screenshot of surf tracked at Wilkes Passage in Fiji

Review: Dawn Patrol App for Apple Watch

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If you’re searching for an app that will turn your Apple Watch into a fully functional surf session tracker, you’re in luck. For a long time, the available surfing-related apps for Apple Watch were too basic or clunky. One required that you took your phone surfing with you.

As a result, if you wanted cool graphs, charts and stats about your surf session you’d either need to use a Rip Curl GPS watch or a tracker device that is mounted to your board.

With the latest iterations of Apple Watch (Series 2, 3 and 4), we now have access to GPS tracking. The crew at Dawn Patrol got to work and released an app that enables surfers to track their sessions via their watch and then view results on the iPhone.

App screenshots

The first iteration of Dawn Patrol was a little buggy but, as they say in Silicon Valley, if you’re not embarrassed of your first version then you’ve launched too late.

The subsequent versions of Dawn Patrol have dramatically improved and I tested the app both at my local beach and in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, upon some of Fiji’s finest waves.

The results were excellent. The Dawn Patrol app provides accurate wave count and length. I guess the only way to check accuracy of speed would be to surf with a couple of other trackers, but I’m not that concerned. It’s simply cool to get a snapshot of a surf session and to be able to compare progress over time. If you can measure something you can improve.

The Records screen. You can click each of the records to view the actual wave.

Being an Apple Watch fan this has added a whole new dimension to my appreciation of the device. When Apple used surfing in their watch promotion I believed that the device would have native surf tracking capability. Now we have the next best thing.

Watch screens

How to use Dawn Patrol

  • Open the app on the watch
  • Press start to begin your session
  • This puts the watch into Water Lock mode automatically
  • Forget about it, but you can still check time and wave count, etc, if you wish
  • Make sure you end the session when you’ve paddled in
  • Get back to the car, open the Dawn Patrol App on your iPhone
  • The devices will sync
  • View your session
A late session at Rainbow Bay. After dark I was treated to a rare Wolf Moon and visiting dolphins.

Tips for the Dawn Patrol App

  • You can set up your boards in advance or after the session – a nice touch
  • You will need to name your spots after each session. The app remembers and will automatically label spots in future.
  • If you accidentally forget to end your session you can delete any erroneous tracking using the iPhone app – I had some really long rides tracked as a result of driving my car or boat trips in Fiji

A note about Apple Health

Dawn Patrol integrates with Apple Health, so give it the correct permission and your surf sessions will help close your activity rings. It is surprising to see how surfing stacks up against other forms of fitness in terms of heart rate and calories burned. I thought surfing would burn less than, say, a 5km run but it seems to be way more physically demanding. Interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

The Future of Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol app icon

I wonder how Dawn Patrol plan to monetise their app. Perhaps real-time feedback during a session. Or adding goals, like target wave count and speed. Perhaps their GPS functionality can help the surfer find optimal positioning in the lineup. There is a lot of scope for creativity when using GPS, tracking, surf forecasts, AI, algorithms and, potentially, big data from surfers around the world. What an app like Dawn Patrol therefore needs is to expand their user base and encourage adoption of Apple Watch as the smartwatch of choice for surfers.

Apple Watch is definitely a winner when it comes to design, operating system and functionality. Being able to use it for surfing is the answer to many surfer’s dreams. The price is not cheap compared to the competition and that may be an obstacle. The Rip Curl GPS 2 is around $280 USD while an Apple Watch Series 4 GPS costs $379 USD. The extra $100 gets you a deluxe colour touch screen and integration with the Apple ecosystem.

The Dawn Patrol app is free.

Find out more at or search the Apple app store for Dawn Patrol.

Dawn Patrol App
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