger of losing my perfectly fitting sunglasses.

I recommend visiting Optilabs if you are looking for prescription sunglasses since their customer service and quality is bespoke. I thoroughly look forward to wearing my sunglasses throughout my training and racing next season. As an elite athlete, you need to be completely comfortable with all of your equipment and these prescription sunglasses were beyond my expectations.”

Emma Russell wearing Optilabs Swift sport glasses at the World Kayak Championships
Emma Russell wearing Optilabs Swift sport glasses at the World Kayak Championships

KEVIN MASHFORD'S Ride for life

On the 17th July 2015, Kevin Mashford and 50 other cyclists set out from Bristol on a 4-day, 342 mile, cycle ride to Newcastle. A challenging and arduous trip by anyone’s standards but nothing out of the ordinary for a fit and avid bunch of cyclists, right? Wrong! Kevin Mashford is anything but ordinary and #TeamMash, a group of amateur cyclists consisting of friends and family, were pedalling to Newcastle with one very special mission in mind.

Kevin Mashford was born with a rare, congenital, heart condition. He had his first major operation aged just 8. He has since undergone 5 open heart surgeries and had 3 pacemakers fitted. He even suffered a stroke and had his last rites read at one point! But he refuses to give up. His seemingly unshakeable positive attitude underlies everything he does. “I  have never let any of this defeat me” he says. “I’ve travelled extensively and had a good life”.

In January 2012, Kevin was diagnosed with heart failure after one of his valves became stuck. He was referred to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle – over 300 miles from his home – for an assessment, so he could get on the heart transplant list. To Kevin, even going for the assessment felt like denying someone else a chance. “I never thought of myself as sick – this was just my life”. It was only when the father of two was told that further surgery was not an option, due to his past operations, that it really hit home. The transplant really was his only hope of survival.

By March 2013, Kevin’s heart was in the final stages of failing and he was admitted to the Freeman hospital to wait for a transplant. Two months later, at the beginning of May, a match was found. Kevin’s wait was over and he underwent a mammoth 13-hour operation. He said “by the time of the operation I was at my calmest, I got onto the operating table myself and I couldn’t help but say to the surgical team, ‘May the 4th be with you’! “. Thankfully, the operation was a success.

Kevin wanted to know about his donor immediately. “I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his family – the loss, the pain, the hurt of losing someone”. As soon as he found out his name, and that he died in a cycling accident, Kevin asked for an exercise bike. Still tubed and with a neck line in, in recognition of his donor, he cycled for seven minutes, representing the seven days since the transplant. He also vowed to keep on cycling in his honour.

19 weeks after the transplant Kevin completed a 30-mile cycle sportive in memory of his donor, and to raise awareness for Organ Donation. Then, in June 2014, he completed the 54-mile London to Brighton cycle run.

Kevin’s biggest challenge yet was planned for July 2015 – cycling from his home in Bristol to Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital – a journey of 342 miles. Kevin dedicated the ride to his donor and his good friend Jonathan Osborne, who sadly died following a lung transplant. He was accompanied by 50 friends and family, all raising money for the Transplant Association and raising awareness for the importance of being on the donor’s register. Professor Greg Whyte OBE – perhaps best known for being a trainer for celebrities such as Davina McCall, David Walliams, John Bishop and Eddie Izzard – played a huge role in helping Kevin. After hearing the story, Greg invited Kevin to his Harley Street clinic. “Professor Whyte’s training regime was unbelievably gruelling” said Kevin, “but his knowledge and advice was invaluable. I couldn’t have done it without him. I was also able to pass on some of the things I learned to the rest of the riders… so he definitely benefited the whole team”.

When Kevin contacted Optilabs, just a week before he set of on his big ride to Bristol, he told us he needed some cycling glasses quickly. We were only too happy to help. Kevin was interested in a pair of our Switch frames after seeing them reviewed on Road.cc. He loved the fact that we could not only handle his prescription – something other major sports glasses providers were unable to do – but also that we could do it at a better price! When he told us his story, and mentioned that his ride was in aid of the Transplant Association, we were delighted and proud to become part of his sponsorship team.

