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The 7 Best Analogue Surf Watches to Wear In & Out of the Sea

Posted on December 14 2020

Surf Watches

 

Most lists of Surf watches contain the same few watches. Plastic smartwatches, maybe in bright colours, that can tell you about the tide, your heart rate and will count waves. If you want a watch with GPS and WiFi, great. But it’s going to be ugly looking.

What if you want a good looking surf watch? Something that you’re proud to wear after surfing when you’re in the bar or chilling on the beach. Maybe you’d like a watch that has a historic link to surfing, or raises money for a cause close to a surfers heart.

That’s what I want to see on these types of lists. Watches that are functional, but also have character. Watches that perform just as well outside of the sea as in it. I want to see watches that are good at being watches, rather than being tiny computers strapped to your wrist.

Do Companies Make Watches Designed for Surfing?


They do. Increasingly they are releasing smartwatches with digital displays that show not just the time, but tide information too. For the most part, that means watches that are square or angular. There are exceptions, Timex and Casio both make more traditional looking models, but they are bucking the current trends.

If it’s an analogue watch that you’d prefer, then the default choice would be a rugged dive watch. Something with decent water resistance and not too cumbersome. A watch created for sports. There are so many choices that it’s overwhelming. Dive watches are such a popular style that virtually every watch manufacturer produces at least one.

But analogue watches designed specifically for surfing or with a surf connection? The list suddenly gets a lot smaller.

They do exist. Breitling released the Superocean Heritage Chronograph 44 Outerknown. It was a collaboration between Breitling and Kelly Slater’s company Outerknown. It’s a great watch that features a Swiss-made Breitling automatic movement and an Outerknown strap made from nylon waste. However, it costs more than five grand.

What I want to do is present you with a list of more affordable models. Watches that were created for surfers, whether that is through their functionality or their style, but remain accessible.

The Best Watches for Surfers


Of course, we do need some minimum standards, the most obvious being water resistance. So I’ve picked watches that are capable of submersion, but that also in some way reference surfing. I’ve chosen the watches based on their specs, price, and design inspiration.

I’ve trimmed the list down to the best seven and made sure to include a range of prices.

 

Bulova Surfboard Watch

 

The Archive Series from Bulova is a collection that takes inspiration from their own back catalogue. They’ve recreated some of their popular designs from the past and updated them with modern watchmaking technology.

Bulova is a brand that I feature regularly on this blog, as they are a company that has a great backstory, a history of innovation, and they reissue their most iconic pieces. Learn more here.

This model, known as Chronograph A, takes its design cues from the Bulova dive watches of the 1970s. It was nicknamed the Surfboard due to the surfboard shape in the centre of the dial.

It’s a distinctive watch that successfully marries the vintage aesthetic with contemporary tastes. The case is 40mm, larger than a vintage piece, and the watch is powered by a modern reliable Japanese quartz movement. But the case is a retro barrel shape, while the dial, hands and bezel all faithfully recreate a 1970s sports watch. You get the best of both worlds.

The curved sapphire crystal enhances the vintage style but uses a material favoured by today’s watch fans. With the 200M of water resistance and a silicon strap, the watch is fine for taking into the sea. Outside of the sea, it’s an attractive and eye-catching watch.

Bulova Archive Surfboard 98A252

  • 40.5mm Diameter
  • 14.5mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Curved Sapphire Box Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 



Alsta Surf n Ski Watch

 

The quartz crisis refers to a period in the 1970s when traditional watch manufacturers were confronted with the rise in cheap, battery-powered watches. I’ve discussed this a few times, particularly when I looked at how the Japanese company Orient responded.

Originally founded in the 1940s, the Alsta brand was run by a successful New York-based company. Having just about survived the quartz crisis, the business was eventually wound down in 1982. But not before the brand had made a lasting impression with watch fans.

They had created a number of attractive designs during the 1960s and 70s, but there was one particular watch that stands out - the Nautoscaph dive watch. It was the watch worn by Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws.

In 2014 the brand was resurrected by Scotland's Angus MacFadyen, with a recreation of the Nautoscaph being the new ventures first release. The second was the Surf N Ski limited edition. The original watch had been aimed at the ski crowds of Aspen and St Moritz and the Californian surf scene. It was an attractive, angular piece marketed to young, sporty and wealthy customers.

Like the Bulova, the new watch has been slightly updated to cater to modern tastes. The previous model was 33mm wide and that has been upgraded to 40mm here. Other than that, and the Japanese automatic movement, this is nearly identical to the original.

The case has a black PVD coating and is matched with an Italian leather strap. The dial has a wonderful contrasting orange outer track and prominent white hands.

It’s rugged, water-resistant to 300M and oozes vintage style and panache.

Alsta Surf N Ski Limited Edition

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • PVD Coated Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

 



Szanto Shane Dorian Watch

 

Szanto is a brand that I’ve recently featured on the blog. You wouldn’t expect to see them in a list of surf watches. The inspiration for Szanto comes primarily from vintage military and aviation watches, and a desire to recreate contemporary versions.

Rather than producing modern, sporty designs, they specialise in designing watches that are influenced by vintage pieces from as far back as WWI.

California based, and launched in 2013, it’s one of a couple of watch brands created by the Time Concepts company. The other big brand they have is Luminox. They do produce cutting edge watches, all featuring the innovative GTLS illumination.

