The best Surf Watches in 2021
– A Complete Buyers Guide
The surfing watch, also referred to as a tide watch, has become one of the most essential elements in surfing, right up there with boards, wetsuits, and boardshorts/bikini’s. With less time to do everything, surf sessions are timed with optimum tides so that surfers can make the most of their sessions.
Surf watches do many things these days apart from telling the time and tide. They can also forecast surf, and some, like the Apple watch, doubles as a phone. Like Dick Tracy, you can now phone directly from your watch or receive a call from your boss or partner while surfing. Many surf watches are dialed into your heart rate and your calorie burn rate, resting pulse rate, and transferring your personal information to your health insurance provider. It is a high-tech world out there. Your watch can store music, some of them can store podcasts, and if desperate, you can use some of them to send emails and text messages.
In the pure surf watch genre, front of mind is the Rip Curl Surf Watch and the Nixon Tide Watch. These watches have been around and in the surfers’ front of mind for ages, sponsoring surfers, sponsoring events, and advertising in surf magazines for years. The hardcore surfer will always think of these first. When it comes to crossover watches that we can wear when surfing, the Garmin Surf watch is getting much attention right now, along with the Apple watch for surfing. Their multi-functional approach, covering so many more activities than just surfing, does not mean that their surfing technology is in any way lacking. Combined with cutting-edge surfing apps, these watches are right in the mix.
What to look for in a surf watch?
The best surf watches have various functions, apart from telling the time. Most of them have preloaded locations and surf spots from all over the world. Some of these watches have over five hundred top surf spots worldwide, with their tides and moon phases all present for up to 20 years, and are all GPS watches. So you can find your home break, set the watch up with GPS, and immediately find out what’s happening at your local break or the reef around the corner.
Like the Rip Curl Surf Watch and the Garmin Surf Watch, some of the watches actually record your waves. After your session, you can see the number of waves surfed, the distance travelled while surfing, the total amount paddled. You can even get a GPS image of your session, download it, and put it on your social media feeds for all to see.
Like the Nixon Surf Watch and the G-Shock Surf Watch, other watches have a few competition assets. A countdown stopwatch that is geared for surfing heats, as well as local beach tides.
The best surf watches
When it comes to the best surf watches, it is hard to differentiate, as there are enough of them out there to now make a choice quite hard and it all comes down to preferences. Some of them differ in size, as there is quite a lot of technology in a surf/GPS/tide watch, and those smaller ones have less technology inside them.
The best surf watches on the market today are:
While the original surf brand watches have traditionally held their reins as the best surf watches out there, with Rip Curl and Nixon the forerunners, non-surf brands have fast caught on to the buying potential of the wave riders of the world. They have quickly stepped into a wide-open territory.
Everyone is talking about the Garmin Instinct Solar Watch. It is the most rugged and robust training and surfing watch on the market currently. It has GPS, tracking the waves ridden and all the other details that belonged to Rip Curl and the Garmin Forerunner series’s additional fitness tracking. It is also power supplemented by solar. As we spend most of our time surfing in sunlight, it’s a pretty green aspect overlooked by other brands. It does have a few flaws in that some of the surf functions are still a little clunky – it sometimes misses a wave or two – but the rest of the smoothness of this rugged watch surpasses the few flaws. It has a great battery life, one of the most significant advantages of this watch.
Best choice for:
Surf watch with the best tech technology
In the Best Technology division, the Apple Watch Series 6 is another non-surf brand that quickly takes up a decent market share. It offers one of the most technologically advanced watches on the market. Apart from the music storage facility, the GPS model lets you take calls and texts from your wrist, and it does things like measure your blood oxygen and checks your heart rhythm, and it has an ECG app. It tracks all kinds of activities, including surfing and open water swimming. It pairs with iPhones and iPads, and for many people who are ‘Apple For Life,’ it is a no-brainer decision. Battery life is not the best, and the screen does seem to get easily scratched.
The PRO surfers choice
The industry standard and pro surfers’ choice has always been the Rip Curl Search Watch, though. The only complaint about it was that it was just a little bit bulky and uncomfortable being worn under a wetsuit. Still, it has always been the surfing watch of choice. With surfers like Gabriel Medina, Mick Fanning, Owen Wright, and Connor Coffin on your team, it will be popular amongst pro surfers and the general surfing population.