We contacted Kevin after he returned from Newcastle, asking him how it all went. Here’s what he said…

“The ride was incredible. It was one of the most fulfilling and difficult things I have ever done – and it was fantastic to do it with so many friends and family. The Optilabs cycling glasses were awesome – and so comfortable! I was initially attracted by the fact that the Switch glasses came with a number of coloured shields, for use in different light conditions – although, as it turned out, we were incredibly lucky with the weather. We had just a small amount of rain over the whole 4 days! So I kept the multicoloured mirrors on the whole way. I also loved Optilabs’ customer service. I knew it was a tall ask to get my glasses turned around so quickly, especially as I have a strong prescription, but Optilabs did a great job.”

“The support we had along the way has been incredible too. On day two I Tweeted ‘A small issue of 96 miles tomorrow…if someone gets someone to join the organ donor register I’ll make it 100!!’. The response was amazing and 23 people registered – so I kept my promise. I’m not denying it wasn’t unbelievably tough though!”

At time for writing, Kevin and #TeamMash had raised £35,000… and the amount grows as more and more people hear his story. His efforts, and those of his team, have also added over 100 names to the organ donor list.

To make a donation, visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/kevinmashford

To join the NHS donor register, visit https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/

Kevin Mashford following heart transplant surgery
kevin Mashford - 7 minutes for 7 days since he received his new heart
Team Mash before their 342 mile charity cycle ride for The Transplant Association.
Kevin mashford 100 miles
Team Mash at the Angel of the North.

PUNCTURES & PANNIERS London to Japan – The Big Ride

Optilabs kindly sponsored us with a pair of prescription sunglasses each, which we have been wearing a lot over the past eight months. André was particularly happy to be sent some prescription sunglasses as his eyesight is much worse than mine and he was worried about how he would manage map reading whilst wearing his normal, non-prescription sunglasses.

Firstly I should quickly mention Optilabs customer service as it was pretty impressive. We didn’t have much time to get the glasses sorted out before we left for the trip, so Optilabs sent us out a box of different frames to try on so we could chose the ones we liked best without having to visit the shop. This was really helpful as a lot of frames are just too big for my face! The frames I ended up choosing were ‘Serengeti’ and André picked ‘Flow’. The Serengeti frames have now been replaced by the Luna, which are apparently similar but even lighter and more comfortable!

There are a couple of differences between my glasses and André’s which I should mention. The arms on André’s glasses have adjustable rubber ends, which help stop slipping and also make them a little more comfortable. The ends can be bent to adjust the glasses arms to better fit your head. They also have adjustable nose pads, which too are rubber coated to stop slipping. My glasses do not have these features. However, there is one other small detail on André’s glasses that I really like and wish mine had – a small hole in the top corner between the lens and the frame on both sides. This is for breathability and to ensure the lenses don’t become fogged up when you are using them – which is a great feature and very useful, especially in winter when you have a scarf on.

Both of us find the glasses very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. This is a definite plus point for me as I have had sunglasses in the past which have been too heavy and hurt the bridge of my nose and have also hurt the tops of my ears. They don’t slip as you wear them and they don’t fall off easily. We also like these glasses, as although they are designed for cycling we feel comfortable wearing them while we are off the bikes and in the city. No one wants to be that guy/girl that looks ready for track racing when they are just going to the shop to buy milk.

We were lucky enough to be given the Premium Ultra 2000 lenses. These lenses are polarized for contrast and definition and also have a variable tint for changes in light conditions. You can really notice this when riding, as your visibility remains great even when you head into a tunnel or evening approaches, or you jump off the bike to go inside. We have ridden with them in spring, summer, autumn and winter and can say that they performed well all year round. We can also vouch for them withstanding some pretty extreme weather conditions as we have worn them throughout winter in Georgia, across the desert of Oman and whilst trekking in the Himalayas. For us we really like the fact we don’t have to change lenses, as it is just one less thing to lose or break! Also often you don’t want to stop when you are in the flow to fiddle about and change lenses.

The polarized lenses really reduce glare in a very noticeable way. Reflections from road surfaces or water (think cycling next to the sea or a lake) are cut down drastically, which helps reduce the strain on our eyes. Polarized lenses can be an issue when using electronic devices with your glasses, as the screen of your device may seem completely black with your glasses on, we were warned of this by Optilabs when they noticed we had a Garmin on our gear list. Luckily we had no issues using the garmin with our glasses, however camera LCDs on both of our cameras are not clearly visible with our glasses on. Obviously this is an issue that comes with using any polarized sunglasses.

