Time just goes differently when surfing and it’s almost impossible to guess how long you’ve been on the water, it could be 30 minutes or 3 hours…no idea. So having a surf watch to know the time is just handy to make sure we aren’t late to work or for that afternoon walk that was planned with the inlaws (why is it always on the perfect surf day!?).
Back in the day, the best surf watches were just decent waterproof watches from a cool brand, but these days they can be so much more.
With the advent of smartwatch technology, surf watches can not only record your fitness performance like heart rate and vo2 max but also surf performance like wave count, the number of lefts vs rights, distance surfed and time on a wave. Some surf watches also tell you the state of the tide in the location you set, which is a very helpful addition.
Generally, I don’t like recording my activities and when I started to write this blog, I didn’t really get the point of having a smartwatch on the water. For me, it’s meant to be a time to disconnect from the world and I’m never going to be a competitive surfer so I don’t care how many lefts vs rights I get in a session.
However, in the last couple of weeks my thoughts on having a smartwatch whilst doing watersports have changed. Some people have recently got into trouble whilst kitesurfing and windsurfing at my local beach and if something disastrous did happen on the water, then a smartwatch knows your location and can either send distress signals or call someone, which might help save a life. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but this totally makes sense if you have health implications anyway, or are going out in less than ideal conditions.
So what to look for in a surf watch…For all types they must tell the time, be waterproof, shock resistant and have a decent strap that won’t rip or fall off when surfing. After that, it’s up to you whether you want one with tide data and/or a watch that tracks every bit of your session.
In this article, we’ve listed the best surf watches we can find here in the UK, which covers the most basic budget watches to the high-end smartwatches.
Table of Contents
The best watches for surfing that are available in the UK
Ultimate surfing watches – The best surf watches arent from surf brands anymore, they are from companies who have the skills to pack in so much tech into this tiny box we put on our wrist.
Apple Series 7
The Apple Series 7 is not a surf specific watch, but it got an unreal amount of features that may make it the best surf watch out right now (unless you’re an Android using Apple hater…then it’s probably best to scroll to the next watch).
Some people still ask can you surf with an Apple watch? There is no need to guess or hope anymore because Apple is promoting it as a watch for surfing on their website…If you’re a surfer, see the tides, wind and water temperature at a glance…And check out their promo video above, at 33 seconds it talks about surfing with the watch too.
To get the basics out the way first, the watch is super durable, waterproof and has a massive display so you can easily read what the time is on the water. It’s also relatively thin so will feel comfortable being worn under a wetsuit.
As I’ve already alluded to, the watch has some incredible features that make it just as powerful as your phone with the ability to call, text, track anything you want fitness-wise, contactless payments, listen to music, etc etc.
In terms of features for surfing, that’s all done once you download the Dawn Patrol app. The app has a free version, or you can pay to access the exclusive features. Once you download the app to your phone and watch, you’ll have the option of a few faces (what you see on the watch face) that makes it ideal for surfing.
The app offers live statistics and breaks down your key stats into monthly and weekly goals. It offers tidal data, surf reports, wave counts, wavelengths, a map of the waves caught, your maximum speed, calories you’ve burned, and more.
So the Apple Series 7 pretty much ticks all the boxes for the best surf watch around. The only downside is that it is quite expensive and you’ll need to buy those extras that when added up always cost a bomb like a sports watch band and screen protectors.
However, if you’re looking for a more budget option, the Apple SE watch at £249 is just as great and does most of what you need to make it a brilliant watch for surfing.
Like a mini iPhone on your wrist
Packed full of every feature you could want for surfing
Although the battery life isn’t bad, it’s very different to a normal watch and you’ll have to remember to charge it regularly.
Buy a sports wristband to stop it from falling off
Garmin Instinct Surf Edition
If the Apple watch is for Apple users, Android users can have Gamin (though it works on iOS too). This is a well-reviewed sports smartwatch and I personally love all Garmin gear, who normally find the perfect balance of features without overcomplicating things.
