Apple Watch and Rip Curl GPS Comparison

| Words by Neil Villadolid

I’ve been surfing with both Apple Watch and Rip Curl Search GPS 2 for a few months now and it’s time to do a little comparison. But, before we dig deeper, I need to get something off my chest.

Yes, I’ve been wearing both watches at the same time while I surf. Yes, I feel incredibly kooky. No, I’m not ashamed - this was for science. With that out of the way, let’s continue.

I'll be comparing the two watches in four head-to-head categories: features, durability, functionality, and price. Keep in mind that for Apple Watch to be a full-on surf watch, you have to download a surf-specific app. Dawn Patrol and Surfline Sessions are the two best apps out there. In this comparison, I’ll be referring to Dawn Patrol because that’s the app I’m most comfortable with.

Features

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch SERip Curl GPS Search 2Rip Curl Next Tide
Track Waves
Swell Forecast
Track Calories
Measure Heart Rate
Measure Blood Pressure
Cellular Service
Emergency SOS

Durability

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch SERip Curl GPS Search 2Rip Curl Next Tide
Waterproof
Depth Meter50m50m100m100m
Battery LifeOne DayOne DayOne MonthFour Months
MaterialsAluminum, Stainless Steel, or Titanium. Glass or SapphireAluminum and glass.ABS hardened plastic and rubberABS hardened plastic and rubber

Functionality

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch SERip Curl GPS Search 2Rip Curl Next Tide
InterfaceTouchscreenTouchscreenButtonsButtons

Price

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch SERip Curl GPS Search 2Rip Curl Next Tide
PriceStarting at $399Starting at $279$300$170
Cellular Service$5-10/ month$5-10/ monthn/an/a

Apple Watch Series 6 and Rip Curl GPS Search 2
Rip Curl Search GPS 2 and Apple Watch Series 6

Features

The primary features on Dawn Patrol and Rip Curl GPS are basically the same. Both track how many waves are caught in a session, speed of each wave, distance of each wave, distance paddled, and session time. Both watches also keep a record of what boards you have and what board you’ve used for each session.

Dawn Patrol and Rip Curl app on an iPhone
User interface of Dawn Patrol (left) and Rip Curl (right)

Of course, this comparison wouldn’t be fun if both watches did the exact same thing. They’re some features Apple Watch and Dawn Patrol do that Rip Curl GPS doesn’t and vice versa.

Apple Watch and Dawn Patrol Specific Features:

Dawn Patrol’s watch faces are more customizable, which allows you to choose what information you want or don’t want to see. The watch face can show swell height, tide, wind, and swell direction. You can also use Dawn Patrol’s swell information as a widget in your iPhone to easily check forecasts on your phone. On the other hand, Rip Curl’s watch face is permanent and doesn’t allow for any customization, though it does show all the necessary information.

Apple Watch Series 6 Face show swell and tide charts
Apple Watch Series 6 with Dawn Patrol and Rip Curl GPS both show swell and tide charts.

One of the more useful features Apple Watch and Dawn Patrol have is the ability to track calories burned and heart rate. Dawn Patrol integrates with Apple’s Health and Activity App to conveniently store all your information in one place. If you’re planning on using your Apple Watch to track multiple types of workouts, this is an important feature to consider.

Another bonus of Apple Watch is that it’s not just a watch — it can also act as a phone. This can be a critical feature in radical situations. These days, surfing is one of the only activities where you don’t bring a cell phone with you. In the case of emergencies, Apple Watch can be your lifeline. One thing to note is that if you want your Apple Watch to connect to your cell service, there is a $10 monthly fee for most carriers.

Rip Curl Search GPS 2 specific features:

One of my favorite Rip Curl GPS features is the ability to follow your friends or favorite surfers and see what they’re up to. You can look up how often they’ve been surfing, where they’ve been surfing, and how many waves they’ve caught. Again, keep in mind that to look a friend up they have to be using a Rip Curl watch, and to look up a pro surfer they have to be a Rip Curl athlete.

