Bulova Surfboard Chronograph – $450ish ($695)
NOTE: Price can fluctuate depending on sales at Macys, but at least you’re getting it an authorized dealer there. Gray market dealers won’t come with a manufacturer’s warranty.
About the Author: Zach S. is a United States Marine Corps Officer and Product Photographer from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. When he’s not training or doing photography he enjoys reading and writing on a myriad of topics.
With summer finally here, and given that I live 15 minutes from the beach, it’s dive watch season for me. I’m not a super formal guy, and I like the versatility of having a watch that can handle being covered in sunscreen, dunked in the waves, and still look good enough to wear to work. For me, that usually means my Seiko Samurai or Bulova Devil Diver. I wasn’t planning on adding anything to my collection this year, but two weeks ago I spotted a Bulova Surfboard chronograph behind the counter of my local jeweler. The retro style caught my eye, and after about a week, I decided to buy it. I’ve been wearing it for the last week, and I’m now comfortable giving a fair review.
Based on a model from 1971, the Surfboard exudes a really funky vibe that caught my eye sitting behind the glass. The steel tonneau case is extremely retro, and helps to make the 40.5 mm watch feel appropriately sized on smaller wrists. The crown is signed and screws down, giving the watch 200 meters of water resistance. Like other dive watches with chronographs, the pushers should not be used underwater. That breaks the water resistance. So, don’t do that. One feature I really like about Bulova watches is that they leave a lot of negative space on the back, so you could have it engraved if you so desired. That’s also the case for the Surfboard’s case.
All kinds of retro. And a heck of an affordable alternative to the Tag Monaco.
Unfortunately, the watch is only available on a rubber strap. Only the much more expensive automatic version comes on a bracelet. That being said, the strap is a very attractive blue tropic strap with a deployant clasp. Should you want to change it, the watch will accept any 20mm straps, but for a casual beach watch, you’d be hard pressed to outdo the included strap.
20mm lugs. Rubber strap with deployant clasp
The Surfboard comes in both the quartz option shown in this post, as well as a spendy 27-jewel Swiss automatic option. I think for the level of finishing, the quartz movement is honestly the most appropriate for this watch. It’s inexpensive, accurate, and features a sweeping seconds hand for the chronograph. Like the originals, the Surfboard lacks a date window.
Left: The 44mm Automatic Bulova Devil Diver
Right: The 40.5mm Quartz Bulova Surfboard Chronograph
The Dial & Crystal
This is the big selling point of the watch, at least for me, and much like the Devil Diver, the effort they put into the dial really shines through. The Surfboard is offered in a few different color variants, but mine is the navy blue and red one. One important thing that I didn’t notice and that the product photos don’t show, and that you can’t see in the store, is that in very intense sunlight, the blue and silver portions of the dial are actually sunburst. When the light catches the face just right, the blue is incredibly intense. I bought this watch thinking it was just a really dark, flat navy blue, but I’m incredibly pleased with the discovery. The design itself is pure 60s/70s. The indices are the little faceted polished rectangles you see on vintage watches, and have a tiny sliver of lume in the center, as do the hour and minute hands. Both the running seconds and the chronograph hands are unlumed. The subdials (running seconds and 60-minute counter) are located in the large silver oval that gives the Surfboard its name. A tachymeter runs around the dial above the minute indices. All of this is covered by a double domed sapphire crystal that produces virtually no distortion, even at crazy angles.
When not in direct sun (such as underwater), the dial can appear so dark navy it’s almost black.
Look, I know “clickless” friction fit is historical, but I would have liked a ratcheting bezel. Or failing that a bit more friction. The bezel isn’t loose enough to drift around on its own, but I’ve bumped it crooked several times. The lume pip is giant, and seemingly 1000x brighter than the rest of the lume (on the watch I can tell the time in the dark once my eyes have adjusted). The bezel pip is nearly bright enough to read by.
No-click, friction fit bezel. Taught enough, but you can bump it out of place.
Double domed sapphire crystal.
I bought this as a summer beach-bum sort of watch, and as that, I think it really excels. It’s funky, retro, bright and fun. I wouldn’t hesitate to wear this to the beach in the morning, and then throw on a button up shirt and wear it to the bar for cocktails. This past week it spent a few hours with me getting tossed in the surf with no issue. Compared to my other quartz chronographs, it looks expensive. I’ve been wearing it to work and around town for a week, and I’ve received several compliments and questions about it, usually from women. Size wise, I know it isn’t a tiny 36mm watch like everyone (myself included) is obsessed with these days, but at 40mm, it doesn’t feel like a big watch, and is proportionate to the amount of information and detail present on the dial. I also like the practicality of it being quartz. Don’t get me wrong, mechanical watches will always be my favorite, but it’s nice to know that if I have to dress up at work for a few days, when I pick it back up I won’t need to reset it.
Surf’s up? Surf’s up!
There are a LOT of watches hitting the market these days that lean on a retro-aesthetic. The Bulova Sufboard might be the latest, and not the cheapest for quartz a powered throwback, but it sure does excel in the looks and functionality departments. If you’re looking for something a bit funky but also super interesting and easy to wear, then dive on in. Just don’t hit those chronograph pushers when you’re refining your doggy-paddle.