The Surfing Handbook only recommends products we like and use, period. Sometimes we get an affiliate comission from links, but this helps us keep the site running!

Surf Gear Reviews

Absolute Best Surf Watches For 2023

Best Tide Watches, Surf Tracking, And Smart Watches

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

 

Apple Watch

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 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.

Pros:
  • 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
Cons:
  • New models can be pricey
  • Not the most stylish
Check Prices

With the addition of the Dawn Patrol app and Surfline Sessions, the Apple Watch has been an amazing addition to my personal surf sessions.  I use Dawn Patrol all the time as I’ve gotten more into tracking my daily fitness goals.  I’m not obsessive about it, but now that I’ve been doing it for years and I have all this heart rate data I do like staying consistent.

Additionally, using Surfline Sessions to watch my waves has helped me see some poor techniques and things I was doing that I never knew – leading to an overall improvement in my surfing after having plateaued for years.

best surf watches

The Good

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.

Also – you don’t need the latest and greatest version.  Apple just released the Apple Watch series 8, however my Series 6 is working extremely well for everything I need it to do surf-wise.  Personally, I wouldn’t get one older than the 5 just to future-proof yourself a bit.

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 gives 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.


Garmin Instinct Solar Surf

Garmin has started to really nail the smartwatch niche with some extremely high quality and well-reviewed watches. An amazing alternative to the Apple Watch for data geeks and those with an Android phone, the Garmin Instinct Solar Surf is targeted at surfers with a few key enhancements.

Pros:
  • Great Looking Watch
  • Incredible Battery Life
  • Appeals to people who generally don't "like" smartwatches
  • Compatible with Surfline Sessions
  • Incredibly list of other features
Cons:
  • Monochrome screen (could be a plus for some people though)
  • Limited access to third party apps (aka iPhone apps)
  • Larger size might put off some women with smaller wrists
Check Prices

Garmin Instinct Solar Surf pictured with the tide screen showingGarmin sets itself apart in the smartwatch space by providing incredibly detailed data – moreso than the Apple watch.  This makes it a popular choice for those who really like to drill down into their stats – health stats, exercise stats, highly targeted GPS stats, and more.  It also poses itself as a smartwatch for people who dislike smartwatches – it keeps a very traditional watch-style screen for all the features.

Garmin is also a leader in battery life and with the solar edition you won’t have to charge the watch so much–it lasts up to 24 days in smartwatch mode and up to 50 days with solar exposure!

Garmin watches also feature a distinct and rugged design that the Apple Watch lacks.  The Apple Watch just looks rather boring, and everyone has the same one.  The Garmin Instinct (and the other versions that work with Surfline Sessions) all have a very sharp athletic look.  The Surf edition comes in two colorways – a white “Cloudbreak” version and a black with blue accent “Pipeline” version.

 

Garman Instict Solar Surf With Surfline Sessions


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.

Pros:
  • Get your sessions quantified with a bunch of useful statistics
  • Super accurate tide readings for way more spots than any other tide watch
  • Pretty accurate in my week+ of testing
  • Very easy to set up and use
Cons:
  • 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
Check Prices

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.

The Good

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.

Absolute Best Surf Watches For 2023 1

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.

Absolute Best Surf Watches For 2023 2
My measly session at Swamis today — slow day!

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.

Click here to read our full review of the Rip Curl Search GPS!

 

Best Tide/Surf 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:

Freestyle Shark Watches

The Freestyle Shark 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 Good

The Freestyle Shark 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.

Check Prices

 

Rip Curl Rifles Tide Watch

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!

Check Prices

More Surf Watches To Consider

No products found.

 

Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

22 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Alex
Alex
2 months ago

Don’t buy the Garmin instinct Surf watch. I went through 6 in 3 years for various reasons. The watch is not fit for purpose! Garmin refused to give me my money back so I took them to small claims court and won.

The watches buttons tend to break with the force of surfing and or the pressure of the salt water. This leads to the watch not being able to be operated, and then from there further deterioration happened to the point where you can no longer charge or operate it. I also had one with water ingress and the watch went haywire before dying. I loved the product but hated the fact the watch died so quickly when surfing.

