Surf Helmets (Why + Best Option for You!)


Heading out for a surf in the waves doesn’t need that much equipment and this keeps things nice and fun. However, you might’ve noticed that almost no surfers wear helmets, although they do exist.

Compare this to sports like cycling, skateboarding and even snowboarding, where many more riders wear helmets.

You might also think, “Well, do you need a helmet if you’re surfing in water?” Well, you don’t always need one, but surf helmets are really a good idea for safety and preventing some serious injuries, as I’ll explain below.

So, in this post, I will tell you more about surf helmets and why and when you will want one, as well as the pros and cons of the various surf helmets out there.

Let’s get started!

Why wear a surf helmet?

Photo Credit: Nathan Hill-Haimes on Unsplash

For a few main reasons, surfboards, those of others or yours, can hit you and knock you out or cause a head injury, especially if someone’s riding on them.

Surfing over reefs or rocks is also dangerous. If you fall or the wave pushes you into them headfirst because you can’t control how you fall.

In recent years, several professional surfers have had serious head injuries from hitting the reef mainly. After suffering a dangerous head injury, Jeremy Flores wore a Gath surf helmet during a surfing competition in Tahiti a few years ago.

Other pro surfers including former two-time world champion Tom Carroll, who can be seen wearing soft surf helmets recently. He has always worn a Gath Helmet at Pipeline one of the most dangerous waves in the world.

There’s also a YouTube video of pro surfer Evan Geiselman after hitting his head on the reef at Pipeline in Hawaii. He was rescued by pro surfer Andrew Botha from South Africa. It could have been probably avoided if he was wearing a helmet.

Andre Botha Rescues Evan Geiselman at Pipeline, 6 December 2015
Video Credit: freesurfmag on YouTube

Head injuries as a result of surfing can range from concussion, being knocked, unconscious, even being put into a coma, or paralyzed. I know two people who’ve had different accidents over the years.

As a result, both surfers were put into a coma and one has been paralyzed for life. It happened after somebody else in the surf ran over them while up and riding on a longboard. The big fin hit their head and cracked it open in the surf.

They were put on emergency life support machine at the hospital. They still don’t have full movement in one side of their body. It is serious and, yes, it touches many people around the world, even if surfers don’t talk about it.

Do you need to wear a surf helmet?

If you are surfing in soft, sandy beaches with few people around, no. But if you’re going out to rocks and reef spots and also surfing in very busy areas, it’s a good idea.

It’s mainly important if you’re surfing over shallow reefs. In which case, wear a helmet, even if you don’t feel cool or you feel silly. Just do it. It is better than the alternative.

Does a wetsuit hood protect you from impact?

No, it is too soft and does very little. It might protect against superficial injuries from scratches, but for big impacts, like other surfboards or rocks on the bottom, it will not do anything, so get a helmet if you need one!

Are Gath Surf Helmets good?

Yes, if they fit your head, because they are the strongest and they provide most protection from impacts, even down to the bottom of your head, but make sure you try it on before.

I have one that is the right size for me in terms of measurment, but my head shape means it is not comfortable. It’s hard to wear and I never really wear it, which is a shame.

my Gath surf helmet front profile
This is a shot of my Gath surf helmet before I sold it, simply because it was too uncomfortable. Many people surf with these without problems but I couldn’t get along with it.

But yes, Gath Helmets are the strongest surf helmets out there and they are certainly the most durable. They have been worn by professionals in many different water sports for many years.

lady surfer wearing gath surf helmet
My wife enjoying the surf with her Gath helmet on (and of course pulling a funny face for my camera!!!)

Do Gath Helmets keep your head dry? No, they let in water and water will flush through them. You can wear a hood underneath if it fits, but you will get wet. Wearing earplugs under a Gath helmet is very uncomfortable and you probably don’t need them when wearing a helmet.

For more on this, check out my dedicated guide to earplugs for surfing and surfer’s ear to make sure you stay safe out there!

Do you need a surf helmet for Bali?

If you’re going to learner spots like Kuta Beach, no, you don’t need to wear a surf helmet. Stay with the learners and surf with a softboard and you’ll be fine.

But if you’re going to advanced spots like Uluwatu, maybe even Pedang or on the Bukit Peninsula, then get a helmet before you go. You won’t find any out there. They’re hard to find.

I can say that from three years of living there. But it’s worth it because of crowds and reefs. So yes, it’s a good idea to get a surf helmet for Bali.

What is the best surf helmet?

For beginners, the DMC soft surf helmet in the USA or the Decathlon soft surf helmet in the UK/Europe. A Gath helmet is stronger but only buy if able to try it on. These are safer for reefbreaks. I would not advise buying a Gath Helmet online.

If a Gath suits you, go and get one from a local surf store or at least try it on before buying because you may well have to change the size or return it. So, be sure about the returns policy before you buy any Gath surf helmets online.

My Olaian semi soft surf helmet by Decathlon
This is my new Olaian semi-soft surf helmet by Decathlon. It’s actually flexible around the edges but rock solid in the middle, as you would hope. Seems great so far.

Soft Surf Helmets

As mentioned above, there are two main soft surf helmets on the market, the DMC soft surf helmet and the Decathlon soft surf helmet, although these are not really ‘soft’, they just have certain flexible parts like a peak, as will be explained.

The DMC soft surf helmets is made and released by a a surfboard fin brand. There is a video of Tom Carroll wearing one recently. It looks a lot like a rugby helmet, or as we call them in Europe, a scrum cap, which has padded foam around the head and can be worn tightly.

The Decathlon soft surf helmet, however, is much cheaper and was developed by a doctor. So, although I have not seen any results or impact tests, it does seem to have a slightly more sound background, in terms of research and development, than the DMC.

It is currently not available in the US and Canada, so the DMC soft helmet would be a better bet. However, the Decathlon soft surf helmet also has a peak to get rid of the water from your eyes and it does seem very good so far, especially for the price being around half the price of the DMC surf helmet.

I will update once I’ve had a chance to fully test the Decathlon helmet shown in the picture above.

Surf helmets: Hard or soft?

Soft guarantees comfort, but only supports you for lesser impacts and generally have less cover. Hard surf helmets, however, are solid but may be painful and uncomfortable to wear if you’re not able to try them on before buying.

A soft helmet is definitely better than nothing. Although, it doesn’t guarantee your safety. You still need to exercise your common sense.

Go out in quieter spots to learn to surf or just spots that have a nice sandy bottom and are not dangerous at the wrong stage of the tide. You can see more on this in my other posts about when is the perfect time to surf and more.

Unfortunately at the moment, there is no perfect surf helmet, but we do have some options so you can certainly go out and get one and be that bit safer or get one for someone you know who’s learning to surf.

Steve Beale

Hey there! I'm Steve and run Surf Learner, sharing all the tips I've gained from my 20+ years of surfing to help you learn that much faster. I've traveled and surfed all over the world and love sharing what I've learned along the way. It's great to have you!

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