Comprehensive Surf Watch Buyer's Guide

Surf gear
surf watch buyers guide

Photo by Nomad Goods / Sean Raymond Collier


Are you looking into buying a surf watch, or are you simply curious about what a surf watch is? This comprehensive guide will explain the concept of a surf watch and teach you what features to look for in a good surf watch.

Tide watches for surfing

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/bikinis. The idea behind the traditional tide watch was to make a durable and waterproof watch that would allow surfers to keep track of time and tides.

Checking the time comes in handy when you have rented a surfboard for an hourly rate or need to be on time for your post-surf activities, like work or dinner with friends.

The tide information is key to understanding when a surf spot works well. With less time to do everything, surf sessions are timed with optimum tides so that surfers can make the most of their sessions.

surf watch features & new technology

These days surf watches are packed with technology. It is a high-tech world out there and your traditional surf watch is more like a smart-surf computer nowadays, which allows them to do much more than telling the time and tide.

They can also forecast surf conditions by analyzing swell periods, wave height, water temperature, wind speed, wind direction, etc.

Some even double as a phone, as we have experienced with the Apple watch. Like Dick Tracy, you can now phone directly from your watch or receive a call from your boss or partner while surfing.

Many modern surf watches track your heart- and pulse rate and calculate the number of calories burned during a surf session, which gives you a better understanding of your overall fitness level and endurance.

With the introduction of GPS and WIFI technology, surf watches can count your waves and provide important post-surf data that allows you to analyze your session and position in the lineup. It also gives you real-time insights on surf breaks worldwide to keep you updated on surf breaks for your next strike mission.

The best surf Watch Brands

In the pure surf watch genre, front of mind is the Rip Curl Surf Watch and the Nixon Tide Watch. These brands 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 thesedays, 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. 

Our favourite brands

The best surf watch is all about preferences - This is our favourite brands to pick from

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.

Surf Watch 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 surf watch app is, Dawn Patrol, 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. Afterall, surfing is about your presence and connection with the ocean.

If you want to become a great surfer, you need to learn the basics of the ocean and how to read the lineup before getting into the hype around surf watches.

While the brands and technology mentioned above provide 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.

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