The best GPS tracking
The Rip Curl Search GPS watch has the best GPS tracking, and when you download the data after your session, it is spot on. No waves missed. No waves added. It can also track your sporting activities, like running, cycling, and swimming. It keeps track of your speeds, duration, distance and is water-resistant to 100m. As mentioned, it also allows you to share your surfs by downloading cool session imagery and sharing it on social media.
The best surf watch for women
These, above, are the best men’s surf watches. There are, however, some great women’s surf watches, with subtle differences in watch sizes and design. Obviously, the women’s surf watches also need to be rugged and have all the men’s surf watches’ facilities and capabilities, but they differ slightly. The best women’s surf watch on the market is the Nixon Rival Water Resistant Digital Surf Watch.
With a slightly smaller 38mm watch face and a slimmer strap, the Nixon Rival has all your standard surf watch specifications. Aimed at those women who charge hard but with a slight feminine touch to it.
The best surf watch for kids
When it comes to kids’ watches, Rip Curl comes out on top with their Revelstoke range. Totally functional, light, and colorful, this water-resistant Rip Curl model is perfect for your groms as they learn to surf and appreciate the ocean.
The Rip Curl Revelstoke watches are great mean’s surf watches and women’s surf watches, with several options for the son or daughter. They won’t break the bank, and they are light and functional and come in many smaller sizes and various colors. There are slightly more feminine watch hues for the women’s surf watches, and the men’s surf watches in the Revelstoke range come in the blues and blacks that boys like.
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Our favourite brands
It is always hard to choose the best surf watch out there when there is so much good stuff on the market, but a surfer will lead towards a surf brand. Rip Curl watches have forever been on the cutting edge and provide most of what a hardcore surfer needs. When it comes to surfers who are into other sports like running, cycling, and open water swimming, the attention does veer towards a few different brands, like Garmin. Still, the Rip Curl Search GPS 2 Surf Watch is the one for capturing the surf experience. With the downloadable location maps and graphic charts, it is also one of the most fun ways to relive your surf sessions. It has a 10-hour battery life, and you can even sync your sessions to the cloud.
Apps to die for:
The tops three watches also have one or two other incredible additions that need to be mentioned. Apple, Rip Curl, and Garmin watches are all compatible with Surfline Sessions.
If you have the Surfline Sessions app on your phone and surf in front of a Surfline Camera, the camera will track your rides and then send them to your iPhone. Your session will be filmed without you doing much except pushing a few buttons, which is incredible. You do need to be in front of a Surfline camera. While they have many cameras worldwide, many countries don’t have too many Surfline cameras, especially in the outlying areas.
The other app is the Dawn Patrol app, an Apple app that turns your Apple watch into a full-blown surf watch. It has the full tracking and recording gamut as the rest of the top-end surf watches, so there is that.
Don't rely on technology
It’s easy to get carried away with the whole surfing watch trend and get too absorbed by technology and the excellent capabilities out there. While the watches mentioned above – the best surf watches available – are incredible computers sitting on your wrists, they do also tend to distract. There is always a problem that technology will dominate, and we will be useless and powerless without it. Surfers need to remember that the act of surfing – of riding waves – is paramount, and the rest is just exciting technology and more information that can at times be a little unnecessary. If you have a board and a wetsuit and waves, you need to hit it and go surfing, regardless of what is on your wrist. The technology in your watch is not part of the act of surfing and should not have too much influence over it.
Still, to be able to relive your surf sessions is really cool. To be able to share them, to see what your friend’s session was like, and to see what your favorite pro surfer session was like, is absolutely incredible. Through data, a surf watch can help you to get a better understanding of your sessions, and make it clear where there is room for improvement. On top of that, should you have some sort of health problem or ailment, and it gets picked up by the watch, you’re going to be forever grateful.
So choose your surfing watch with care. It will give you so much, maybe too much, but it could also change your life. Most importantly, choose the surf watch, that fits your needs and skill level.