Having a good surf watch is sometimes a necessity. There are times when you simply have to be out of the water at a certain time, whether for work or school, a meeting, or to meet up with your friends. There are many types of surf watches, from the ultra basic to the insanely technological. It all depends on what you want and what you can afford.
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 or smart 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.
This list starts with the more technical watches and then goes into the more traditional tide watches.
Surfing Smart Watches
The Absolute Best Surf Watches
1. Apple Watch Series 5
Okay, this might seem like a weird choice for a surf watch, and for some of you this may not be your thing. But the Apple Watch Series 5 is a serious contender for the best surf watch out there. With insane functionality, a waterproof design, and an array of surfing apps this watch is a great tool to log your sessions.
With the addition of the Dawn Patrol app and Surfline Sessions, this watch is becoming an app killer.
The best thing about the Apple Watch is that it’s not just a surf watch. It can do so much more when you’re not surfing, which makes this an overall great gadget. There are apps for all your other sports as well, like snowboarding, SUPing, and more.
For example, if you get the Apple watch that includes cellular service you can receive texts and calls while you’re out in the lineup. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking – that’s the last thing we need in the lineup. BUT – I have several friends who work “on call” shifts and need to be near a phone in case they get called into work. This enables them to surf and still be able to get those alerts. It’s also useful for those who need to be near a phone for any other reasons.
Where It Could Improve
There are a few downsides to the Apple watch – namely that there’s only one style and the only thing you can change is the band. I don’t find the style particularly appealing, but them’s the breaks. There are a few cases out there such as the one from Catalyst that give the Apple watch more water protection as well as a more rugged appearance. It also helps protect the watch a bit which is a good idea.
- Many surf tracking apps including Dawn Patrol and Surfline Sessions
- You can receive texts and calls in the water – great for those that can’t be far from their phone but want to surf
- More than just a surf watch – apps for all other activities and sports
- New models can be pricey
- Not the most stylish
2. Rip Curl Search GPS 2
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 2 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 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.
Where it could improve
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.
Pros And Cons
- 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
Best Tide Watches
The Absolute Best Surf 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:
1. Shark Tide
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.
Where It Could Improve
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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
More Surf Watches To Consider
- BASE TIDE, ALL BLACK. A 21st century tech but retro Nixon design, the all black 38mm Base Tide is a “Locals Only” smart watch made with durable construction and ocean-inspired features.
- TIDE-TELLING. Beyond the time, the Base Tide will let you in on future tide times and features simplified LCD for underwater reading with 100 meter/10ATM case and molded polycarbonate gasketed pushers.
- RETRO TECH. Old-school hints, mod colors, and smart capabilities, you can find the time, date, and chronograph timer capabilities on this futuristic classic both in and out of the water.
- Features include versatile graph and detailed tide displays, EL backlight, LCD screen display and heat countdown timer with 5 minute and 1 minute warnings
- Includes ability to set Spot X averaging tide for 1000's of tide locations and future tide functions
- Quartz Movement
- 10-year battery life
- 100-meter water resistance
- LED backlight
- REAL LIFE SURF CONDITIONS: Track the tide and your surf session with the Rip Curl SearchGPS digital surf watch. Record your wave count, top speeds, distance traveled and time out in the ocean or on the mountain. Rechargeable battery. 43mm case diameter
- GPS + ACTIVITY TRACKING: GPS tracking for all of your activities. Track your skiing, surfing, swimming, biking, running, and boarding - anywhere, anytime. Review your stats live and calculate speed, duration, and distance. Water resistant up to 100m
- ALARM, STOPWATCH + TIMER: Waterproof stopwatch watch with quartz movement and all of the features you need to stay safe and have fun out on the water. The display on the Rip Curl digital surf watch includes time, date, timer, and tide tracking
- Pre-Programmed Tide Function (500) - Electronically Stored Tide Charts For 500 Preset Locations Worldwide
- Case Width: 41Mm
- Versatile Tide Display - Switch Between Graph View and Detailed View
- BASE TIDE PRO, ORANGE. The toughest in the lineup, the Nixon orange 42mm Base Tide Pro is a surf-ready, multi function digital smart watch made with durable construction and ocean-inspired features.
- HAVE SWELL, WILL TRAVEL. Beyond the time, the Base Tide Pro delivers a double overhead dose of durability and functionality with pre-programmed tide information for 550 beaches around the world.
- MORE WAVES. Digital hints, mod colors, and indestructible capabilities, you can find the time, date, and extreme water-resistant capabilities on this futuristic classic both in and out of the water.
- Made from a custom high-performance fluoroelastomer, the Sport Band is durable and strong, yet surprisingly soft.
- The smooth, dense material drapes elegantly across your wrist and feels comfortable next to your skin.
- An innovative pin-and-tuck closure ensures a clean fit.
- Silicone watch with digital date and time
- Individually water resistance tested for durability in a marine environment
- Quartz Movement
- NIXON TIME TELLER P, MATTE BLACK. This Nixon watch has a minimal design in a 40mm package. The matte black finish gives power in appearance and spirit, while the 20mm polyurethane band adds comfort
- CLEAN AND PRECISE. With an unpretentious versatile appearance and clean design, this matte black men’s watch is water resistant up to 100m and protects against everything from rain to surf
- SIMPLIFY TIME. Clean lines cut through cloudy philosophy, while its simple, high concept design keeps things precise. The Time Teller is a simple Nixon watch that stands the test of time
- WOMEN’S SURF WATCH: Keep track of high, low tides and future tides in the detailed digital display. The Rip Curl casual sport watch is great for outdoor activities: surfing, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, fishing, climbing, hiking and more
- WATERPROOF + DURABLE: Waterproof tested and water resistant up to 100m(330ft) for durable quality that will last. Multifunctional watch for indoor sports and outdoor sports. Suitable for swimming and snorkeling, but not for diving
- LIGHTWEIGHT FIT: Sleek, lightweight, convenient waterproof watches for women that you won’t notice on your wrist in the waves. Functional digital surf watch with quartz movement that meets all of your surfing needs