Garmin created the most complete surf watch to date

August 25, 2020 | Surfing
Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: the world's best surf watch to date | Photo: Garmin

The surf watch market has a new player ready to conquer your heart. The Garmin Instinct Solar Surf has everything a surfer needs to improve his performance in and out of the water.

Garmin has been operating since 1989, creating wearable technology solutions for automotive, aviation, outdoor, marine, and sports activities.

They're known for their expertise in highly successful handheld/portable Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices for the consumer market.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, they have decided to try their luck in an extraordinarily competitive and exclusive niche - surfing.

And, believe it or not, they've done a pretty good job on their first release.

In the past, several attempts to deliver the perfect surfer watch failed due to battery life issues, quality of the materials, lack of software/firmware updates, and swell and wind data reliability.

The Apple Watch brought a fresh approach and changed the paradigm a bit, but has not yet been able to solve both the short battery life and fragile screen issues.

Lately, the best wristwear models for boardsports enthusiasts seem to come from the brands and manufacturers that we least expected - Casio, Apple, and now Garmin.

Paradoxically, watches from traditional surf companies like Nixon, Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Vestal, and Freestyle are losing customers and appeal.

Instinct Solar Surf is one of the finest additions ever to the surf watch field. In fact, from our evaluation, we would say it is our favorite surf watch to date.

Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: a GPS-equipped, solar powered smartwatch that allows you to track your waves | Photo: Garmin

Battery Life

One of the worst things about smartwatches is battery life.

Garmin Instinct Solar Surf features a lithium-ion battery that will allow you to enjoy it for up to 24 days in smartwatch mode indoors and more than 50 days with sufficient solar exposure.

The watch has several power modes for you to quickly adjust system settings, activity settings, and GPS settings and extend battery life during an activity.

For example, power modes can disconnect paired sensors and turn on the UltraTrac GPS option.

You can also create custom power modes and have quick access to frequently used functions, such as turning on do not disturb mode, turning on the battery saver feature, and turning the watch off.

The solar charging capability lets you charge your watch while you use it and even monitor solar intensity in a graph.

The watch's battery is one of its best features.

Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: the solar-powered smartwatch has a battery life of up to 50 days | Photo: Garmin

Tide Information

With its built-in GPS, Garmin Instinct Solar Surf enables you to check tide times everywhere on the planet.

All you need to do is press the GPS button and use your current location and nearest tide station.

You can also select a recently used tide station/saved location, or enter coordinates for a position, to get that precious data.

A 24-hour tide chart will appear for the current date with the
current tide height and information about the next tide.

There are still a few tweaks that can be made to improve tide data readability, but that's certainly something that can be done in future software updates.

The smartwatch will also display the moonrise and moonset times, along with the moon phase, based on your GPS position.

Moon phases are a key, and often underrated variable that can change wave riding conditions at a beach.

Garmin Instinct Solar Surf: you can customize the tide data for your favorite surf spots | Photo: Garmin

Tracking Waves

GPS systems opened doors to tracking everything we do, and that also applies to monitoring the waves we ride.

Garmin Instinct Solar Surf has an activity-tracking feature that records your daily step count, distance traveled, intensity minutes, floors climbed, calories burned, and sleep statistics for each recorded day.

You can also use it to record your surfing sessions.

After the surf, you can view the number of waves, the longest wave, and maximum speed, on your watch, and in the brand's two main apps - Garmin Connect and Garmin Explore.

We've tracked a 45-minute surf session.

When we opened the app to analyze the waves ridden, we noticed that the watch was not able to, in some cases, clearly determine the difference between waves ridden and paddling out or moving around in the line-up.

Again, this is something that could very well be corrected or improved in later software updates.

Nevertheless, it's fair to say that it tracks all your movements and allows you to spot a large percentage of the waves ridden.

Apps and Widgets

The Garmin Instinct Solar Surf is an incredible portable computer.

It will take you a week to get used to all its apps, widgets, functions, and customization options.

The list of options is immense, and some of them are directly and indirectly connected to the life of the modern surfer.

The smartwatch comes preloaded with widgets that provide at-a-glance information. Some of them require a Bluetooth connection to a compatible smartphone.

You'll find an altimeter, a barometer, and compass information, alternate time zones, a calendar, incoming calls and text alerts, social network updates, music player controls for your smartphone, current temperature and weather forecast, and sunrise, sunset, and civil twilight times.

There is also useful health and fitness information like body battery, calorie information for the current day, floors climbed, current heart rate, pulse oximeter reading, and current stress levels.

If you're into snowboarding, skiing, walking, swimming, biking, kayaking, running, rowing, hiking, golf, stand-up paddleboarding, and dozens of other sports, then you'll fall in love with this digital complication.

You can even set an alert to sound when a storm approaches based on a selected rate of pressure change.

Are there things that can be fine-tuned and improved via software updates? Sure.

We suggest Garmin engineers improve the automatically attributed tide location names and create surf-inspired icons for the spots/places that can be customized on Garmin Explore/Connect apps.

It would also be important to improve the pedometer's accuracy, correct the tide graph presentation, and add a wave/swell forecast/report.

But these minor issues don't stand in the way of one of the best surf watches ever released in the market.

The Garmin Instinct Solar Surf sells for $449, it is definitely worth its price and will surely be here to stay in the long run.

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