Should You Wear a Surf Helmet? Our Top Picks 2023

Terry Simms going backside in a surf helmet of his own creation.

“Honestly, it’s hard to put [a surf helmet] on because I grew up watching most of my heroes surf it without one,” Ho continued. “I do feel like it’s wrong sometimes, like riding a street bike on the freeway without a helmet.” 

Should you be wearing a surf helmet? 

Yes.  Probably. 

Are you going to? 

No, probably not.  Not yet, at least. 

And that will continue to be the case until helmets become “cool”.  That’s really what it comes down to.  

There are simply not enough pro surfers wearing them, and it doesn’t matter how many facts I spit at you – you’re still not going to slip that skull into some dome foam when you surf.  

I can sit here and reference the rising number of concussion cases amongst surfers, but it won’t do any good to get you to buckle into a skull hull, even in big surf.  

I can even cite surfing legend Nao “Silver Bullet” Ogawa who always rocked the hard hat in the water at Wikita Peak, but it’s not going to move the needle on surf helmet sales. 

Nao "Silver Bullet" Ogawa always wore a surf helmet. Credit: Liam McNamara.
RIP Silver Bullet.

Nao Ogawa recently lost his long battle with cancer. The surfing world mourns the loss of one of the great Pipeline surfers and always a champion of the surf helmet.

His longtime friend and fellow helmet champion Liam McNamara had this to say about his late friend:

For everyone out there to know Nao was a part of the crew of goofy foot helmet wearing Japanese chargers in the late 80s early 90s and into the 2000s!

Takayuki Wakita Atsushi Imamura and Naohisa Ogawa were the 3 samurai helmet wearing kamakaze pilots for a couple decades! They pushed each other to a crazy level! All 3 would post up deep deep at my peak, the Wakita Peak!!

So many crazy waves ridden no one could really tell them apart as they all charged so hard!!

Small In stature but big balls and true honor and respect for everybody! Nao had a silver board and a silver helmet and became the “Silver Bullet”. Nao was the most genuine soft spoken respectful guy you would ever meet!

He would also smile at you and say hi in or out of the water. He competed in the Pipeline Masters over a dozen times getting 10 point rides making a name out out that heaviest wave on the planet !

Pro Surfers in Surf Helmets

You’ve seen surfers on the Championship Tour in Owen Wright suffer a traumatic head injury at Pipeline, recover, and slap on the ol’ battle bowler in his return to action. 

Sheeeet, Owen won the Tahiti Pro in a brain bucket in 2019.  

Owen Wright wins 2019 Tahiti Pro in a helmet. Credit: WSL Matt Dunbar.
“He came in and felt weird and couldn’t really speak or anything… It was like his body was completely out of fuel, it was pretty scary looking,” said Matt Wilkinson the day of Owen’s Pipeline accident.

Still, you haven’t smashed that buy button on a surf helmet!

What if I told you wearing one will give you the ability to do this???

Is Owen still wearing the surf helmet?

He didn’t in his final CT appearance at Bells Beach this year, but I believe he still does at waves like Pipeline and Chopes.  

Unclear as to why he didn’t wear the cranium stadium at Bells, which has a rocky reef bottom

2 Other Times Surf Helmets Won Contests:
Jeremy Flores, 2015 Tahiti Pro

Jeremy Flores beat Gabriel Medina in the final wearing a surf helmet at good-sized Teahupo’o. There had to be a little spike in sales following that, right? Maybe in France?

Jeremy Flores wins 2015 Tahiti Pro in a surf helmet. Credit: Stephen Robertson.

Why was he wearing it?

He suffered a bad concussion and 35 stitches to the head while surfing in Sumbawa earlier in the year. 

Is he still wearing a surf helmet today?

Nope.  As soon as he was cleared by doctors, the Frenchman retired the hardware. 

Tom Carrol, 1991 Pipeline Masters

Tom Carroll in a surf helmet performing the snap heard around the world. Credit: Wavelength.

The snap heard ’round the world was done in a surf helmet! How has that marketing campaign not hit yew tube, yet?

Tom Carroll famously does a devilishly difficult turn, cutting his edge just below the lip at big and mean Pipeline, a wave renowned for its perfect barrels.