The Instinct is Garmins rugged, rough and ready watch that comes in a variety of ‘editions’, including a Surf Edition. The Surf Edition Instinct can also track a whole range of sports such as running, cycling and swimming but what makes it the Surf edition is its ability to store and display tidal data. The build features like the fibre-inforced polymer case and scratch-resistant display increase confidence that this watch will last a long time and cope with heavy surf.
The watch uses multiple satellite systems from GLONASS, GPS, and Galileo to keep track of your session. This means the Garmin Instinct can tell you the number of waves surfed, maximum speed reached and distance covered.
Along with tide, surf and sports data, the watch also lets you stay connected to the world through emails, texts, making emergency calls, and so much more than your basic watch could ever do. You can also monitor your everyday fitness, like your heart rate, stress level, and pulse rate.
A really cool feature of the Instinct is the watch’s battery life, which lasts a super long time aided by the solar battery. Somewhere in the watch they’ve managed to fit a bit of tech that helps charge the battery with sunlight.
Like any other smartwatch on this list, you’ll need to download an app on your phone to easily see all the data from your sessions. The Gamin Connect app has been around for years, so there aren’t really any snagging issues or bugs and it all runs very smoothly.
Whilst the watch actually feels lightweight, it’s not elegant by any stretch of the imagination and is kind of military-looking. I think some people might be put off by its size and it’ll feel far too big for smaller wrists.
Great value surf and tide data watch
Preloaded multi-sports tracking
The large size can be bulky for some people
The surfing app can struggle with GPS tracking at times
The Garmin Fenix Pro is one of the most desirable outdoor watches around at the minute. It’s pre-loaded with a bunch of really cool things like ski maps, golf courses, Garmin pay, music apps, turn by turn navigation plus all the usual fitness tracking smartwatch features.
Like in Garmin Instinct, it’s a rugged and durable watch, but this one looks great with a premium, high-quality finish.
It’s on our list of best surf watches because along with it being able to collect surf data like the Instinct, the Fenix can give you real-time surf reports and forecasts for your local spot, due to Garmin’s partnership with Surfline. Surfline is compatible with quite a few Garmin watches, including the cheaper Forerunner range, but surprisingly it’s not available with the Instinct, even though Garmin promote it as their ‘Surf’ watch.
The Fenix uses the same tracking features as the Garmin Instinct, such as GLONASS, GPS, Galileo, ABS sensor, and Trackback routing.
What I really like about the Fenix is the huge face, which makes it super easy to read the display whilst surfing. It is not a touchscreen, but that’s fine because it’s always tricky to use any touchscreen device when your hands are wet.
Because the watch is made from premium materials, it’s a bit on the heavy side. Some reviews have suggested the Fenix is a little over the top in terms of features, and many doubt the need for all the different sports modes.
Probably the best outdoorsy smartwatch
Waterproof to a depth of 100 meters
A bit over the top on features
Ripcurl Search 2
From £162 – View Rip Curl Search 2 on Surfdome >
Here is a brand every surfer would’ve heard of.
The Ripcurl Search 2 is a popular watch because of the brands’ well-established roots in surfing, and the watch itself has all the features needed to make it a great surfing watch.
The chunky watch is slightly larger than the Apple series watches and is mainly made of hardened ABS plastic. I don’t mind this too much because its size and thickness gives me confidence the watch is super durable and can take a pounding in any size wave. You don’t have to worry about losing the watch either because the Ripcurl 2 has a flexible and secure rubber strap.
What makes this watch different to the Apple or Garmin is that there is no set-up needed to turn it into a watch for surfing.
You’ll still need to do a few basic things like connect the watch to your phone with an app and tell it your location. Once that’s done you can check your local surfing conditions, have tidal data on the watch and also track your surfing sessions. The Search 2 will tell you everything from top speed, distance paddled, wave count and session time.
Before heading out to the nearest beach, you can check the real-time swell and wind report because Ripcurl has partnered with weather forecaster Surfline. Although I think this is a cool feature, I’m pretty sure I’d just continue to use my phone to check the forecast, which is easier to read.
We can all agree that GPS is the most significant feature, but the battery life is also essential. It takes 3 hours to charge fully, and you can use the watch for up to 7 hours. As a standard watch, you can use it for 2-3 months without charging, unlike the Apple Watch, which you will need to (probably) charge daily.
