There are a few basic distinctions among surf watches: there are simple waterproof watches that tell you the time and have a few basic functions, there are tide watches, and then there are the activity tracker watches that keep track of your motion and surf session statistics.
We’ve collected some of the best surf watches in all categories so you can get a better feel for what each one provides. It’s hard to choose a “best” in each category because these watches have different functionalities, and of course style is very subjective. From modern to retro, however, you’ll find something to suit you.
Best Tech Watches
Rip Curl Search GPS
This is one of the first surf watches to take advantage of GPS and motion technology and package it for surfers. The Rip Curl Search GPS watch allows you to track the stats of your surf session including how many waves you catch, your top speed, how long each wave was, and more. It then plots all of this data onto a map so you can see where you were catching waves and how far you went. You can even replay your session and see the progression of different waves.
You can also see all of your paddling tracks on the map and it will quantify how far you’ve paddled in a session, which is a great fitness tracker. The watch also tracks tide and of course, tells you what time it is–and this data is super accurate; every time you sync to the GPS it figures out where you are and updates the tide to the correct location as well as local time.
Additionally, it will plot your session anywhere on the map–you don’t have to be at a “named” spot. It will try to name your spot but it won’t put your somewhere on the map that you’re not. So if you like to surf at a secret sandbar it will show your session exactly where your spot is on the satellite map.
After your session you can share your stats on Facebook and Instagram.
This watch is definitely a luxury item, but it’s super fun–especially for people that like to track their statistics and see where they can improve.
And it’s not just for surfing! You can use this watch to track stand up paddleboarding, kite surfing, and even boogie boarding.
The only problems I had with this watch were trying to get more than one surf per battery charge, and missing a few waves. Granted, the waves it missed were on small gutless days–it didn’t properly track some of the teeny tiny waves I caught on my longboard, probably because I was going too slow (barely faster than my paddling speed). But overall, the watch has worked very well at catching all my waves as long as they have a little bit of push. I think Rip Curl should add a calories burned statistic…if it’s seeing how far you paddle this really shouldn’t be too hard to add into the app. I’m not an exercise freak but I really like seeing how many calories I burn during workouts.
In order to solve the problem of charging the watch every session I’ve set up a car charger specifically for the watch (it uses a usb charging cord) so it’s always in my car and charging.
- Get your sessions quantified with a bunch of useful statistics
- Super accurate tide readings for way more spots than any other tide watch
- It’s actually very fun and satisfying to track your sessions with this little gadget–add a photo of the conditions and add some comments.
- Keep track of your sessions all over the globe
- Pretty accurate in my week+ of testing
- Very easy to set up and use
- Sometimes misses the really tiny slow waves
- Tide graphic display is not my favorite
- Needs to be charged each session to ensure it lasts for your entire surf
While not a dedicated surfing watch per se, the Nixon Mission is a jack of all action sport trades, and a very cool one at that. It’s the first smartwatch geared towards action sports crowd, specifically surfers and snowboarders/skiers. It’s brimming with functionality and bells and whistles. While slightly different than the Rip Curl Search GPS, the Nixon Mission has more functionality that extends to other sports and activities, whether it’s running, snowboarding, or making sure you get to your next meeting on time.
Out of all the watched I’ve reviewed and listed here, this is the watch I like to wear the most on a regular basis. Despite being Androidwear it works with my iPhone, enabling me to see notifications on my wrist, track runs, switch songs, and more.
The touchscreen works well even in water, and being able to pick various watch faces is pretty fun. You can also download more watch faces from the store if you don’t like the ones Nixon provides.
The watch is stylish, however it is big. If you don’t mind wearing a large watch then you’ll like it. As a female I have fairly small arms and I don’t think it looks bad on me, however it fits with my overall style. However this watch definitely leans more masculine in style and design. It comes in a variety of colors, and at Nixon’s website you can even customize the watch to a certain extent.
The Mission is very very waterproof. However, it loses a bit of its smartwatch functionality if it can’t sync with your phone, so wearing it in the water isn’t very useful unless you’re pairing with a Trace device (Trace is a small puck that you attach to your surfboard or snowboard to track sessions). There is not currently a way to track your surfs without the Trace, which is a downside. However because it’s Androidwear I am assuming new software will eventually surface that will give it that functionality.
You are free to use the Google Play store to download as many third party apps as you want, which is very cool. While reviewing the watch I got Strava to track my runs and bike rides, and Uber to hail a rideshare.
The only other cons with the Mission was that Nixon’s Mission iPhone app seems a bit buggy. It syncs with the watch but the surf reports don’t always update. This should be fixed in later versions as the iPhone app is still new.
This won’t work as well with an iPhone as an Apple Watch, however Apple Watches are just so BORING looking I can’t stand it! Additionally they won’t hold up to as much wear and tear and water as the Nixon Mission.
- Best looking smartwatch out there
- Will hold up to all sorts of weather and water
- Tons of functionality
- Really fun to wear
- Large size (may not be a con for some)
- Some bugs with iPhone connectivity and the Nixon Mission app
- Needs a bit more app support for Androidwear on iPhone
- Needs to be charged nightly, but that’s true for most smartwatches anyway
The Nixon Ultratide is an advanced tide watch that uses a partnership with Surfline to sync wave, weather, and tide data to your watch, giving you the most up to date data.
As far as a tech watch goes, the Ultratide is kind of straddling the line between a smart watch and a tide watch. The Ultratide allows you to pick a main surf spot to show all the time as well as four other locations that you can cycle through. It then updates the data on a regular basis to show you the current conditions at the spots you’ve chosen. It leaves no data stone unturned; it shows data for wave height, Surfline rating, swell height and direction, forecast swell height and direction, real time tide, future tide, sky conditions, air temp, water temp, and wind speed and direction. Basically everything but the kitchen sink.
