Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf: the surfer's smartwatch review

May 6, 2022 | Surfing
Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf: the world's best surf watch | Photo: Garmin

In 2020, Garmin stormed the surfing world with its Instinct Solar Surf watch. Now, the Kansas-based multinational is back with the 2.0 model.

Surf watches have become an integral part of many surfers' lives.

These surfer-driven digital wristwatches have everything you need to get in shape and know where and when to catch the best waves.

Despite its minor flaws, the original Garmin Instinct Solar Surf raised the bar and pushed brands like Rip Curl, Casio, Nixon, and Apple to the ropes.

At the time, the multinational technology company introduced a wristwatch that added solar charging to a vast list of clever features.

And that itself was a game-changer.

When it comes to improving their overall fitness levels, modern surfers are increasingly demanding, in and out of the water.

Wave riders are now familiar with the multiple parameters associated with health stats and diet - they range from sleep quality to heart rate variability.

And for the passionate average surfer, all these variables count.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf: the smartwatch features surf forecasting data | Photo: Garmin

Work-In-Progress

There is also the gamification side of it all - setting goals, breaking records, and earning badges could be fun if you don't take it too seriously.

Of course, if you're buying a $500 surf watch, you surely want it to cover the basics.

Tide times for any location on the planet, moon data for knowing tidal ranges, sunrise/sunset times, and GPS tracking for monitoring and recording your surf sessions are critical features.

With its first surf edition watch, Garmin delivered a near-perfect solution but wasn't quite able to match the accuracy of Rip Curl and Apple timepieces.

The technology was OK, but the software never seemed to get the attention a surf watch deserves from the Garmin engineering team.

Users complained the first Instinct Solar Surf did not track the waves correctly for months. For instance, the watch often assumed that paddling in or moving around in the lineup was the same as riding a wave.

The 2020 model also missed an essential feature - the surf forecast.

Two years later, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf raises the bar again, even though it still needs extra working hours from the headquarters' engineering department.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf: the watch can be fully charged with solar power | Photo: Garmin

The Review

SurferToday put the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf to a full test in different environments - cold air temperatures and warm weather.

The goal was to install all widgets that make sense to - and impact - a surfer's life and check whether the watch would match its marketing claims.

Consequently, we installed the wrist heart rate, pulse oximeter, altimeter and barometer, compass, sleep tracking, and health analysis widgets.

To get things started, we first went for a walk in Helsinki, Finland, to perform a basic GPS quality test in a local forest.

Despite the low temperatures, snow, and thick vegetation, the watch never lost the GPS signal and recorded the whole session accurately.

For the second and third tests, we wanted to know if speeding up could be a problem under the same weather conditions.

Fortunately, it wasn't an issue.

Our running and biking sessions in rural and urban contexts were impeccably recorded and delivered all health and track variables to the brand's smartphone and desktop app, Garmin Connect.

It was now time to move to liquid environments.

And so, for our first water test, we headed to an indoor pool in Porto, Portugal.

Because the watch didn't have access to a GPS signal, we had to input the pool dimensions - 15 meters - so that the device could calculate all the parameters involved.

Everything went fine - the strokes, the pace, the speed, the time, the calories burned, and the laps/distance were accurately recorded.

Last but not least, the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf was put to the ultimate wave riding examination.

On a sunny and cloudless day, with the GPS turned on, the smartwatch entered relatively cool ocean waters and recorded a 60-minute session in fun, waist-high surf.

After the test, we rinsed the watch off with fresh water to prevent stuck buttons and salt buildups.

The next step was to upload data into Garmin Connect and analyze the results.

Surprisingly, some wave tracking issues continue to haunt Instinct 2 Solar Surf. As a result, the watch missed several long rides - probably 66 percent of them.

Again, this is something Garmin should address urgently, especially when everything else in the watch is well above average.

Otherwise, it will be hard to market a sport-specific timepiece that doesn't entirely do its primary job.

