When I first read about a wearable device that fits on your finger I struggled to believe that it would be comfortable or particularly effective. After all, how much tech can be squeezed into a ring and what data can be collected from a digit (i.e. your finger). When I heard about Oura partnering with WSL I decided to give this tiny device a try.
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Surfing with wearables
I’ve used and tested many wearables, ranging from Apple Watch to Fitbits and even the Weret smart surf watch, which streams Magicseaweed data into an analogue interface. I found that I really didn’t enjoy surfing with a bulky device strapped to my wrist – especially when wearing a wetsuit, which is pretty much year-round where I reside. Watches have a tendency to get trapped between hand and wrist when duck diving. It also feels a little risky taking what is essentially a wrist-mounted computer into conditions that are anything over a couple of foot.
I’m well versed in health metrics and regularly track sleep, heart rate and activity. However, I found that watches can be distracting in day-to-day life and I increasingly left even my Apple Watch at home. What a relief – no-one telling me to breathe or remind me that I haven’t moved today.
But that left a gap, because I still wanted to track heart rate and sleep. Enter Oura.
The Oura Ring
I selected the Heritage Stealth model which has a matte finish and dark gray color. I like the flat edge that helps you easily feel which side is up – great for repositioning the ring in the dark. If you take a look around the inner surfaces you’ll see what resembles a computer motherboard – green rectangles onto which a range of sensors have been mounted.
Made of titanium, the ring is actually lighter than a steel or silver jewellery ring despite containing bluetooth networking, a battery and all of that sensor technology. At 4 grams, this is a seriously lightweight piece of tech. What astounded me is the battery life – I have only charged the ring around once per week since receiving it. Compare that to an Apple Watch which requires daily juice if you’re tracking exercise. Of course, Oura doesn’t have any LEDs or a screen and the device connects to the app on-demand rather than continuously. Clever choices by this Scandinavian tech firm.
From a surfing perspective the ring is designed to safely operate up to 100m – or 328 feet – underwater. Most of us are not planning to surf Nazare or Jaws in the near future so don’t need to worry about testing out this capability.
The purchase process is excellent – I liked how Oura send a sizing kit first so that you’re 100% certain you’ve chosen the right size. They then encourage you to share the kit with your friends. What a great onboarding process and I’m pleased to report that the actual ring arrived a couple of days after I submitted my sizing through their website.
The Oura App
This is perhaps my favorite feature of the Oura experience. Their app is super minimal yet incredibly useful. It is the first app I look at each day and one that I most enjoy reviewing. Oura have developed a Readiness score which is determined by factors such as your sleep, previous activity and your recovery. I love that heart rate variability (HRV) is one of the key metrics used to determine how well you’re recovering and dealing with the challenges of life.
The Automatic Activity Tracking (AAP) is another fantastic feature. No more fiddling around with watch menus to tag your workout correctly – the Oura Ring notices patterns of movement along with your heart rate and then suggests a workout automatically in the app. Simply confirm or edit and you’re done. It’s great! And if you don’t wear your ring for a specific activity but retrospectively want to add a workout you can. Simply click the + icon to record something you did earlier, sans ring.
My experience with the Oura Ring
I used the ring for running, walking, swimming, surfing, kayaking, yoga and both strength and high intensity workouts. It is super unobtrusive and I love reducing my tech exposure while exercising outdoors. We live in a hyperconnected world with so much digital noise that I question whether having a 4G-capable watch packed full of push notifying apps is good for us. Imagine surfing or snowboarding while receiving phone calls or Linkedin friend requests. Regular digital disconnection is good for us, yet many of us also like tracking health data and activity. The balance is finding technology that uplifts the human experience rather than fragments our already fragile attention spans.
I believe the Oura Ring is a perfect solution for people who want to track activity and rest but also want to reduce their information consumption. I found the ring to be accurate and the app to be insightful. I fixed disrupted sleep patterns three times over the course of two months simply by following recommendations from the app.
You can use the Oura ring surfing although I must say that wearing such an expensive piece of tech on a finger is somewhat scary. I’m not sure about you but I find my fingers tend to shrink a little bit in the cold water where I live. This means the ring is a little looser than usual. The solution might be to place it on another finger for a tighter fit. Or to go surfing au naturelle and log your activity manually. If you’re surfing in warm-ish water then the ring can be worn without issues. I’ll let you know after my forthcoming trip to Rarotonga.
Because I have never worn an ornamental ring before, I found that the device does touch the rail of the surfboard while duck diving. This will not be news to surfers who wear rings but for me I did worry about scratching or denting the fibreglass. I wear the ring on my left index finger – perhaps this would be reduced if I wore it on the middle finger. In small to medium waves I wouldn’t hesitate taking the ring out. In large waves… well I think less gadgetry is probably better.
Sleep and readiness
The Oura Ring provides you both with insight and intelligent recommendations. As mentioned, it tracks HRV through the night. This is a massive eye opener. I discovered that drinking a glass of wine or eating snacks after 8pm dramatically reduces my HRV. This means my breathing, heart rate and stress adaptability are less synchronised or coherent. I recover less well. HRV is a good indicator of biological age (as opposed to chronological age) and it is fascinating to watch how your body is responding to life’s challenges and recovering in real-time. In essence, you’re witnessing your ageing process with the ability to make adjustments – and develop habits – that will support daily readiness and long term health.
The app provides useful push notifications – primarily “time to stretch your legs” and bedtime reminders. It also recommends rest days, which is nice for someone who has a tendency to push hard every day. And the app is often right. After a restful day, energy levels are dramatically improved.
If you’re into quantified self or simply like data and charts then you’ll love the Trends feature within the Oura app. Discover detailed insights into everything from resting heart rate to body temperature to deep and REM sleep, mapped to line graphs over time. You can even see how different types of activity impacted certain metrics. I discovered that yoga improves both sleep and overnight HRV. That means I age better and am more ready for life’s challenges when I do yoga. Ancient Greek wisdom has never been more relevant: “Know thyself” was the first of three maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo. Oura provides an elegant solution that helps you along this path.
By the way, the other maxims were “nothing to excess” and “surety brings ruin”.
I think the Oura Ring is a fantastic solution for people wanting to use a high tech, research based wearable that does not add digital noise to their lives. It is perfect for surfers because the device is way less bulky and obtrusive than a watch . The app is a highlight and the readiness score will help you decide which days to take it easy and when to lock in exercise that matters.
Overall, this is our editors choice for wearables in 2021.