What I’m not sure about the Ripcurl is why anyone would choose it over the Garmin or Apple. I get it’s a dedicated surf watch, but these other brands are doing it better and you can use their watches for other sports. If you want to track your surfing, I bet you want to track your mountain biking, skiing or running as well, so you’d want a watch that can do it all.
It’s not as bulky as the previous model, so more comfortable when surfing
Got all the features needed for a great surf watch
The interface looks a little dated
Doesn’t track other sports
App only works on iOS
The next set of watches don’t have sports tracking features, so if you want a more basic but solid surf watch option, these could be ones to go for. The advantage of the watch not being smart is the battery life will last so much longer, and the watch is probably less likely to go wrong. Some of these watches have tidal information which is a helpful addition, especially here in the UK when tide can massively affect how good the surf is.
Casio G-lide GBX-100
From £149 – View Casio G-lide GBX on G-Shock’s website >
Casio’s G-Shock range is one we’ve probably all heard of, it’s a classic outdoor watch that’s super reliable, heavy-duty and you can trust it to cope in any environment.
The G-Shock G-Lide GBX-100 is one designed for surfers and it’s got all the functionality you really need during a session – it clearly tells the time and gives you tide information. The watch also displays when sunrise and sunset is, which is a decent addition to easily plan what time the dawn raid starts.
This watch has enough features that it could be for a smartwatch and it’s great if you just want a watch for surfing. However, if you want a multi-sport fitness tracking watch, then I’d go for a Garmin. Saying that the G-lide GBX can track distance, speed and pace so if you like to track the occasional jog, this watch will be OK for that too
It’s got a really bright screen, which Casio call the Memory In Pixel display. Whether you’re surfing at dusk or in the super bright midday sun, you’ll always be able to see what the time is. This might sound basic but you’ll be surprised how many watches are hard to read when there is a strong glare from sunlight.
The tidal data shows high and low tide in a graph and in time form too, so you can’t miss a session because you’ve got the tide wrong. This is all set up by connecting your watch to the G-Shock Move phone app via Bluetooth, which is pretty simple and easy to use. The watch can also display phone notifications, but it’s pretty complicated to access the messages and you’ll more than likely end up turning off this feature.
Finally, and one thing we haven’t touched on too much so far in this article is the wristband is super comfortable and might just be the best on this list.
200m water resistant
Sunrise and sunset information
It’s poor at displaying phone notifications
From £139.95 – View on nixon.com >
Nixon is probably the coolest sports watch brand on this list by some distance. So if you’re trying to buy a watch as a gift for a surfer, they will not be disappointed with a Nixon.
In my opinion, the Nixon Heat ticks all the boxes for a great surf watch because it’s affordable, waterproof, comfortable, simple and best of all, clearly tells the time! I don’t know about you but I also think it’s the best-looking watch on this list. I’d happily wear the Heat on the water, at work or at the pub, which I wouldn’t do with some of the bulkier surf watches.
The Heat has not got all the bells and whistles of many other watches on the list, it looks classy and the ultra-thin 8mm profile means it’ll just feel great when on the water. Nixon says this watch is the favourite of surfing world champion John John Florence, so if it’s good enough for him then it’s certainly good enough for everyone reading this blog.
It seems like the brief from Nixon was to make this watch look great and be as comfortable as possible for adventure and extreme sports wearers. They’ve done a great job with the strap which is one of the best on this list. As Nixon say it’s a 20mm injection moulded rubber band with a perforated design providing durability, breathability and comfort.
So far this watch ticks a lot of boxes, but one thing it’s not is a fitness/all-around sports watch like a Garmin. However, it feels like Nixon are trying to market this watch for all athletes, but it really only has basic timer functions. This might be fine if you’re a competitive surfer but not if you’re wanting to figure out your pace on a 5k jog.
Very comfortable and slim profile
It’s been reported the buttons are a little sticky
Not well backlit when dark
Nixon High Tide
From £200 – View on nixon.com >
The High Tide is Nixon’s high-end surf watch.
It feels and looks premium, is durable, comes in a range of colours and probably best of all, is made from upcycled ocean plastic.