Beardy
Beardy
3 months ago

You forgot to mention the Casio F91W which is likely to outlast all of the above and gives you just what you need ie the time in a waterproof(enought) casing that you wont even notice on your wrist. Everything else is totally unnecessary. Memorize the tide times or just pay attention to the moving water, you will figure it out.

Joel saltzman
8 months ago

I totally disagree with the cons on the Apple Watches and Ripcurl Search. Deal breaker on Apple Watch is it is impossible to turn on or operate if your fingers are wet. Kinda important! Also had to charge every night. Ripcurl search one, aside from stupid built in band with $80 replacement cost, wired best. I hated the huge size and bought Search 2. Great size but total crap as both failed of water damage within 1-2 years. Best thing about the rip curls, especially the big ugly 1st version is the battery was exceptional. I just got back from 8 days in Hawaii and forgot my charger. I got 5 sessions before going dead. Had to use rubber bands to keep band on because original sucks. I’d buy the garmen tomorrow if the durability reviews weren’t do bad.

Brian
Brian
8 months ago

I think this is important for Surfers to read about the Garmin watch.

tldr; the watch band snapped at the connection where the band clips to the watch while surfing. Garmin said surfing is a misuse of their product two weeks after I paid $500.

I was out in a pretty decent 4-6ft swell with my 2 week old Garmin Forerunner 265 watch. As I was on the wave and it was closing out, I was caught in the white wash and the wrist-band on the watch snapped where it connects to the watch itself. That was extremely disappointing, but I figured Garmin would understand and at least try to make this right since the product was sold as an outdoor / athlete product.

Their response was sad, but not surprising. They called Surfing a misuse of the product and they should not give any support for how the product was neglected. 

I say all of this to make sure other surfers don’t get into the same issue since the watch was $500! 

Daniel
Daniel
8 months ago
Reply to  Brian

100% agree, Garmin are great for running and stuff, but absolutely not a surf watch. Garmin does not support surfing. I had the fenix 5 the buttons shorted out the first month I had it. Garmin said not rated for daily saltwater use, etc. Luckily I bought it REI and they warranty replaced it. Same thing happened about 3 months later, this time Garmin support said I should be putting it in freshwater soak after every saltwater use… yeah right.

Carl
Carl
9 months ago

Garmin Instinct Solar is a terrible option for a surfwatch.
Doesn’t count all waves, tide chart doesn’t always show the tide (not available).

DropIn
DropIn
2 years ago

I owned a Nixon Surf watch which slipped off my wrist during a pretty hectic session on Maui and I swear I heard it say “You won’t have me to kick around any more”.

Marcus
Marcus
2 years ago

I don’t need a smart watch while surfing, I don’t need a tide watch while surfing.
I need a slim, light weight, comfortable watch that tells the time only, has great legibility while in the water/lineup (so I’m not late for work) and great WR.
Any suggestions?

stephanie biland
stephanie biland
2 months ago
Reply to  Marcus

Marcus – yes, just a good waterproof watch that’s easy to read, has a band that won’t break or gauge the board and decent battery life – if you find it, please share!!

Jeremy C
Jeremy C
2 years ago

The “Top Sellers” list algorithm needs some work, no offense to Shia LaBeouf fans.

Gary
Gary
2 years ago

Surf, SUP and live in the Apple 3. I have had issues with Atrial Fibriliation and this watch is gold for working out what is going on when you check the heart rate monitor. I use the phone and text while fishing and paddling the SUP. Only downside is water on the contact screen does affect the ability to receive calls and swipe the screen. I’m a bit rough so the screen does scratch so get the gorilla glass.. I used to collect watches….Rolex, IWC etc but after this watch and the amazing functionality…life changer. Later versions are excellent and have saved family members (oldies) when they have had falls…the ambulance is called immediately….game changing tech. Highly recommend to anyone with heart issues particularly if you want to stay active.

JR
JR
3 years ago

I had an apple watch and loved it until it came right off of my arm when I was duck diving and fell to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. $500 gone and never will be found again. I had tried to change bands and even put a neoprene wrist band on the outside of it to make sure it would stay but nothing prevented the inevitable. The extra protection you showed here looks like it may work. The apple bands are weak and can come off easily.