Moreover, we believe it's only a matter of software updates and time spent with experienced surfers analyzing how these issues can be addressed and solved.

The good news is that there seem to be fewer paddle-out outliers, and the recorded waves were tracked correctly.

The very good news is that Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf now has the tool all surfers need - a surf forecasting data feature powered by Surfline.

The timepiece has an autonomy of between 15 and 30 days and can be charged with solar power indefinitely with a few features turned off.

In conclusion, Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf is still the world's best surf watch despite a bittersweet taste left by a work-in-progress wave tracking system.

The brand should also make more color options available or, at least, sell a timeless all-black model.

The two multicolored 45 mm models (Bells Beach and Maverics) are too complicated and certainly don't cover the average taste.

Should you get the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf? Yes. It is extremely useful, and it will unconsciously improve your health.

Need cool extras?

Try the watch's contactless payment, the windsurfing and kiteboarding activity options, and Surfline's Sessions, a feature that shoots a video of every wave you ride in front of a Surfline camera, so you can watch it later.

Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf: the company should address the wave tracking issues via software updates

The Best Instinct 2 Solar Surf Widgets

The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Surf user can install dozens - if not hundreds - of official and externally designed widgets from the brand's IQ store.

Surfline

Check the swell, wave height, wind speed and direction in real time for the five nearest surf breaks.

Weather

An option that displays the current temperature, rain probability, wind speed and direction, and weather forecast for the next 72 hours.

Moon Phase

An option that displays the moon phase - and the moonrise and moonset times - based on your GPS position.

Sunrise & Sunset

An option that displays sunrise, sunset, and civil twilight times at your GPS location

Solar Intensity

An option that displays a graph of the intensity of solar input for the last six hours. The watch can be virtually fully charged using solar power only.

Steps

An option that allows you to track your daily step count, step goal, and data for previous days.

Heart Rate

Heart rate data can provide a good measure of overall well-being. In general, a lower resting heart rate indicates a higher level of physical fitness.

Your device can track your heart rate as you move throughout the day and sleep at night. It is measured in beats per minute (bpm).

For more accurate readings, you should wear your device regularly throughout the day and while you sleep.

Temperature

An option that displays temperature data from the internal temperature sensor.

Pulse Ox

Pulse oximetry is a method of measuring the oxygen level in your blood.

The watch's sensor shines light into the skin and measures how much light is absorbed.

Since it examines blood oxygen in smaller (peripheral) vessels in your skin, it's referred to as peripheral oxygen saturation or SpO₂.

Ideally, your SpO₂ should be 95-100 percent. Numbers below 90 percent may be considered low.

Stress

An option that displays your current stress level. The watch performs a three-minute test while standing still.

Variables such as nutrition, sleep, and physical activity impact the stress level range, which is presented on a scale from 1 to 100.

Body Battery

An option that, with all-day wear, will display the amount of available reserve energy.

Floors Climbed

An option that tracks the floors climbed and progress toward your goal.

It uses the internal barometer to measure elevation changes as you climb stairs. A floor climbed is equal to ten feet (three meters).

Sleep

An option that helps you understand your sleep by detecting and providing an estimated duration for the different stages of sleep.

The sleep score puts a quantifiable number (from 0 to 100) on the quality of your sleep.

It takes the following categories into account: sleep duration, average stress score during sleep, total deep sleep, total light sleep, total REM sleep, awake time, and restlessness.

Health Snapshot

An option that lets you record a two-minute reading of several health metrics while holding still. It gives you a glimpse of your overall cardiovascular health at that moment.

Barometer

An option that displays the environmental pressure data based on the fixed elevation where the altimeter was most recently calibrated.

Compass

An option that displays an electronic compass.

You may calibrate tit outdoors and, to improve heading accuracy, do not stand near objects that influence magnetic fields, such as vehicles, buildings, and overhead power lines.

Altimeter

An option that displays your approximate elevation based on pressure changes.