Why was he hearing it?

He attributed his decision to don the headgear to when Steve ‘Beaver’ Massfeller went head-first into the reef at Pipe, was airlifted unconscious and ended up with a steel plate in his head and memory and speech problems. 

Is Tom Carroll still wearing a surf helmet today?

Yes, but not as much as he should be judging by the video below.

What kind of surf helmets were each of these champions wearing when they claimed their victories?

Thank you for asking. All three wore the same brand, which segs us nicely into our next section…

Top 3 Surf Helmet Picks 2023

If you’re going to finally take the plunge and don a surf helmet, which you should at the very least consider, we’ve got some suggestions. 

Just three, because we’ve chosen to be highly selective in our choices.  

Below we have outlined one legacy brand, one new-comer, and one soft shell option.  


The Legacy.  

Gath Surf Helmet.

It’s been around since 1989 and is the most popular choice among surf professionals. 

This is the surf helmet that was worn by Tom Carroll in 1991, Jeremy Flores in 2015, and Owen Wright in 2019. 

Gath surf helmets was started in 1989 by designer and surfer Ric Gath.  Through the 90s, thanks to guys like Tom Carroll and Liam McNamara, Gath surf helmets were widespread.  

That changed when Ric Gath and directors of the company became embroiled in disputes over control.  After Gath lost control of the company, Gath surf helmets all but faded out of circulation entirely. 

The company officially became insolvent in 1997, which allowed Ric Gath to once again take the reins.

Since, he’s run the brand as a lean but agile operation.  

“I’m just happy to pay the bills,” said Gath in a interview in 2015, following Jeremey Flores’ victory at Pipe sporting his protective shell.  

When asked why he thinks surf helmets aren’t more popular, Gath went on to say, “I fully understand that surfing is a freedom sport and we all just want to surf in boardies, no legrope, but we wear wetsuits to keep warm and we wear legropes to save swimming.

Helmets take a bit of getting used to but my belief is the positives most definitely outweigh the small negatives. The main reason I developed my surf helmet was to protect against the cold wind and the sun to keep myself in the water longer.

But when coming unstuck and being smacked in the head it’s a great feeling to paddle back out knowing you’ve just avoided a trip to the doctors or more serious injury, especially when you’re on a surf trip.”

Price: $169 – 209

Technical Information
Gath helmets are made from quality materials to strict specifications and are built to last and are backed by a 3-year warranty. All materials are strong, durable, rustproof and will withstand harsh climate conditions and temperature extremes.

  • Shell – Long lasting, UV stable, high impact-resistant plastic.
  • Liner – Multi impact, non-water absorbent foam.
  • Headband – 10mm thick Multi impact, non-water absorbent foam.
  • Fittings – All Gath helmet custom built screws and rivets are made from strong non-corrosive, salt water-resistant materials.
  • Retention system:made using non-stretch standards approved webbing, standards approved quick-release buckles for a secure retention and are fitted with a nylon coated non-water absorbent foam for added comfort.

Parker Coffin in a Gath Surf Helmet at Cloudbreak. Credit: Zak Noyle.

Tom Carroll pitted in a surf helmet. Credit: Quiksilver.

The New-Comer.

Simba Surf Helmet

Started in 2016 by traveling surf coach and long time helmet wearer, Terry Simms, Simba has re-designed the surf specific helmet.  

“Well, it’s based on a Roman gladiator design and it has no straight edges, nothing for the water to grab so when you break the surface of the water your head doesn’t get ripped around. The water just channels through and runs out the back. Again, I really just want for people to know this is here because with the crowds the way they are, people bailing their boards, running into each other… it’s just becoming more necessary.”

Battle tested on “triple overhead” Nihiwatu, or God’s Left as Simms calls it.  The surf helmet endured every test the shallow-reef, tubing left threw at it.  

You’ve got to admit that he’s onto something with the look.  

Can you imagine Kelly Slater with one of these caressing his dome in pumping 15 foot Teahupo’o?  

This is Sparta! 