Nellie
Nellie
3 years ago
Reply to  JR

Hi,

I own a Fitbit versa, similar issues with a not particularly hardy straps, also the watch was exposed (physically) and sometimes we need a little more protection for something that is expensive in the first place.
When my Fitbit strap broke for the second time, I was hunting around for a replacement and found on Amazon what is called the ’Supcase’. It’s just an alternative to the catalyst cases mentioned here.
Basically you remove the strap and then pop the watch unit into the back of the Supcase. It’s like putting a ruggedized case onto your watch and giving it much more protection (no extra waterproofing though). The watch unit won’t fall out because it has to pop out of the back of the case, wrist side! Pop the unit out of the case to charge but it’s simple to do, no biggie.
So far it’s been great for work, fitness and surfing. You could always get one of those screen protectors too although I have no idea how the screen protectors would do when submerged?
Supcase also do a case for Apple Watch. Looks similar in concept with the obvious design modifications!
All for $30 Canadian which I figured was a great price for the extra protection it gave!
Definitely worth a look if you’ve already invested in a very expensive smart watch. I’ve had my case about 6 months now and it’s still as good as the day I bought it! ?

Paul Smith
Paul Smith
3 years ago

Hi, re the Ripcurl GPS2.
I recently bought one an am stoked how it works. I do not use an Apple phone so I am syncing on my PC which fine because I can charge as well.
It is really comfortable to wear in and out of the water and I love the permanent tide display.
Like you, I have an issue with the battery life. According to Ripcurl info it should last 6 to 10 months on time only or up to 10 hours of GPS activity. That would be phenomenal performance.
However mine can go 4 days as a watch at which point it will not try to GPS because there ain’t enough juice. Clearly both your GPS2 and mine are below spec, which might be a result of long shelf time flat before purchase.
Returning to a Ripcurl Watch service centre will enable you to get the battery replaced and re warrantied(extended) as long as it has not been opened by anyone else.
Probably a good time to do it now we are in lockdown. Cheers

Craig
Craig
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smith

Hey guys…. not.sure if I’m in the right place, but I have rip curl gps1.

Love.it. everything you say you love about it , I do to . I am uk based but went to Nicaragua last year, came.back, and had some sort.of.condensatuon in the glass. Didnt think anything of it, as I assumed it would disappear soon . BUT in fact, i think its destroyed the LCD display because when I try and charge it now, I just get fuzzy dots all over it.
It there any one I can contact to even get it repaired? It’s probably.out of warranty, but preferably, I’d like it fixed, and to not have to buy a new one haha .

Many thanks.

Sorry if I’m in totally the wrong area

?

Alexandre
Alexandre
3 years ago

Hello,

Thanks for the write by this subject, but I’d like see somenthing about surf tracking app’s who works in Android plattform, do you know what solution are avaiable?

Rahma Kishk
Rahma Kishk
5 years ago

Hi! Thanks for this article! I’m researching a watch to get for my son who is turning 16 next week. He is a passionate surfer! We live in New York! He surfs rocakway, Long Beach, LBI and all across the Jersey shore. I also noticed you surf encinaitas. We were just there in January for a few days. What a beautiful town! I loved it. The owner of concepts surf shop suggested the Nixon ultra tide. I’m glad To see you have it listed-it didn’t get the best ratings on amazon. If you have any more additional information or advice I would appreciate it. I know he has all the info on the tide and surf conditions info on his smart phone. Is it exciting to have it on the watch?

Paul Gainey
Paul Gainey
6 years ago

Hayley! Hey! I see you surf at Encinitas! Last year, in May, I flew out to surf three days at Grandview Beach and I had a wonderful time omg. I brought my board out with me ($150 total on Southwest) and it was worth it. I was amazed at the great surf and great people there at Grandview and I would hang out at Pannikin’s Coffee Shop to get my energy back; I took in a view of the Stone Steps break but chose not to surf it. I would sleep in my rental van up in that main parking lot above the break. That reef took a lot of time for me to get used to. Out here in North Carolina I surf at Surf City, NC, and we have that gradual incline sandy bottom so I was leery of the reef but it all worked out very well. Every surfer I met welcomed me to Cali and I appreciated that; I found it on Google. Which break is your fave in that region and what’s the best time of year to make another trip out? Paul.

Back to top button
22
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x