I would happily recommend Optilabs glasses to anyone, but especially cycle tourers. They have an excellent product and great customer service – which is a winning combination in our opinion. If you are in the London area check them out.

punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers
punctures & panniers

RAW DISCOVERY: London to Africa in 12 days

Mike Noel-Smith and his sons Will and Harry are all extremely adventurous and charitable. They are also very keen to promote family exercise and cycling. They want to put across a message that you can achieve whatever you want if you put your mind to it. And that’s exactly what they have been doing with their lives.

Recently they took on a huge challenge as they cycled from London to Tangiers, Africa over 12 days. They averaged an amazing 200 miles a day and on the last day they cycled a very impressive 308 miles. They were averaging around 16 hours in the saddle each day, with only three hours sleep each night. And all of this was in temperatures of up to 43°C!

They did it for the charity StreetInvest, which works with street children who often fend for themselves with no-one to guide them. So far they have raised a whopping £4300. You could help them reach their £5000 target. Visit www.rawdiscovery.com and donate now.

The family managed the trip with the help of a few sponsors, one of them being sports performance eyewear specialists Optilabs. Harry needs prescription glasses but usually cycles in his reading glasses that give him no protection from the light.  They all chose the same frames – the orange Blaze with polarized Ultra 2000 (Drivewear®) lenses – Mike and Will had non-prescription lenses whilst Harry had custom-made prescription lenses fitted to his glasses.

Harry said: “I looked on the Internet for prescription sunglasses but not many companies make them and the couple I found that did were extremely expensive. I came across Optilabs and fortunately they were very affordable. I spoke to the owner Tony and he thought we were taking on a huge task for a worthy charity and he was very keen to sponsor us all. We love the style of the Blaze and we all think the lenses are simply fantastic. Wearing my prescription Optilabs sunglasses made the experience even more amazing. The glasses made everything enhanced, it was like cycling in a virtual world. We could even spot every single pothole in time! There was a huge variety of lighting over the Pyrenees and we could all still keep our glasses on and we didn’t need to change the lenses. Even when the sun was blazing our eyes were completely protected due to the style of the frames.”

As it was so hot during the day the boys started to ride during the evening. “One night I forgot to take my sunglasses off and I didn’t even notice!” laughs Harry, “I’ve never had prescription sunglasses before and I am totally amazed. I’m definitely hooked on Optilabs.”

Even those cycling wearing the Blaze sunglasses without prescription were impressed. Mike said: “I’ve mainly used eye cover just for protection from the wind. Harry needs his vision enhanced but I don’t have bad eyesight. However once I started training with the Optilabs sunglasses I couldn’t believe how much they made everything clearer. Plus we all looked so stylish. The glasses made us look like proper cyclists – they made us feel and look the part so we could deliver the goods!”

The trip certainly had difficult times. Unfortunately Mike sustained a nasty neck and arm injury after hitting a tree head-on at 22mph on day two of the challenge; the impact of which split his helmet in half and required emergency service pick up in the middle of nowhere. The team could have stopped there and then as it was a very scary experience for the two sons to see their dad in that condition, but after he was released he insisted they carried on cycling to honour all of the training they had done and all of the brave street kids they had been raising money for. Then, against all odds Mike joined his boys on the last day and completed their biggest ride yet (308 miles). The pain he was enduring was more than evident but what kept him going was the bigger picture of why they were riding – to raise money for StreetInvest and to complete something significant as a family. The way they all looked at it was a couple of weeks of discomfort could potentially prevent suffering to a street kid somewhere for the rest of their lives.

What’s even more amazing about the endurance trip is that none of them were previous cyclists. The furthest each of them had ridden in one go was around 12 miles! They all put the training in and were lucky to train with Olympic and World Champion Coach Bill Black. With great training and sheer guts and determination they got through the tough days and the biggest ride of their lives.

The family took on this vast adventure because they all believe no matter where you start in life, you can achieve great things but more importantly it was to help raise money for StreetInvest. Will said: “Right now the charity’s primary focus is to train adults to become trusted figures within a village for street children to turn to. They can provide the kids with security and be someone to turn to and give them hope and skills. The majority of their work is on the African continent and that’s why we decided to cycle to Africa.”

Mike and his boys are now looking for their next challenge. Mike ended by saying: “If you get the mind and body connected you can achieve so much more. Self belief is so important.”

Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery
Raw Discovery

EXTREME FISHING in the Cayman Islands

Derek Elliot is an avid sea, game and coarse fisherman whose passion for angling takes him to far flung places around the world. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, plus many friends in the tackle industry, he certainly knows what works when it comes to fishing. Having recently purchased a pair of Optilabs Eclipse frames with Ultra 2000 (Drivewear®) lenses, he promised to give us an honest review on how well the glasses performed on a recent trip to the Cayman Islands.

“I am delighted to say that they were excellent. The lenses coped with extreme sunlight and water reflection better than any polarised glasses I have ever owned. My partner April – who is actually an optician, so she knows a thing or two about glasses – says that I’m a very demanding customer, so this is high praise indeed. I must admit, I do have clear expectations of the sort of performance I expect!

Fly fishing for bonefish is almost purely a sight-fishing experience, and because of the reflective nature of their scales, can be one of the hardest fish in the ocean to spot – especially in the clear waters and bright sunlight of the Indian Ocean or Caribbean. Honestly, I could not have been more pleased with the way my Optilabs glasses performed. I even took the opportunity to compare them with a friend’s highly-regarded (not to mention expensive!) American-branded glasses. They’re thought by many to be the ultimate polarised glasses… but I just could not spot any discernable difference. In my view comparable performance and lower cost!

Back in the UK – where, to state the obvious, the sunlight is considerably less bright – I’m regularly using my Optilabs  glasses. Again, I am really happy with them. They perform admirably in both low and poor light conditions, when from experience, I know that darker lenses can become problematic.

I’ve been telling my fishing friends how highly I rate my Optilabs glasses, so expect some more orders! Attached are a few photographs of the glasses in action, which may be of interest to other anglers.”

Extreme fishing maldives 2012
Extreme fishing - bonefish
Extreme fishing - snook
Extreme fishing - catfish
Extreme fishing maldives 2012

PEDALLING FREE: Devon - New Zealand by Bike

What would make two, seemingly sane, individuals want to give up a comfortable, relaxing life in the Devonshire countryside to spend a year in the saddle cycling half way across the globe?! Good question. For James Grainger and his best mate Ashley, it was the lure of adventure and the freedom that cycling provides, the opportunity to see the world slowly, go off the ‘beaten track’ and to meet more weird and wonderful people! James wore Optilabs glasses for the entire trip and we caught up with him on his return to see how they stood up to the mammoth ride.

In March 2013 my partner and I embarked on an epic year-long cycling adventure from our home in UK to Singapore. We ended up covering a greater distance than expected and the trip continued on to New Zealand before we returned home in Spring 2014.

Aside from the bike, my Optilabs prescription sunglasses (with Ultra 2000 Drivewear lenses) were arguably the most important bit of kit that I carried. During the course of my adventure I encountered some pretty extreme weather conditions, from the freezing snow in Europe, monsoon rains in Southern China and the searing heat of Central Asia. With all that changeable weather comes wildly variable light levels and I needed a pair of sunglasses that could be relied upon in all circumstances.

I like to think that I gave the glasses a pretty thorough ‘road test’ and every time they passed with flying colours! My eyes were well protected from the glaring sunlight reflecting off the brilliant white salt lakes in the outback of Australia, whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum, my vision was equally clear cycling through dimly lit tunnels. I couldn’t have been happier with my choice. The robust build quality was equally important. I’m notoriously clumsy and they survived being dropped (on many occasions), sat on and being soaked in the gallons of sweat that poured from my brow in the tropics of South East Asia!

Whilst planning for the trip, I contacted Optilabs seeking their advice after having received recommendations from other touring cyclists. Initially I was slightly reticent about buying something as personal as prescription sunglasses on the internet. Wouldn’t there need to be numerous fittings and minor adjustments to ensure the perfect fit?! My concerns were quickly allayed, the customer service was both extremely professional and friendly and when my glasses arrived in the post I knew I’d made the correct decision! So much so that on returning to the UK, I haven’t reverted back to my pre-trip staple of contact lenses for cycling or running and have no intention of doing so!

In addition to the sunglasses, I also carried a pair of Optilabs prescription swimming goggles. They proved to be invaluable, especially when snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where glasses wouldn’t have been able to be worn underneath a snorkel mask.

James Grainger

Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free
Pedalling Free

Are you an Optilabs Ambassador?

Every year we choose a selection of people to sponsor with our eyewear and become one of our brand ambassadors. From grassroots sponsorship to people taking on incredible adventures or those totally passionate about their sport, we want to hear from you! Please contact us for more details.