The market is awash in wrist-worn digital tech. You can wear an Apple Watch, a Pebble, or one of many Android Wear offerings, all of which will put every last notification on your wrist. Your tweets, your faves, texts from your sweetie. You can wear a fitness band that will count your steps and tell you when to take a jog.
This watch is different. It will not nag you or interrupt your life, except to deliver perhaps the most important notification of all: It tells you when your local surf spot is going off.
The Ultratide ($300, available later this month) is the latest surf watch from Nixon. The company has a few other surf watches, including last year’s excellent Supertide. But while all of those models will tell you which way the tides are moving, only the Ultratide grabs real-time data from Surfline and displays the current surf conditions at any beach of your choosing. And there’s no better place to get your surf reports—Surfline has been watching the oceans for 30 years now, and delivers detailed local condition reports as well as 48-hour surf forecasts.
To get the watch working, you pair it with your phone over Bluetooth using Nixon’s Ultratide app (iOS only, Android coming late 2015). From there, you can set it to track a few different spots. Surfline collects live data for over 2,700 locations around the world, so there’s a very good chance your local break can be programmed into the watch. Even better, the smartphone app can geolocate you, so you can just get updates from the beach closest to you if you’re island-hopping.
Current conditions are displayed on the watch’s face at all times. The reports are detailed, too. You get tide status, wave height, wind direction and speed, swell direction, and the temperatures of both the air and the ocean. You also get Surfline’s general assessment in a tidy one-word note, like “Fair” or “Good”. I programmed two local spots into the watch, Ocean Beach and Bolinas Jetty, plus one in Hawaii. A button on the side of the watch lets you flip through your programmed locations and check the conditions. Your phone collects the up-to-the-minute reports and delivers the data to the watch, so at any time, you can also view more detailed reports inside the app.
As is typical for spring in the Bay Area, things rarely got above “Poor” at Ocean Beach. But that’s where the alerts come in—you can program a notification to sound whenever your local spot is kicking. You can rely just on Surfline’s one-word ratings (so it pings you whenever conditions are “Epic,” for example) or you can set the watch to tell you whenever conditions are just to your liking. A particular wave height, a south swell, offshore winds. I asked the Ultratide to alert me whenever Ocean Beach was rated as “Good” or higher. It went off exactly once, in the middle of the night. Maybe I should move.
Once you’ve paddled out, you press another sequence of buttons on the watch, and it logs your session. If that session ended up happening on a particularly glassy and gorgeous day, the Ultratide can find out what the conditions report was for that hour you were in the water, then set up an alert that’ll go off whenever the conditions at that location are similar. It’s pretty smart.
It’s also sharply designed. The Ultratide uses a battery like a regular watch, so charging isn’t something you ever have to think about. The battery lasts at least one year, and to restore it, you ship it back to Nixon. The company will replace the battery for free and service all the gaskets to make sure the watch stays water-tight. The stainless steel case is smooth and classy, and the silicone band is extraordinarily soft and comfortable. Behind the buckle, there’s a little nub on the strap that fastens into a hole on the looper, locking the strap into place. It never slips. This will come in handy when (not if) I get sucked over the falls.