I love monitoring local conditions, and it’s especially useful in more weather prone areas such as the East Coast when you’re waiting for wind direction to shift. I have to argue the weather here in So Cal is so consistent that I have been staring at this watch waiting for something to change. But I know from surfing Long Island where conditions can change quickly that you always want to be on it, and this watch would be a very helpful tool.
Setting up the app on my phone and syncing the watch was extremely easy. Easier than any other watch I’ve set up (although the Rip Curl Search GPS was easy as well). It went flawlessly, so kudos to Nixon for that!
More traditional tide watches are limited in their tide locations, but the Ultratide has 2700 to choose from, and in addition to that the auto-geolocate will fetch the nearest break data no matter where you are in the world; amazingly useful for travelers. The Ultratide also has the best tide graphic display of all the watches I’ve tested. I much prefer the wave graph to see tide swings vs the filling bar graph of other tide watches.
The Nixon Ultratide also has a heat timer as well as surf session tracking. The surf session tracking allows you to time the length of your surf and add waves by pressing the lower right button. It will then upload the data to the Surf Journal section of the Ultratide app, which will track your number of sessions, session length, spots surfed, and wave counts. It’s pretty neat, but it’s not quite up to the level of detail as the Rip Curl Search GPS.
The Ultratide is a touch heavy for its size, however after a while you don’t notice it. It also has a flat profile that makes it low-key and easy to fit under a wetsuit sleeve. You can also change the display from black with white numbers to white with black numbers depending on your preference or mood.
The downsides are that the Surfline data doesn’t change as frequently as I would like – I wish it would update a bit more often. For example, wind speed and direction can be very variable however the watch doesn’t update enough to see the subtle changes happening during that offshore/onshore switch. Also, the watch won’t update conditions unless it’s near your phone, so weather and other data won’t change while you’re out surfing. However, tide data will stay consistent, so if you like monitoring the tide while surfing like I do it’s pretty useful. Additionally, real data nerds might be disappointed that the watch doesn’t show buoy data or the swell direction in degrees.
- Most data rich tide watch you can get
- Most tide locations of all the tide watches on the market
- Doesn’t need recharging
- Heaps of data points so you’re always up to date on the conditions
- Extremely easy to set up and use
- No need to charge it
- Slightly heavy for its size
- Doesn’t update as frequently as I’d like
- Won’t update data unless you’re by your phone
- Data display is slightly small in font size, but wasn’t a problem for me
Best Tide Watches
As far as tide watches go, they are all very similar in terms of functionality and it becomes more of a personal stylistic choice as to which one you like better. It’s also worth considering your home beach and check the online manuals of the various tide watches to see if your home beach is listed. It’s much easier than trying to set a tide offset if there’s no closest beach listed.
Having a tide watch is a bit of a luxury, and this one was the first tide watch I’ve owned in almost 15 years of surfing. I didn’t know if I would find it useful to have the tide on my watch, but knowing the tides moment to moment is a pretty good way to more accurately learn how your surf spots react to different tides and water depths. Although you can just check the tides on your phone or calendar before you go out, it’s hard to remember when they are.
Here are some of our top picks:
The Freestyle Shark Tide line of watches are a retro-inspired line of digital timepieces that display tide information along with a variety of different bands and color combinations. Freestyle Shark watches get the crown for reliability and durability. Most of my surfing friends have only good things to say about this brand, so if you’re looking for something that will last, Shark watches are where it’s at.
The Shark Tide watches all have the same basic face graphics and functionality, and come in a variety of different styles and bands. My favorite is the clip tide as it’s easy to take on and off. However, friends have reported that the nylon band can get a bit smelly after a while. I would think that taking it in the shower or simply rinsing it off after a surf or workout would do the trick, however if you’re concerned about it picking up odors you could stick with traditional rubber bands that are also available.
I like this tide watch quite a bit: it’s very simple and to the point. The black face with light numbers is cool (and the one I own) but visibility does suffer a bit unless you’re looking directly at it.
Honestly there aren’t many “cons” to these watches. They do one job and do it well, however they won’t give you as many bells and whistles as the previous watches mentioned.
Vestal “The Brig” Tide Watch
Vestal teamed up with Jordy Smith to design The Brig tide watch, which features a pretty cool tide graphic display and tides for up to 200 locations. The face shows Time, Day, Date, and the tides. There are also functions for future tides as well.
The Brig features a timer as well as a nifty training mode feature which Vestal calls “Suffer and Recover”. Basically you can set two interval times–one time for all out effort, and the second time for recovery. It will then beep to alert you. This is great if you do a lot of working out or interval training.
Basically The Brig is your typical tide watch with a few extra bells and whistles and a unique looking face. However with only 200 beaches it doesn’t have as many locations as some other watches. I was pleased to see several San Diego beaches listed, but check the listing on page 10 of the manual to see if your area is listed.
Rip Curl Rifles
The Rip Curl Rifles tide watch is a great looking tide watch that has a menu based system making setup easy as pie. My only complaint about some tide watches was the difficulty in getting them set up – it’s like solving a riddle. No more with the Rifles tide watch.
Although the Rip Curl Search GPS has a strange volume graph to show the tide, the Rip Curl Rifles has the graphical wave display which I find much easier to read.
The Rifles features 500 beaches as compared to the other brands – check out the beach listings on page 6 of the manual here.
No bells and whistles, just easy setup and use. That’s great in my book!