01 May 2009

Gath Surf Helmet Review

Three reviews in three days. All I can say is I've had time to catch up on blogging since I've been home sick for the last few days, laid low by a virus that is decidedly not swine flu. (Or "H1N1" as we're supposed to call it now, lest the stupid people who don't pay attention beyond the headlines come to believe eating Wilbur could make them sick. Jon Stewart on the new name: "H1N1? What - do you catch it from droids?!" I only hope the growing hysteria doesn't muck up our planned trip to Oahu in less than 2 weeks.) At least the surf has been small and unispiring so I don't feel I've been missing much. Now on to #3.
I finally got around to buying a Gath Surf Convertible Helmet last month. Since I earn my living from my brain, it makes sense to protect it with a helmet while surfing, just as when biking or snowboarding. Trouble is, helmets are much more common, and more accepted, in those other sports. I fact, many bike clubs won't allow riders to participate unless they are helmeted (and also mock those who aren't wearing silly spandex bike clothes, but that's another matter). Conversely, helmets are seldom seen on surfers and consequently have a bit of uncool stigma and somewhat of a kook factor.

No matter; I've never worried overly much about what other people think, and I've taken other precautions to make surfing a little safer, like using Pro Teck fins and nose/tail guards. So why then, have I been surfing for nearly six years without a helmet? Since virtually no one else was wearing one, for a long time I discounted the danger. But a couple friends have had close calls like this one, and indeed S told me he once saw my longboard crash down inches from my head, so I started to think perhaps I should get one. Laziness also played a role, as the only place I could find any Gath surf helmets locally, Freeline in Santa Cruz, had a limited selection and no cool colors. That meant I had to order one from the Australian company's U.S. distributor, Murrays, but first I had to locate a tape measure and then have S measure my head twice to ensure proper sizing. (S also talked me out of choosing hot pink, for which I suppose I should be grateful.) What finally pushed me to do it was the death of Natasha Richardson, and so I finally got my hands on a cherry red surf convertible with removable ear protectors.

I still don't intend to wear the helmet all the time, just when there seems to be a greater risk of head injury, e.g. surfing in a crowd, over shallow reef, riding a heavy longboard, etc. I've tried the helmet a few times so far, and it feels quite a lot like wearing a hood, except that I can hear better. Unfortunately it doesn't provide a hood's warmth. It's also a tad loose on my head, such that it scoops water when I duck-dive. Along with a drawstring carrying bag, the helmet came with a foam strip to be used for additional snugness if needed, but it's fairly thick, and I don't think it would solve the scooping issue. I've just ordered a thin thermal hood to wear under the helmet, which should provide both some warmth and a better fit.

Who knows? Maybe I'll start a trend, and soon all the local surfers will be wearing helmets. Ha!


  1. I have a bright red Gath like yours which I bought when we went to the Cocos on a surfing mission a few years ago. Didn't wear it much until one gorgeous day, medium/small surf, just got the timing wrong on a take-off and smacked my forehead into the rail - 4 stiches and a lot of blood later.....I now wear it constantly.
    I don't care about the uncool factor, I am middle-aged and a joke to many out there in the surf anyway so who am I trying to impress? I have labelled myself Mrs Incredible when I wear it (which I am definitely not)and my partner Robin who wears a blue one Buzz Lightyear - an anti-super-hero team! (I have got used to the extra water in the helmet. At first it bothered me).

  2. Mrs. Incredible and Buzz Lightyear - that's awesome! I'll post if the hood underneath helps, but I expect it will by filling in the gap.

  3. I thought it was Astro Girl and Buzz Lightyear?

  4. Oh and I wear my Gath all the time everytime, because it will be that time when you don't that something nasty might happen and would avoid feeling oh so dumb ya didn't put it on!

  5. Well it used to be Astro-girl (that's what my family called me - I think it was the stocky legs, not my superpowers) but being a little older now, have switched to Mrs Incredible.

  6. Your still Astro Girl to me!

  7. Your article makes me want to wear a helmet. Love your blog

  8. Cool! You should get one and help start the trend.

  9. I have the same helmet. Unfortunately and regrettably, I don't wear it. I have a hard time fitting the helmet on over a hood. In the winter, when the hood is needed, is probably the key time to wear the helmet.

    I also like to take my hood off and put it on again throughout the session to regulate my body heat.

    I'll be curious to learn if you manage to wear the helmet comfortably over a head.

    I'm also using a soft sponge board. So, the probability of getting knocked out by my own board is low.

  10. I'm looking to buy a helmet for my surfing. I have a 13-yr. old son whom I insist must wear a helmet when skateboarding. He's reminded me of the rocks that I surf over at Asilomar. Yesterday I wondered when I got tipped over by a crosswave at the shallow end. Any of you silly birds with XL Gaths you don't use wanna sell?

  11. I just ordered a bright white Gath surf convertible helmet today.

    Friday, I wiped out trying to avoid someone dropping in on me in the critical section of the wave. I missed the other surfer, but went over the nose and ended up churning with my board and getting a fin gash to the head.

    Ouch. Twelve staples later, I decided that helmets are not that kooky after all. Wish I would have read your post earlier.

    1. You convinced me. I just finished with 2. MRI from a kayak accident. I stand up paddle board . Some of the rivers we ride are shallow. This is a good idea. My brain injury will heal. I have a bleed the size of a jelly bean. I sure don't need another one. Doc said next time could cause brain swelling.