As a former back-of-the-pack triathlete, I look for performance optics that meet the most demanding criteria in categories of weight, durability, face coverage and, above all else, ostentatiousness. The Smith PivLock V2 Max with purple mirror lenses. Oakley Jawbreakers with Prizm Road lenses. A brief affair with the Giro Air Attack and its magnetically fastened Zeiss shield. Julbo glacier glasses. I’ve owned everything except Pit Vipers — and that’s just because I already have the reissued Oakley Razor Blades, which are roughly the same shape. I’m not trying to protect my eyes from UV radiation; I’m trying to intimidate the sun so it goes and hides behind the horizon.
Not everyone feels this way. Speaking generally, an important trend in recent years has been for outdoor product companies to make technical apparel that looks more refined, urban, or understated, depending on the brand and the garment’s intended application. This hasn’t really been true of sunglasses, wherein the line between performance and lifestyle is fairly distinct. Although brands with vast offerings like Oakley and Nike certainly have shades that could be used for sport and leisure, their bread and butter is frame shapes, lens tints and light transmission fine-tuned for specific purposes — like golfing under the hot sun or trail running in the woods.
Roka is looking to break down that division between lifestyle and performance. The Dallas-based company that gained a following making wetsuits for triathletes — e.g., Gwen Jorgensen, the highest-profile American triathlete in Rio (and the gold medal favorite), is a Roka athlete — has just launched three pairs of sunglasses with serious style and technical chops. The highlight of the collection is the Phantom, a pair of Top Gun-worthy aviators with a titanium frame; sticky nose and temple pads inspired by gecko feet; and Zeiss lenses coated to prevent fog, scratches, reflectance, spotting and fingerprints. They weigh an insanely light 20 grams. The other two pairs are the Kona and the Vendée, which are ’50s- and Wayfarer-inspired, respectively. Like the Roka line of goggles, all of their sunglasses come in a variety of tints with varying degrees of light transmission.
Roka’s sunnies break the mold for performance sports sunnies while still meeting all the criteria I’ve set out above: weight, durability, coverage. And while they’re not flashy, there’s something about running trails in aviators that’s definitely ostentatious.