Interested in a surf helmet? Congratulations, you’ve got more common sense than most. Despite the well-known risk factor for those participating in the Sport of Kings, helmets are still an unpopular choice, even at extremely heavy waves like Pipeline and Teahupo’o. However, that could be changing as high-performing, and high-profile, athletes such as Owen Wright and Albee Layer have donned head gear in the water at waves of consequence, and crowded lineups are giving all of us more and more reason to follow their lead, powerful waves or not. And if you’re looking to get in the water to do some shooting instead of surfing, a helmet is a must, especially when paddling close to the action with surfboard fins slicing through the water inches from your head.
What Are The Best Surf Helmets?
What Features Matter in a Surf Helmet?
Similar to a surf hat, the main criteria for a surf helmet is it’s gotta stay where it is, especially when duck diving. And unless you’re donning a helmet for a chaotic surf gathering like this one, chances are you’re putting one on to surf a more powerful wave, and will be doing plenty of duck diving. Duck diving puts an inordinate amount of backwards pull on the head area as the wave washes over you towards shore (excuse my layman’s terms, I’m no physicist), and if your helmet doesn’t fit properly, or worse, isn’t made for surfing, it’s going to be swinging around your neck, full of water and choking you with the chinstrap. Not exactly the picture of safety. Tightening the chin strap is easy, but buying another helmet after the first one doesn’t fit or doesn’t work will hurt the wallet. So when searching out the perfect surf helmet, choose wisely.
Gath has an undeniable hold on the surf-helmet market. It was one of the first and is a leader in the category for good reason – Gath has perfected its designs over time. The Gath Hat (above) is the original Gath surf helmet first introduced in 1989. Time tested, it’s sported by current pro surfers at various breaks (especially heavy ones) around the world. The sleek design was built for the wear of critical surfing so it sheds water, allowing you to move through the water like a sea ninja while keeping it locked on your head.
Preferred for its comfort and wraparound fit, the Gath Hat offers a bit thinner protection than other Gath models, but is the helmet you’re most likely to forget that you’re wearing. Choose a neoprene headband for ultimate comfort and head-fitting flexibility, or the EVA version for extra forehead protection. This helmet especially requires a precise fit, so be sure to check the size charts before making a purchase.
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Gath makes a few different styles so we’re going to pay them respect here with a second model writeup. The Gedi is another great Gath helmet, but trends towards the multi-sport user. With higher impact protection than the Gath Hat but a bit more bulk, the Gedi is a great helmet for those interested in windsports, like kiting and foiling, as well as surfing. The Gedi comes with the brand’s latest fitting technology to dial in the fit beyond the size charts and includes removable ear pieces. With a full range of customizable options such as a visor, headlamp mount, or GoPro-ready brim, the Gedi is a solid choice for just about anything in the water.
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A multi-sports helmet that has gained traction in flag football, water polo, and other contact-ish sports, the GameBreaker Pro has seen use in the water with surprisingly good results. Its soft shell means there’s little chance for whiplash which can happen when a helmet collects water and gets whipped back, is pushed back hard by a wave, or both. Powered by smart molecule technology, don’t let the soft shell fool you. The foam padding is made with D30 Impact Protection Technology, which works to absorb shock and hardens upon impact. Having received a five-star rating in the Virginia Tech Impact Labs’ Helmet Ratings, you can be sure that this is no snake oil.
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This is a new one to hit the lineups in the past year, but has since received support from Garret McNamara and other big-wave legends such as Gary Linden. Koa Smith wears a Simba, as does Nazaré local João Macedo.
The Sentinel 1 has the most head protection of any helmet in this lineup, including coverage for the lower forehead, jawline and temples. An advanced foam lining allows for customization beyond the size charts. Simba’s describes its Sentinel technology as “Aquadynamic,” meaning it’s designed to minimize drag when duckdiving as well as lessen the impact on your head when it hits the surface of the water in case of a fall.
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Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.