Garmin Vivoactive for surfski - review

7 years 6 months ago #26266 by Orman
The following are some comments on the Garmin Vivoactive for Surfski paddling. I am an intermediate paddler with no industry affiliations. This product was released in 2015, and I couldn't find a lot of info regarding its use on surfskis. Hopefully other prospective purchasers find this helpful!

I wanted a simple GPS watch that I could mount on the foot strap of my ski and pair with a chest-strap heart rate monitor. I wanted to be able to see speed in real time as well. The old Garmin 310XT is no longer sold in NZ, and its successor (the 910XT) is fairly pricey. The Vivoactive is considerably cheaper.

Getting started with the watch and heart rate monitor was somewhat complex and required a fair amount of googling to answer questions that were not covered by the manual. Once the setup was finished though everything is seamless. The watch syncs automatically with a smartphone via Bluetooth, and exercise data is uploaded to Garmin Connect automatically. You can set it up to link automatically to your Strava account. The smartphone app allows you to download apps/widgets etc to your phone.

The screen displays beautifully in the sunlight. Although it has a light that you can turn on the default is to have no backlight on (like a Kindle e-reader). This means the display is pretty dim inside (lots of complaining on the internet about this!); however outside in the bright light it is much better. I have no problems reading the data when the watch is on my Surfski foot strap. It also fits on the footstrap perfectly with no other padding or mounts needed.

I am using an app called 'Workout Genius' that lets you have between 1 and 9 data fields on the screen at once. I am using 5 - speed, heart rate, distance, elapsed time, and clock. This app, plus the built in ones for running/cycling etc are all customisable; for example you can set the screen to automatically scroll between different displays. You can (apparently) also pair it with a Vaaka cadence sensor to measure your stroke rate etc.

Options for specific training programs with intervals etc are pretty limited. So far the only way I have found to do intervals is to set walk/run interval times in the built-in running app. It is possible that future apps will give more options here, or you can buy one of the more expensive Garmins which (apparently) have more of this sort of thing. Currently there is not a specific Surfski or kayak app available either. Hopefully someone will take this on!

The watch has a couple of useful safety features too. You can download and display a compass. There a a couple of mapping/navigation apps, although they are very basic and if you need a serious ocean navigation tool this is watch is NOT it! There is a live tracking feature so family/friends on shore can see where you are in real time.

Battery life seems pretty good, after a 90 minute paddle it still had 80% power left.

It also has a lot of 'fitness watch' features which I won't go into because I am unlikely to use them. Sleep data recording, measuring steps etc etc...

For Surfski paddling though it is exactly what I wanted and the price was very reasonable. The screen visibility in particular when mounted in the ski was much better than I was expecting and for me is the best feature of the watch.

Should the watch prove to be unreliable I will post an update here, at this point though I am delighted with it and would certainly recommend it to other paddlers.

Takapuna Boating Club
Current: Think Ion, Think Evo II, Custom Kayaks Mark 2
Previous: Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf 70
The following user(s) said Thank You: Rookie, SurfskiEstonia, Larry

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

7 years 6 months ago - 7 years 6 months ago #26267 by AR_convert
I too replaced my last 310XT which was lost overboard with a Vivoactive due to the price of the 910.

The pluses for this watch over the 310 are
- ability to wear it as a day to day smartwatch
- Great syncing reliabilty (often an issue with the 310)
-timer continues to show seconds count after 1 hour of paddling ( good for training when doing intervals)

The let downs for me though are
- not very accurate speed tracking. Even with the settings set to look for the most amount of satellites. The real time display speed can jump around by about .7km/hr, doesnt sound a lot but when racing or time trialing having real time speed is really helpful. The only way I have made the watch a little more useful in this regard is to set lap distance to 250m and display avg lap speed which smooths the speed displayed out.
- no ability to setup intervals ( a function I used very regularly with the 310)
- not a very intuitive menu ( you have to do a lot of reading to learn how to use this watch and even then I forget how to access certain settings

I wish Garmin would take some of the bells and whistles out of the 910 (that most people dont use anyway) and sell something for around the $350 mark.

Either that or update the GPS chip in the Vivoactive to be more accurate and allow setting up on intervals.


Always looking for the next boat :)
Last edit: 7 years 6 months ago by AR_convert.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Rookie

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

7 years 6 months ago #26268 by MaxB
Agree the 910XT has a lot of unnecessary features, however the Garmin RRP seems to mean little in Australia if you shop around a bit. I bought a new one recently for $350 from a local supplier, without HRM. It was their advertised price and there was no haggling. With HRM it would have cost $380. I find it works well and is easy to use, but lack of Bluetooth to allow, say, direct syncing to Garmin Connect on a smartphone, is a real pain in the butt.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

7 years 6 months ago #26278 by Love2ski
I have been using the vivoactive for a while now and find it works really well. As I wear it as a watch as well I never forget it for paddling.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

7 years 6 months ago #26279 by SurfskiEstonia
Thanks for that review. Just downloaded the workoutgenius - looks very useful!

Agree with AR_convert that the accuracy of speed measurement is a problem. Especially measured from the wrist. That has clearly been decided on purpose to make the Fenix relevant. The Fenix also has an inbuilt function to choose screens and create workouts, which is now being solved for Vivoactive by aftermarket aps.

I personally was between the two (vivo and fenix) and decided purely on the looks - I needed a watch to be on the wrist most of the time (bicycling to work in summer, working out in the gym, paddling, of course) and wearing around a large round suunto or fenix/epix seemed somehow ostentatious in a non-sport setup.

A couple of months passed and I noticed that I didn't wear my other watches any more (entry level swiss mechanicals). Should probably sell them and get another boat :huh:

I am very happy with this watch - it can take a pretty hard beating - hitting it against the boat rails, coming with me for long sauna sessions :D, being submerged in 0-1*C water.

Would recommend it to a friend, who's not a professional athlete and does not need precision tracking and interval measurement.

Current: Carbonology Boost double, Jantex Gamma Mid
Previous: Nelo Ocean Ski L, Jantex Gamma Rio Large Minus
The following user(s) said Thank You: AR_convert

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

7 years 6 months ago #26323 by Larry
I've got one of these too - I bought it because I can use it for running, cycling and golf, and now that I'm back into paddling I'm using it for that too.

I've only been using the walk app on the watch, so I'll take a look at workout genius and see what that has to offer - thanks for the tip!

I also use it to track surfing sessions for a laugh - when I get back in I upload to strava and use the strava flyby application to see how much distance I'm covering on waves.

I've had mine for a year or so now, and it seems to have coped well. Battery life is impressive, but it should be noted that it has a basic subset of functions compared to the more expensive garmin watches.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

7 years 5 months ago #26358 by aircanuck
Great review, it would be on my list if my 310XT packs it in.

For those still curious, Garmin has done a good job updating the 310XT software and the synchs are a lot better these days at my end.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

Latest Forum Topics