When it comes down to looking for the best surf watches, there are many things that you have to be conscience of.
Now when we say, surf watches, we’re actually talking ones that you can surf with, not necessarily ones that measure the tides of the oceans.
So yes, not only can you go out and shred with these watches, all while keeping track of when you need to be back for lunch, but you can also take these watches out for a nice recreational swim if that’s your thing.
The most important thing that separates surf watches from other watches is the fact that they are water resistant.
While not all watches are made water resistant equal, and some are meant for more extreme forms of watersport, what we’ve found is these watches are extremely popular in the surf community, especially for those who are simply looking for a casual or luxury watch that can be worn in and out of the water.
Here are some time pieces that you can wear proudly, whether you’re out in Poseidon’s palace or oceanfront dining at Poseidon Del Mar.
The 8 Best Bets
3 Best Men’s Surf Watches
Our #1 Pick - Rip Curl Cambridge
While it doesn’t come with any of the crazy fancy capabilities that many Rip Curl surf watches flaunt, what we love about the Rip Curl Cambridge is that it is simple, sleek, and does the job.
It is a luxury watch without the luxury price. The beauty of the Rip Curl Cambridge is that it is a solid watch for men who like to be discreet about the “ice on their wrist”.
The watchband is made of a durable silicone, which is perfect for those who are facing the extreme head on, or for those who are working in the physical realm and can’t deal with a metal band to be reliable or comfortable.
To add to its durability, the watch has a nice ABS casing that helps it to live through any high impact instances. Going for a little snorkel? No worries, the Rip Curl Cambridge is water resistant up to 330ft. A lot of this has to do with the miniature O-Ring that helps keep the battery area free sealed tight once in the water. If you’re looking for a minimalist watch, we can’t recommend one better.
#2 - Rip Curl Black Maverick
The Rip Curl Black Maverick is a step up from the Cambridge in terms of luxury with a few more additional components with attention to detail for your wrist.
This is the type of watch that is truly suitable for all kinds of occasions. At 46mm, even the bigger guys won’t look like they have tiny watch on their wrist. Just like the Cambridge, the Maverick was individually tested in different marine environments to assure its water resistance rating that runs at 330ft.
The main difference is the intricacies of craftsmanship that can be seen through the three-hand chronograph. Like other luxury analog watches, this one features an hour, second, and minute dial. The watch crown itself is crafted from a durable, stainless steel, while the band is constructed from a rich leather, and paired with a silicone bezel.
Yes, you’ll have to be a bit more careful to care for the leather as opposed to a band that is purely silicone, but if you want a watch that will never go out of style and truly works for any occasion, the Black Maverick is there for you.
#3 - NIXON Sentry
Okay enough of riding Rip Curl’s wave for a minute. Let’s talk about the Nixon Sentry. This watch comes in an array of designs and colors, perfect for those who want to find something unique to their style without sacrificing class.
It is one of those watches where you would only try to use it for special occasions, but would end up wearing it just about everywhere because of its durability and reliability. Like the Black Maverick, the Nixon Sentry comes with a leather band and a stainless steel crown, which are both resistant to water and are comfortable on the wrist.
We would highly recommend this watch to guys with smaller wrists, as guys with bigger wrists will find that it’s a bit too sleek. In all, this watch is perfect for those who are trying to find the best balance between utility and luxury.
You won’t pay an arm and a leg for “craftsmanship”, but you will get a watch that is long lasting and looks great for all occasions.
3 Best Women’s Surf Watches
Our #1 Pick - NIXON Time Teller
Hey ladies, looking for a watch that can get through a day of hardcore surfing with you, before you take it out for a nice wine and dine while watching the sunset? Well we have just the watch for you.
The NIXON Time Teller is the watch you are after. It comes in an array of styles and colors from Black to Rose Gold, and is made with your classic 5-link stainless steel style bracelet and sliding buckle. The crown is crafted with a triple-gasket stainless steel that not only durable enough to help keep water out, but also looks great.
Even with the versatility that this watch offers, it remains simple, and not too gaudy like some luxury watches do. It’s stylish enough for any occasion and can survive in up to 330ft of water.
#2 - Rip Curl Black Aurora
The Rip Curl Black Aurora is a watch that was designed for ladies leading a life of adventure. Not only is it water-resistant up to 330ft in the water, but it is also much more durable than a luxury-style watch because of the materials that are used to craft it.
The 38mm plastic casing holds the crown together, while the comfortable and very durable polyurethane strap wraps tightly around your arm to keep it from falling off when you’re out in the water.
We would recommend this watch for those women who are looking for a cheaper alternative to a luxury water resistant watch.
It may not be the one that you are going to wear out to a fancy dinner or special occasion, but if you need something sleek and functional to help you keep time while passing the day by out in the water, this is your watch.
