The Apple watch and surfing – a match made in heaven. For a while there were a lot of competing surf watches – the Nixon Mission, The Rip Curl Search GPS, Shark Tide watches, Garmin, and the Apple Watch. It was a big shootout over who was going to corner the market. I really liked what Nixon tried to do with the Mission, but without decent support for iPhone users it just never got any traction. Then Nixon suddenly abandoned it without a word. The Rip Curl Search GPS 2 is still a great product, their app works great and the watch is solid. However surf tracking is all it does, and the price is still pretty high.
The Apple Watch has now emerged as the winner for the most must-have surf watch. With the advent of cellular capabilities and a small arsenal of surf tracking apps including Surfline Sessions, it’s not only an awesome surf watch but it’s also an awesome smartwatch.
The prices have come down, and you can get an older series version for much less than the price of a Rip Curl Search. Given the Apple Watch’s other functionality besides just surfing, it’s a no-brainer choice.
Update for 2022: I’ve been surfing with my Apple Watch now for TWO years and it has held up wonderfully. I haven’t had any issues with water or salt – I just rinse it off after a session. I’ve been using the silicone band that came with the watch with no issues as well – I feel it holds the watch securely enough (although I typically have it under a wetsuit sleeve).
Overall I’m even happier with the watch than I thought I’d be, and Surfline Sessions has enabled me to improve my surfing by watching my clips and seeing what I’m doing wrong and what I’m doing well.
But Can It Surf? Apple Watch Waterproof Rating
The Apple Watch is water-resistant down to 50 meters. That’s about 164 ft. For surfers, I really hope you don’t end up that far down. Most of my friends that have the Apple Watch have been using it for over a year without any issues related to water damage. Apple famously used surfing as it’s key selling point when they introduced the series 3:
Right now during the winter I am using the watch without any special protection or case–just a clear screen protector (sand and screens don’t mix) and the simple rubber band that it came with. I wear it underneath my wetsuit sleeve to keep it in place and to shield it from splashes and the turbulence associated with waves. 50 meters is pretty decent but it’s not designed to really take a lot of water smashing it from all directions. A wetsuit sleeve will keep it somewhat shielded. If you’re using it without a wetsuit in warmer water I’d recommend some sort of case, like the Catalyst waterproof case.
The Apple Watch has a “water” mode to protect it from accidental taps that it might sense from the water touching it. When you disengage that mode, the watch ejects water from its innards much like a dog shakes water off its fur. It’s pretty ingenious.
So How Well Does It Work? Dawn Patrol + Surfline Sessions
There are a few apps that work very well with the Apple Watch. Everyone’s top choice right now is Dawn Patrol. This app is free for the basic functionality, and you can subscribe for a small amount in order to take advantage of surf forecasting watch faces and complications. (Complications are the small pieces of data that can be added to the face of your watch).
Dawn Patrol is really easy to use. Simply open the app and tap “start surfing”. It automatically starts your session and activates the water mode so that the screen is muted from being touch sensitive. While you’re surfing it will show you your wave count, time surfing, the tide, distance surfed, and your heart rate.
Once you’re done, end the session and it automatically loads to your phone where you can see all your wave tracks and some other stats for the session like wave count, wave speed, the tide graph for your session, calories burned, max heart rate, and distance surfed.
You can even load your quiver into the app and log what board you were using during the session.
After your session, your exercise and heart rate data gets loaded into your Apple Health app so it can track your exercise. Pretty neat! Surfing is the easiest way to close the Apple exercise rings, by the way.
There are a few other surf tracking apps, such as the standalone Surfline app for Surfline Sessions and Surf Watch. As of the time of this writing I haven’t tried those apps out, but I will do so in the future so stay tuned.
Overall I was very impressed with the surf tracking capabilities of the watch paired with Dawn Patrol. It managed to get most of my waves – even the small one-hit beach break waves that the Rip Curl GPS watch often missed. Loading up the session in Surfline Sessions was also seamless – and it showed my waves quite reliably on the cam! Certain cams are obviously better than others, but I am really happy with how everything works. I thought there would be way more issues and missed waves but I was pleasantly surprised.
Dawn Patrol has a cheap paid option called “Soul Surfer” that gives you access to more surf forecasting and more watch “complications” and faces. I plunked down the money for it ($1.99 per month or $14.99 per year) and think it’s totally worth it. Here’s a few examples of their faces look:
The killer app for me for the Apple Watch was Surfline Sessions (keep in mind the Rip Curl Search GPS 2 and Garmin also work with Surfline Sessions). The ability to see your waves is not only fun but it’s also instructional if you want to improve your surfing. The best way to improve is to watch video of yourself, but if you’re like me you don’t have a personal filmer.
The quality of the footage depends on the cam. Some cams are much better than others. But on most cams it’s enough to see my wave positioning and roughly how much I’m getting the board around on turns and how much spray I’m throwing. After my most recent session I saw that I could have bottom turned a bit more to hit the lip with more power on my last wave.
Surfline Sessions stores your clips so you don’t have to download each one before the cams clear their history. But you can download the clips if you want to use them for something else later. Overall it’s a fun way to improve your surfing.
Check out one of my waves in Oceanside in this quick video where I display the Surfline Sessions app:
There are a few drawbacks to the Apple Watch but not many. First of all, it’s not totally waterproof. Although it has decent water-resistant capabilities I can still see rare instances where the watch ends up with some water damage simply because waves can hit the watch with much more force than say, lap swimming. If you’re going to surf with the Apple Watch I would try to get Apple Care for it.
The bands that the watch comes with are nice but may not hold up during a session. If you’re not putting a wetsuit sleeve over it to keep it secure, I would invest in a more secure band. I have heard several stories of the stock Apple Watch bands falling off in the water. However, if you can tuck it under your wetsuit sleeve the stock band is totally fine.
The apps work great for the most part, although Dawn Patrol had some bugs when I first loaded it on my watch where the forecasting kept changing locations. However, for the last week it has been working perfectly. The developers DO get back to you if you email them with questions.
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There are a few things that I suggest if you are an Apple Watch surfer:
- Rinse the watch with fresh water after a session and dry it off. Salt and electronics don’t mix.
- Get a clear screen protector – sand and screens also don’t mix.
- Get a band that doesn’t absorb water. Otherwise it won’t dry off quickly and cloth/fabric bands end up stinking after a while.
- Cover it with a wetsuit sleeve in the water, or get a more secure band if you’re trunking it/short sleeve.
Overall I’m even happier with the Apple Watch than I thought I would be. I put off getting one for so long but the ability to see my waves on the Surfline cams easily was the killer app for me. Although I can get this functionality on other watches, the Apple Watch works great with my iPhone and I can use it for a multitude of other activities and tasks, which makes this an awesome all-in-one. Other android based watches can sometimes be difficult to get to work right with the iPhone and so although I think Apple is overpriced and annoying in other ways, they do manage to make their apps and devices work absolutely seamlessly together.
If you’re thinking about getting one of these for its surfing functionality I highly recommend it.