by Joel "Dr Wireless" Saltzman
This is a bit subjective as there are lots of different ways to approach this question. Today, surfers watches are a lot more than just a wrist watch that is water resistant as in the old days. For years, surfers ended up buying watches that were designed to be used by divers, sailors, and/or pilots. Many of these watches were chronographs and able to do a bit more than just tell the time, and date. Back then, the priority was knowing when to get out of the water to feed the meter, or risk getting a parking ticket.
This first category of watches we're going to consider here are traditional watches (Automatic movements) These watches include timepieces from Rolex, Patek Phillipe, and thousands of other brands right down to the Invicta's, knockoffs, and cheap imitators. I've worn the two watches below for over a dozen years. The benefit of these types of watches are durability. They are virtually indestructible and can be worn everyday 24/7. These automatic movements just require some body movement to wind so no batteries are ever needed.
With the advent of digital watches, prices came down and exciting new features were now available. About a dozen years ago, "Surf Watches" began appearing. SurfLine has partnered with many of the leading surfing watch brands like Nixon, and Ripcurl and some others to include surf spot information like tides and winds.
About five years ago, Ripcurl introduced their first GPS Search watch. Although enormous and butt ugly, this amazing watch was able to use GPS coordinates to actually track your number of waves, speeds, wave distance traveled, paddle distance, GPS coordinates, and a lot more. These watches could even identify where you where surfing by the spots name in most cases and you could compete with your buddies and check the pros stats.
Even cooler, you could sync this to an iPhone and/or computer and get your statistics. Dawn Patrol, the company behind this amazing technology only had Ripcurl aboard initially, I loved my RipCurl Search watch in the water but it was way too big and not stylish or comfortable enough to wear when out of the water. In other words, if you want one watch to wear 24/7, this ain't it.
I had two of these while waiting patiently for a new improved model that never seemed to come. Well, last year it did finally come and it's smaller and better than the original. I hope they improved the screen because the original one was cheap plastic and scratched too easy. The band was also non user replaceable and falls apart over time.
Dawn Patrol is the third party GPS application that makes all of this cool GPS stuff possible. Just when I was getting ready to order the new RipCurl II, a funny thing happened. Surfline notified me of a new feature they are offering called Surf SESSIONS. During the initial launch, Apple's watch was the first to get this technology. RipCurl was slated to be next.
As a premium member of Surfline, I was always able to go back and look for my waves on video from their surf cameras. This was always time consuming though and hardly worth the time and effort. Well Surfline just introduced a new technology that picks up the unique algrythm in each watch and then identifies the watch to Surfline's 500+ cameras. If one of their cameras picks you up, Surfline sends you each wave, They begin the recording 10 seconds before you caught it and end it 10 seconds after it ended. It's called Surf Sessions and is pretty cool. The concept is fantastic but the reality to Surf sessions is that even with 500 cameras, Surfline's camera quality for most spots is mediocre. The closeup cameras are better for this but what good is it if your watch shows you went 300 yards but the camera only caught the first 20 yards before you end up going off screen? I look at the Surf Sessions feature as icing on the cake so if they get a good one, cool.
So there you have it. The best two "Surfing" watches are powered by Dawn Patrol and Surf Line. Which is best for you? Well, that depends. I'm going to utilize the Benjamin Franklin Approach and list the pros and cons of each.
As I have not yet used the RipCurl Search II, my experience was with their original model. The biggest benefit to the RipCurl Search models is they are made for surfing, period. The watch is not cluttered with a zillion applications and features, just surfing. As I mentioned above, if this watch was smaller (like the new version) and a bit more stylish, I might have been able to wear it out of the water too. The biggest benefit to both Ripcurl models were being able to use them multiple sessions before needing a re-charge. In fact, without using the GPS feature, you could likely go a month before needing a charge. If you surf long wavesw like the above example, every couple of days is needed for charging. Both came with a USB charger which is simple enough. I hated the cheap plastic screen that scratched easily and sure hope the newer model is mineral or sapphire instead. The orignal model had a band that fell apart so hopefully that was also improved.
As you can probably tell, I elected to go with the Apple 4/44m model, even though the Apple Watch 5 just came out. I got tired of changing watches every day when going surfing so I decided to try a watch that I could wear 24/7. Granted, it is nowhere near as stylish as a traditional chronograph but not ugly either. I really don't care about answering calls, reading messages, checking facebook, listening to music, or all the other crap this thing does. I do like to check my heart rate periodically which I can do with the press of one button. Apple let's you choose your own face and complications which is awesome. As you can see, I have Start Surfing, Wind Direction/Speed, temperature, date, heart rate and unread text messages.
So far I see only two downsides to the Apple watches. First, like all iPhones, their batteries suck! I have to charge my Watch every night if I want it to be there when I need it. The other is value. When you buy a Rolex, Breitling, Patek, Audomar Piguet, etc, it's like buying a home. These classic watches are timeless and generally appreciate in value over time. With an Apple watch, think yacht or boat. No matter how nice or well kept, it can only depreciate. How much do you think the Apple Watch 1, 2 or even 3 are worth. It's the exact reason I waited for the Apple 5 watch to come out before buying the 4.
I hope this information helps someone. If you do feel compelled to go out their and get a top of the line classic automatic, I see that Kelly and Breitling just partnered.