#3 - NIXON Arrow Leather
The NIXON Arrow Leather really lives by its name. This is one sharp watch. While not the most durable watch on our women’s surf watches list, you’d be surprised how a watch that looks so sleek could stand to be out in 160ft of water while still holding up.
The crown is 38mm in diameter and hosts a beautiful and simple, rose gold analog display with polished numbers and small markers around the circumference that boast the attention to detail. Seriously, the look of the thing makes you think “instant classic”. It’s simple yet functional, and comes paired with a sleek leather strap that looks great on any wrist.
Rose gold is the new black, and NIXON did it right with this watch. While it may not have all the bells and whistles off high-end watches, the minimalist design is what gives it beauty, and for that, we love it.
2 Best Unisex Surf Watches
Our #1 Pick - NIXON Unisex Regulus
The NIXON Unisex Regulus is one of those watches that can take you from fine dining to the beach in both style and functionality. We see men and women boasting this watch all the time.
Like most of the watches on this list, it is water-resistant up to 330ft., meaning it is great for surfing, swimming, or snorkeling. Built in collaboration with U.S. Special Operations, this bad boy has some awesome features.
The digital module has an array of features including dual time display, calendar, alarm, countdown timer, and light functions to change the brightness of the LCD display. The crown casing is a custom stainless steel that is injection molded with silicone pushers to give it impact resistance.
All this comes complete on a leather strap that stays on tightly to add that sleek feel to it without sacrificing functionality. Ladies or gentleman who are looking for a seriously utilitarian watch that you can also sport at any occasion, the Regulus is at the top of our list.
#2 - Vestal Alpha Bravo 10 ATM
Not everyone wants a watch that looks luxurious. That might be hard to believe for the watch lovers of the world, but some people’s sole reason for buying a watch is for functionality.
We feel that, and that’s why we wanted to show you a watch like the Vestal Alpha Bravo 10 ATM. This watch may not have all the fancy three-faced chronographs or custom leather bands, but what it does have is ultimate strength and utility in the water.
The casing and the buckle are made from a lightweight but incredibly durable polycarbonate material. The lens is crafted from a welded acrylic. To hold it together, Vestal created a polyurethane strap to make sure it stays secure in the gnarliest of conditions.
No issues taking this thing out in the water either, as it is rated for up to 330ft. If you want a watch that you can surf with all day and couldn’t care less about looking pretty, the Vestal Alpha Bravo is one of our best recommendations.
What To Consider When Buying A Surf Watch
Before you buy a surf watch, you must watch out for companies who try to tell you that their watches are waterproof. The truth is, no watch out there is waterproof. At some point when down in the depth, or when faced with certain conditions, “waterproof” watches will fail. That’s why we see a lot out there about water resistance. Water resistance is tested by depth and pressure to see how far limits can be pushed until the watches break.
Most watches on our list have a 330ft rating (10ATM) meaning they are great for people who are using them when underwater (aka people who are swimming, surfing, snorkeling, etc.). If you’re looking for watches to go scuba diving with or do more high impact sports with, we would highly recommend looking for watches that are rated for below 600ft.
Okay even before durability, you want to make sure that the watch is comfortable when strapped around your hand. After all, you would never wear clothes everyday that we’re super uncomfortable, so why would you do that with a watch? In terms of finding a band that can work well in the elements, there are a few things to consider. You’ll want a band that is made from materials that are suited for water such as plastic, polyurethane, or stainless steel. While many of the leather band watches we mentioned are coated with some sort of casing to keep them water resistant, we typically recommend straying away from leather bands if you’re constantly taking it in the water, as it will eventually fall apart.
Much of the comfort factor actually comes from the material that the band is made out of, though it can also mean size and thickness as well. Before you make a big purchase with a watch, you’ll want to measure the circumference of your wrist, or at least try on a few watches to get a ballpark estimate of the size. In all, a watch that is too tight will be uncomfortable, and a watch that is too loose might get lost in the water. In all, you’ll want to look for bands that breathe a little better and don’t irritate your skin.
If you are looking to take your surf watch down in the depths, you’ll most likely use an analog watch. This is because analog watches are sealed tighter and don’t require any sort of power for them to work. Analog watches have been around for many years and are definitely the most reliable. That being said, digital watches can offer a lot more in terms of functionality. While they do require power, and are not AS reliable as analog watches, you can have access to features like calendars, timers, alarms, and the list goes on and on.
Beyond looking at your watch to see what time it is, people use their watches for a variety of different things these days. Just look at the Apple Watch. One thing you need to consider is that you have the ability to purchase watches that have certain specialties. Some of those can measure your heart rate. Some can tell you the temperature of the environment you’re in. Some can help you monitor sleep, read time zones, and even talk to you. While having this many features on a watch may seem overwhelming to many, some may bask in the glory of the bells and whistles that their little timepiece offers.