Szanto teamed up with Dorian to produce a modern dive watch. He’s a Hawaiian surfer, best known for his big wave riding. In a related side note - Time Concepts also own the dive watch company Hawaiian Lifeguard Association.
This watch is a relatively straightforward dive watch. It’s a recognisable style, with large bold numerals on a clear and legible dial. It has the typical dive watch essentials that include not only the water resistance but good lume, a mineral crystal and a rotating bezel.

It's packaged in a 42mm case that takes a durable 22mm rubber strap.

Of the colour options, I prefer this green and black variant. One reason for this is that it looks more like an outdoors watch - when Dorian isn’t surfing, he’s out bowhunting. The colouring adds versatility to what is essentially a dive watch.

Szanto Shane Dorian IC-SD-5303

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 



Rip Curl Striker Midnight Watch

 

Unlike the previous three brands, Rip Curl isn’t a watch company. On the whole, they don’t produce particularly inspiring watch designs. It’s just not their thing.

Along with Quicksilver and Billabong, Rip Curl is one of the big three boardwear companies. It was founded at the tail end of the 1960s, is known for its innovation, and has grown from small roots in Australia to an international brand.

Of their watch range, this Striker model stands out. There’s an obvious military aesthetic, with the black dial and case. This is matched with a brown strap. The case is durable plastic and the strap is Silicone. This makes for a tough, but lightweight watch.

There is 100M water-resistance as expected and a quartz movement. The design doesn’t scream that the watch is a surf model, but there is an overall outdoors feel. It’s not in the same league as the Bulova or Alsta, but it is much more affordable. It’s also an attractive piece, with a clear, legible dial and large numerals.

Of the inexpensive watches branded by surf companies - this is the best that I’ve seen.

Rip Curl Striker Midnight A3098-DES

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 14.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • ABS Hardened Plastic
  • Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Elliot Brown Canford RNLI Watch

 

Stories make watches.

Whether it was the first watch on the Moon or the racing chronograph worn by Paul Newman - we love watches and brands with stories. That’s the primary reason that I’ve featured this watch on my list.

The company’s co-founder, Ian Elliot is a keen surfer. While out windsurfing in the UK’s Solent area, he got into difficulties and had to be rescued by the RNLI - The Royal National Lifeboat Institution - a charity that saves lives at sea around the coasts of the United Kingdom.

This incident led to the company working with the RNLI to create a watch that raises funds for the charity.

It is a part of the brands Canford line and has a chunky 44mm case, a sapphire crystal and 200M of water resistance.

Of most interest to us are the small design details that reference the RNLI. Most obvious is the logo on the dial, but there are some other subtle design cues too. The small blue and white dots near the hour markers reference the colours used on RNLI oars, and the charity’s original rope and anchor logo is machined onto the case back. The design is surrounded by the founder’s words ‘With courage nothing is impossible”.

While not an obvious surf watch, it is a watch created by a surfer. Importantly, it raises funds for the volunteers who are there to protect surfers, and others, around the UK’s coasts.

Elliot Brown Canford RNLI Special Edition

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz movement
  • Domed Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 



O'Neill Stavanger Watch

 

For a dive watch made by a surf brand, the Stavanger certainly looks the part. It’s a sturdy, eye-catching watch that looks a little better than it probably is. There’s not much info that I can find about this model, other than it has 100M of water resistance and a quartz movement.

It’s not the easiest watch to track down, and there are a few elements of the watch - the pushers at either side of the crown - that suggest some of the design points may be for style rather than function. But from that perspective, it works.

It’s a very affordable model that looks nice. In addition, it’s branded with the logo of a surf brand that you may already be a fan of.

O’Neill Stavanger Quartz Diver

  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Shinola The Duck Dive Watch

Shinola is another company that I’ve featured recently. Founded in 2011, the brand’s mission is to create high-end American watches. The Shinola name was taken from the defunct shoe polish brand and the company now employs over 500 employees.

Shinola’s big selling point is that its watches are assembled in their Detroit factory - their watchmakers having been trained by the brands Swiss partners.

The Duck is marketed as a surf watch - named after the duck dive. Most of the collection consists of colourful models with rubber straps, but I prefer this more traditional piece, with a stainless steel bracelet and a Fifty-Fathoms vibe.

It’s less edgy and could be seen to be less surf orientated, but it does well as a vintage diver. You’re more able to dress up with this model than the more colourful ones, so it is more versatile.

There are some large watches in the Shinola line-up, but this is a comfortable 42mm. The water resistance is a decent 200M and there’s a screw-down crown. The crown and bracelet are signed with the Shinola bolt logo and the case back is illustrated too.

An American made dive watch seems like an appropriate way to round out this list.

Shinola The Duck

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Argonite 713 Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 


Conclusion


There is any number of smartwatches out there. Many of them are designed for surfers and can inform you of tide patterns, GPS coordinates and even your heart rate. They tend to be uninspiring plastic watches with digital displays.

If you’d prefer a traditional analogue timepiece to wear in the sea, the market is swamped with choice. Good quality dive watches are a massive part of the watchmaking industry.

What I wanted to do in this post was to introduce you to another option. Analogue watches made specifically for surfers. Watches that can function in water, but are equally at home on land. Ideally, stylish and with an obvious surf connection.

It’s not a big niche, but this list gives you options that are priced between £100 and £800. There should be a watch for everyone. If you know of more, I’d love to hear from you. Comment below.


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