For all of us who use the ocean regularly, it’s nice to see Nixon trying to do what they can to help be more environmentally friendly.
The watch has a high contrast display, which Nixon calls MLCD technology, that makes it very clear and easy to read on the water.
The main feature of this watch is its customisable screen that can show tide, sunrise and sunset data which is great for planning your next session. HOWEVER, Nixon promotes that the watch comes preset with 550 data locations, but only 14 of them are in the UK. So the watch can display tidal graphs, but not for every location which is a bummer for me and makes the ‘surf’ features pretty useless for a lot of people.
The preset locations are:
Langennith, Croyde, Fistral, Pentewan, North Devon, Scarborough, Aberdeen, Pease Baytlnd, Thurso, Bundoran, Dingle, Donegal, Lahinch, Galway
So unless you’re living in these locations, I’d go for something like a Garmin Forerunner that’s a similar price but has way more features.
Easy to read screen
The tide data only works in a few locations in the UK
Timex Men’s Ironman Classic
A no-nonsense, super durable waterproof digital watch that will probably outlast your surfing career.
Timex is a classic watch brand and the Ironman is their best selling range, which was first produced in 1986. The watch is well worn and tested within Ironman Triathlon circuits so it’s got to be tough, waterproof, shockproof and have a strap that can take a pounding and not come loose.
Unlike the Apple or Garmin watches, the Timex’s battery will just keep going and going and going. I’ve had one for about 12 years and it’s as reliable as it comes, I wear it windsurfing and surfing and never had a problem with the watch.
Hopefully, this should go without saying, but this isn’t a smartwatch with GPS connectivity or show tidal data in a graph. This is just simply a digital timepiece that works great as a surf watch.
There isn’t much more to say about these watches, and with some deals on Amazon they are great for the wallet too.
Simple and affordable
200m water resistant
Not a good looking watch
Casio Collection Unisex Digital Watch
The Casio Collection style has turned into somewhat of a retro classic.
These watches are incredibly simple, unpretentious and dare I say it because I’m far from it… fashionable.
So what makes the Casio one of the best surf watches? Well, it’s super simple, waterproof, had a very slim face so comfortable under a wetsuit and is amazing value. For the price you pay, you don’t feel too precious about the watch and it won’t be a constant worry on the water. I’ve worn my Garmin out surfing a couple of times and I’ve had to check on it under my wetsuit to make sure it wasn’t full of water.
The Casio is not as rugged as the Timex and arguably the Timex has a more comfortable strap, but the Casio is just a classic that I couldn’t miss off this list.
I’ve made out the Casio to be stupidly simple but it’s got all the standard features of a digital watch with an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer, backlight display light and a super reliable battery that will easily last 10 years.
Water-resistant up to 100m
What to look for in a surf watch
Does the manufacturer say the watch is good for surfing?
Somewhere in marketing or the product description, you’d like to think the manufacturer says it can be used surfing. That’s probably the biggest giveaway the watch has been tested to a level that can withstand the pressure of surfing.
If not, make sure you get one that’s water-resistant to at least 100m. Before we get into details, you need to understand that watches are not entirely waterproof. When we talk about water resistance in watches, we talk about the water pressure that a watch can withstand. We usually measure this pressure in feet, meters, bars, and atmosphere ATM.
So, you should not expose your watch to water when it is not water-resistant. Even small splashes when washing your hands can damage it. A watch that says “30m water-resistant” can handle light splashes like washing hands. Don’t shower or swim with your watch on for this type of water resistance.
The 50m water resistance allows you to stay in the water for a shorter time. For example, you can shower or swim. On the other hand, the 100m water resistance means that you can swim for more extended periods, surf, and snorkel. However, all of the above water resistance pressure limits do not allow for the pressure of scuba diving. So if you want to be super safe, you could look for a watch that has 200m water resistance.
The more expensive watches will hopefully come with a warranty and some manufacturers offer an extended warranty.
Rugged Watch Straps
You don’t want a watch that can fall off during your surfing session. So ensure that you look at the strap and how firm it is when shopping for a watch.
If it offers more support or a secure system, get it!
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.