Now it’s time to look at the build beyond the strap and buckle. Look at the bezel, the crown, the casing, the face, and the hands. Are they made with quality materials? The face for surf watches is very important, as you’ll most likely hit your watch against the board at some point. If it isn’t high impact or doesn’t have a scratch resistant casing, you may be in for some trouble. You’ll also want to check how strong the bezel is. You don’t want moisture getting inside and fogging up the inside of the plastic or crystal face.
Top Surf Watch Brands
Rip Curl is easily one of the biggest brands in surfing, and when it comes to surf watches, they are pretty much at the top of the game. Yes there are some “indie” brands out there with niche designs, though the reason we love Rip Curl is that they have everything you could possibly need. They have a vast array of styles, colors, and builds, and have watches for men and women alike. All of their surf watches are very high quality and durable and were made to wear in the water first and foremost. With so many watches to choose from, it’s easy to find one that is in your price range as well.
If Rip Curl had a major competitor in terms of surf watches, it would be NIXON. While Rip Curl is definitely more dedicated to surfing, NIXON is far more dedicated to watches. With watches that range largely in price and a far bigger variety of styles for all occasion, NIXON has got it down. We’ve always loved the NIXON brand because there is just something sleek about them. Many surfers are happy with just the utility of a good surf watch, though there are also many of us who want a watch that can be shown off on land too. If that’s you, NIXON might just be the brand you’re after.
Vestal, while probably not as popular in the surfing community, is another watch brand that has really proven itself in the last couple of years. With their roots in music, they began branching out into surfing when they found a need for surf accessories in the market. Even though surfing was not their priority to begin with, many surfers have caught on and fell in love with the watches that Vestal offers. From the sleek and casual to the bold and beautiful, Vestal has watches for every style of surfer.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does ‘ATM’ stand for?
‘ATM’ stands for atmospheres and it is a measure of pressure and water resistance. Essentially 1 atmosphere is the normal pressure at sea level. This means a watch like the Vestal Alpha Bravo 10 ATM can be used in 10 times the amount of that sea level pressure. Even though it may not be in the name, all watches have ‘ATM’ measurement that you can look for in their descriptions.
What kind of bezel should I look for with my surf watch?
There are many different kinds of bezels out there, though most of the watches on our list come with stationary bezels, meaning they stay in place no matter what. Bidirectional bezels can be found on many surf watches, and they come with engraved markers or numbers that you can rotate. This is typically for aesthetic more than anything else. You also have watches with interchangeable bezels. These can typically be purchased with a surf watch as a set so you can change it out based on the style you want that day. These are perfect for the creative types! If you consider yourself a navigator of the ocean, we would recommend looking for a surf watch with a slide-rule. These are usually printed with logarithmic or metric scales to help you navigate out at sea. While there are many more out there, these types of bezels are definitely the most popular and are surely the ones you should be looking at!
Should I buy a quartz surf watch or automatic surf watch?
Pretty much all mechanical watches these days are automatic, meaning you don’t have to wind them up to get them on the right time. They work with the movement of the wearer’s wrist and have a smooth motion to them. Typically, powerhouse watch manufacturers like Rolex are deep into the automatic watch game. These watches will work only when on your wrist and eventually taper off after a day of not being worn. Think of automatic watches as the Ferraris of the watch community. While they seem to trump quartz watches in terms of luxury and quality, one thing that is certain is a quartz watch is far more reliable. For starters, it will NEVER stop working, unless you bust up the watch of course. In the end, if you’re looking for style, quality, and classic aesthetic, go for an automatic. If you’re looking for accuracy, go for quartz.
How can I find the right size watch for my wrist?
We would urge you not to stress too much on size, especially because most surf watches aren’t made way out of anyone’s size range. You’ll typically find that these watches are between 30mm and 46mm. This isn’t the strap diameter like some people think, it is the diameter of the case. All this takes is a bit of self-evaluation. If you have skinny wrists, you shouldn’t look at watches above 40mm. If you have Dwayne Johnson wrists that pop when you flex, we wouldn’t recommend busting up a watch below 40mm.
Conclusion – Should I Buy A Surf Watch?
Welp, you’re on your own now! We hope that you leave this article knowing a bit more about what to look for when getting your surf watch. While some surfers go out into the ocean to escape time, most of us have schedules to keep tight.
That means we need to keep time with us out there in the waves. What better way to do that than with a surf watch that we love and cherish?
Whether you need that wrist piece for pure utility, or to sport so all your other surfer buddies can see how slick you look when paddling out, a good surf watch is a purchase you won’t regret. Time to get out there!