The smart watch and fitness tracker niche is blowing up with various devices designed to quantify your every movement but there wasn’t a watch that could adequately track surfing performance until the Rip Curl Search GPS came along. Some people might wonder why you would want to know all of this data, and I was one of the more skeptical people about this little device. However upon using it I found that it was incredibly fun and satisfying to use.
Most people will want to know what the watch actually does, so let’s start out with the star features. The Search GPS allows you to track your waves surfed, length of ride, distance paddled, wave speed, session length, and accurately plots your waves on a map thanks to the GPS tracking. It also gives you extremely accurate tide readings for 1,360 locations with the push of a button – more than any other tide watch out there.
The Rip Curl Search GPS has a typical surf watch design: thick rubber band, square face, and chunky appearance. It’s not the most fashionable watch on the market, however the display (which can be changed from black with white digits to white with black digits) is very crisp, easy to read, and light on battery consumption.
The watch also has a companion app from Rip Curl that allows you to effortlessly sync your surf data into an easy to read graphical display. You can then see all your waves plotted on a satellite map, access all the stats for the session, and even watch your session play out. The watch also tracks your paddling which you can choose to overlay on the map–this means it will be great for SUP riders as well.
Surf Tracking In Action
When I got my watch it was admittedly the easiest watch to set up – this is thanks to the GPS syncing giving you the most accurate time and tide information with the push of a button. The entire process took me about 5 minutes after downloading the Rip Curl app on my iPhone (if you don’t have an iPhone never fear, you can use the Rip Curl software on a PC or Mac).
The three button menu system is actually a breeze to navigate, which is refreshing in a world where watch menus and setup can be a bit like solving a riddle. When I’m ready to surf I strap the watch to the outside of my wetsuit sleeve (it’s getting chilly here in SoCal) and hit the “Go Surf” option. After a few seconds locating and syncing the GPS it’s ready to track my session.
Although it was flat when I got the watch, when we finally got some waves and I took the watch out for a test drive I was pleasantly surprised. The watch didn’t miss a single wave and never credited me with a false wave. While you’re in the water you can cycle the display to show your top speed, wave count, distance traveled, tide information, GPS location coordinates, and the time.
The large buttons are easy to press and manipulate in the water, and the screen very easy to read. I found it very satisfying to catch a wave and then see my wave count updated a second or two later. However, staring at my wave count number is a bit distracting so I typically set the display to the tide information so I wasn’t obsessing over totals during my session. I want my data but I don’t want to be constantly thinking about it while I’m out in the water just enjoying my session.
When you’re done with your session you hit “End Surf” and the watch will give you a display procession of all of your stats. You can then sync the data with the Rip Curl Search app and see your waves plotted on a satellite image (or map data). It was very cool to see that the watch will track your session no matter where you are. If you surf between two “named” spots at your own sandbar, it will still plot you in the correct location. When I was first looking at the advertising for the watch I thought that you might have to be surfing at certain popular spots to see the satellite wave tracks plotted on the map. However, thanks to Apple Maps you can see your surfs plotted anywhere on the globe.
You can also watch an animation of your session, and see your paddling tracks (which looks like a mass of yarn if you’ve been out in the water long enough).
The paddling tracks will calculate how far you’ve paddled and where you’ve gone, which means that SUPers would have fun with this watch as well, especially if you like to SUP in bays and rivers. And the top speed will still apply for SUPers, so you can see how fast you can sprint paddle.
The only thing I found hard to believe at times was the wave length in terms of yards. One wave was 127 yards, which I found a little suspicious. That’s more than a football field.
Once you’ve synced your session data with the app you can then document your session with a photograph, a small commentary (limited to 150 characters which is odd) and the board you rode. It’s all very simple, but this simplicity is good because it’s easy to use and easy = you’ll use it more often.
The app also has a small social feature where you can follow friends or pros. I am the only person on my network of Facebook friends that uses the watch, but I can follow some of the pros on the Rip Curl team including my favorite Mick Fanning. However, it seems that the pros have slacked recently in documenting their sessions, so I’m a bit by myself in the social aspect. Not a problem for me personally as I don’t really see a huge benefit to the social aspect other than pure voyeurism and curiosity.
You can share your surf session data on Facebook or Instagram with a single click, however I’m a bit more modest and probably won’t use this feature unless I’m surfing some very interesting location or somehow document an insane number of rides.
A quick Instagram hashtag search for #searchGPS reveals a slew of people documenting their sessions in some far flung locations. It’s actually kind of interesting to see these posts from people I’ve never met surfing in locations I may never get to in this lifetime. But it also shows that the Search GPS will work virtually anywhere in the world. This is pretty cool for the traveling surfer.
The app acts as a personal surf journal of sorts, and your profile screen will tell you how many times you’ve surfed the the last x amount of days (my number is sadly a bit low due to the lack of swell we’ve had recently!), top speed, and cumulative totals of waves caught and time surfed.
Your session data is then compiled into a list of sessions that you’ve documented, and you can see all of your stats.
I used to keep a physical written surf journal a long time ago, and I’m kind of sad I stopped. It’s actually rather fun to go back and read the few entries I made at the time. I can actually remember a lot of the sessions based on the entries. Unfortunately the app doesn’t let you write a whole lot, but since a picture is worth a thousand words you can add a photo for each session. I like taking photos of the surf after my sessions anyway, and this keeps them all organized with my session data. It also documents, via Magicseaweed, the surf conditions at the time. However I found that I had to adjust a few of the data points to accurately reflect certain wind conditions.
The one thing that I think all these metrics are missing is a calories burned stat. I’m not into calorie counting or dieting or anything, but I am actually very interested in how many calories I burn when I exercise or do certain activities. The app has areas for your height and weight, and it tracks how far you paddle and how fast you paddle, so I don’t see why it can’t measure your calories. Maybe Rip Curl will include this in their next app update.
Time will only tell how valuable I will find all of this data in the long run, but for now I will say that it’s pretty fun documenting everything.
Pros And Cons
- Pretty accurate in collecting surf data and doesn’t miss many waves
- Lots of stats compiled per session
- Easy sync with app
- Surf journal and automatic stat rundowns
- Waves plotted accurately on map
- Easily post sessions to social media
- Useful for SUPers and body boarders in addition to surfers
- Low key and no need to put any tracking devices on your surfboard
- The need to recharge the watch often means you have to remember to charge it…something that I often forget.
- A bit chunky to wear under your wetsuit sleeve
- Tide graphic display is odd
- Misses the very small or dribbly waves if you don’t have enough speed
I didn’t think I would be that into this watch at first, but after using it I’ve become quite a fan. While I’m not sure that it will have much educational or training use for me, I really like seeing my waves plotted on a satellite image. I can’t wait to travel to a few more spots beyond my normal breaks and use this thing. I also really like that it’s bringing me back to keeping a surf journal of sorts, something I have missed.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how seamless everything worked–it was easy to set up and use and worked flawlessly (except in those teeny tiny waves).
Will the novelty wear off? I don’t know for sure yet. I think the only impediment to me using the watch is the fact that I have to remember to charge it and bring it with me for each session. However I set up a car charger just for this watch, so I think it will permanently live in my car so I never forget it.
This watch makes a killer gift for surfers or just a gift for yourself. If you want to track your session data without putting any devices on your boards, then the Search GPS is for you. I highly recommend it as a surf tracker, and if Rip Curl would add a few more things to their app it would be almost perfect.