Above all, one of the coolest features of the Rip Curl GPS is its ability to create an animation of your past sessions from a satellite view. This feature is useful for understanding paddling habits and where to sit at a break. It’s also just generally fun to rewatch your session sped up.

Satellite view of surf session
This clip shows me paddling into a wave and going for a joyride.

Durability

Ah yes, the durability of the watches. Well, right off the bat the Rip Curl GPS is clearly a more durable watch. It has a max depth of 100 meters, is made of polyurethane, nylon, and plastic, and was specifically built to withstand hardcore conditions.

However, Apple Watch, while not as durable as Rip Curl GPS, is way way more durable than most people think. It’s completely waterproof and has a max depth of 50 meters. The Apple Watch has been on the heaviest waves in the world and held its own. Professional Big Wave surfers Matt Bromley and Ridge Lenny have taken the Apple Watch to Jaws and Mavericks on some of the biggest swells of the year. Both they and the Apple Watch survived.


So far the Apple Watch has been super resilient to wipeouts and being pushed deep under the water, which is quite unique for such a high tech watch. I had two of my worst wipeouts at Jaws and at Mavericks on the days of the year.

- Matt Bromley

When it comes to battery life, Rip Curl GPS is the clear winner. Rip Curl’s spec sheet claims the watch can last up to three months without a charge. Apple Watch, on the other hand, needs to be charged daily which adds a layer of complexity to long road trips or surf trips. I’ve also had my Apple Watch die mid-session, which is quite frustrating.

Functionality

You can think of functionality as how easy the watches are to use. Neither Apple Watch nor Rip Curl GPS is overly complicated but both do have a learning curve.

The biggest difference between them is that Apple Watch is a touchscreen while Rip Curl GPS relies on buttons. I’ve found that navigating Apple Watch is much faster than Rip Curl GPS — maybe that’s because I grew up with touchscreens and I've become accustomed to them. But nonetheless, Apple Watch’s navigation is fast and easy.

However, we are looking at these watches from a surfing perspective. While Apple Watch’s touchscreen is quicker out of the water once it gets wet everything changes. Apple Watch uses a capacitive screen to sense touch. Once wet, Apple Watch becomes difficult and quite annoying to use. While this is inconvenient, it isn’t the biggest deal as most of the time I’m focused on surfing and don’t bother with my watch until I’m back on the beach.

On the other hand, Rip Curl GPS relies on buttons so its function doesn’t change when wet. I have noticed however that when wearing Rip Curl GPS under my wetsuit, the buttons may accidentally get pressed. I have unintentionally ended a session mid-surf because of an accidental button push; however, this isn’t common.

Surfing with an Apple Watch Series 6
Surfing with an Apple Watch Series 6

Price

There are different versions of Apple Watch and there's also the option to connect to your cellular service so the pricing is not as straightforward as it might seem. Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 while Apple Watch SE starts at $279.

Rip Curl GPS Search 2 has a flat price of $300.

When choosing which smart watch is best for surfing a general consensus I’ve found is this — if you’re looking for a watch you’ll use solely for surfing, go with an Apple Watch SE. It's the cheapest option and tracks your session just as well as any other watch. If you’re looking to use Apple Watch beyond surfing and utilize all the features it has to offer, you may want to consider going with one of the higher-end Apple Watches. Here is a great article that breaks down the different features of all Apple Watches.

On the other hand, Rip Curl GPS Search 2 tracks your session equally as well as Apple Watch without all the flash and extra noise. If you're looking for a non-flashy watch that's completely capable of doing its job, Rip Curl GPS is a great option.

Apple Watch Series 5 and Rip Curl Search GPS 2
Apple Watch Series 6 and Rip Curl Search GPS 2

All in all, I’m sure you’ll be stoked on either watch. Whichever one you go with, your performance and sessions will only improve.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dawn Patrol and surfing with an Apple Watch, we have an in-depth article here.

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