No matter where in the world you call home, it’s likely that you’ve seen an increase in helmets at your local break over the past few years. And there’s a good chance you’ve also seen a few that more closely resemble the helmet of a Roman legionnaire than a traditional snow-skate lid. That Romanesque look would be a Simba Sentinel 1 Surf Helmet, a product that is quickly becoming the favorite of pros and weekend warriors alike for protecting one’s noggin in the waves. Simba recently partnered with the World Surf League to provide helmets for any athlete who would like to use one at heavier-wave locations like Pipeline and Teahupo’o, and the helmets saw some action at the Pipeline Pro in early February of this year, being worn by athletes like Lakey Peterson who came in third wearing her Simba. Recently, I got my hands on one of these bad boys to see what the hype is about. For more surf helmet options, check out our full review of the Best Surf Helmets.
The Simba Sentinel 1 is marketed as being one of the lightest and most hydrodynamic watersports helmets on the market, and it lives up to both of those claims. While I’m not going to say “I could hardly tell I was wearing it,” because, obviously, I could, surfing with the S1 on didn’t take much of a transition period to feel like I was surfing as normal. A few waves, a couple duck dives, and I noticed it a whole lot less.
The hydrodynamic aspect is really, really cool. Duck diving is a dream with this bucket on, potentially even easier than without the helmet if you take the drag from my long hair into account. Vision and hearing were both quite un-impaired, despite the wrap-around helmet design, the strategically-placed cutouts do a great job of keeping peripheral vision and hearing wide-open, both very important senses in the water. In some ways, I almost wished the upper limits of my vision were impaired a bit more by the helmet – a visor of some kind or even just a bit lower of a brow ridge I could tilt over my eyes during late-afternoon surf sessions on the West Coast would be nice.
As far as the downsides go, the only thing that stands out to me is adjustability on the fly. The helmet comes in small, medium, and large sizes, and each helmet comes with two sets of Halofit pads 7mm and 9mm thick to ensure a snug fit. The pads stick to the inside of the helmet with adhesive, meaning adjustment is a one-and-done operation, there’s no going back and forth.
I tried a size large helmet and it felt a bit loose, so I put in the pads. 9mm was perfectly snug on my head and too tight with a hood on, and while the 7mm pads felt fine with a hood they were maybe a little loose on just my noggin. I’ve chosen to go with the blue pads and so far so good, but it makes me wonder if a more user-friendly or on-the-go adjustment system would be a good idea. Maybe I’m just in between sizes or asking too much of my gear.
While I haven’t smashed my head into any rocks with the helmet on (yet) which would be the ultimate test, one thing I am noticing is a particular confidence I have with the helmet on. I’m just a bit less scared of hitting my head when tucking into closeouts at Ocean Beach or duckdiving amid the crowds at Fort Point. And although I was certainly worried at first about catching flak for wearing a helmet, I’ve been surprised to realize I’m rarely the only helmeted surfer in the lineup. Who woulda thought that protecting your head would catch on in surfing?
All in all I’m very pleased with the performance aspects built into this surf helmet, and am stoked to see what this new brand has in store for the future. To get one for yourself, and to keep that noggin safe, check out the Simba Sentinel 1 on Amazon.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.