Price: $199.99

Technical Information
A lightweight, low-profile helmet engineered specifically for the safety of surfers and water sports enthusiasts. The Sentinel 1’s technically advanced design provides high-level impact protection with optimum aquadynamic performance.

  • Impact resistant shell engineered to protect areas of head specific to surf.
  • Low-profile shell and cut-out offers optimal peripheral vision and minimal drag.
  • Advanced ear protection system to aid in prevention of aural trauma and exostosis (Surfer’s Ear).
  • Low-profile chin strap ensures secure, comfortable positioning using non-corrosive, saltwater resistant materials.
  • Innovative layer tech padding reduces, absorbs, and deflects impact energy.
  • Interior padding channel design allows water to quickly drain out after submersion.

Inventor Terry Simms testing out his own surf helmet.
Inventor Terry Simms testing out his own product.

Koa Smith rocks the gladiator designed Simba Surf Helmet.

DMC Soft Surf Helmet

The Soft Shell Option.

DMC Fins Soft Surf Helmet

The hard surf helmets are hard…to justify in small, everyday conditions.  For waves of consequence over reefs or rocks or even heavy beach breaks, a full-on helmet makes sense.  

Your brain would agree, but it’s not reality that you wear a surf helmet every time you paddle out.  

For smaller, less consequential days, DMC Fins has made these soft shell surf helmet options.  

Essentially, it’s a surf cap, but with padding.  It’s a much easier, less bulky option when you’re not feeling the full gladiator set-up. 

I like the aesthetic, too.  Got that Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump feel to it.  

At the very least, you’ve got some good sun protection.  

Ear protection, too, from cold wind and water which so often produces the dreaded surfer’s ear, requiring painful surgery and slow recovery.  

Price: $99

Technical Information
DMC fins / SOFT SURF HELMET™ SSH™ is a thermoformed headgear with peak and neck protector.  Made from non-porous NBR foam encased in nylon elastane the SSH™ is designed to protect reasonable impact in all extreme water sports conditions. 

  • Super lightweight weighing less than 100g and constructed to allow water flow and therefore will not balloon.
  • The SSH™ Flip-Top-Peak™ is unique in that it can remain up or down and will not obstruct vision during duck dives or any underwater activity. It will also spring back to its peak position when emerging from a submerged position.
  • The neck flap is for sun and wind protection keeping you cosy in the winter and safe from UV rays in hotter months.
  • Maximum audio capabilities i.e. you can hear everything necessary for normal surf or water activity.

Tom Carroll wearing a soft surf helmet.
Tom Carroll also uses a DMC soft surf helmet.

Soft Surf Helmet

Why won’t you wear a surf helmet?

Given all the benefits, the surf helmet has yet to truly take off in the world of surfing.  

I think that’s slowly changing, especially when we have performances in professional surfing like Owen’s in 2019, Flores in 2015, and Tom Carroll in 1991.  Surf helmets are going to need more of these showings to really gain some foothold. 

There are other pro surfers like Koa Smith and Albee Layer who are embracing surf helmets after their own injuries, and hopefully inspiring the youths of today to protect their domes.  

Safety in surfing is becoming a more talked about subject, especially among younger surfers and in the big wave community, which could signal a real change in the near future.

A similar thing happened with helmets in snowboarding and leashes in surfing.  We blinked and then one day everyone was using helmets while snowboarding.

Still, you aren’t going to wear a surf helmet when you paddle out this afternoon, are you? 


Mason Ho lays it out for us: “Honestly, it’s hard to put one on because I grew up watching most of my heroes surf it without one,” Ho continued. “I do feel like it’s wrong sometimes, like riding a street bike on the freeway without a helmet.”  

It’s going to take some time to normalize the use of surf helmets on a mass scale.  It’s a next generation thing more likely than not.  

I’m not opposed to wearing one, but I feel like surf helmets are like candles.  I like candles, they’re great, but I’m not going to really buy one for myself.  

If it’s gifted to me, I’ll burn it.  Same goes for the surf helmet. 

Maybe I’ll put one of these 3 surf helmets on the gift guide article I write later this year – or maybe I’ll put an ocean breeze scented candle.

Truly, you need one of the top surfers in the world to start wearing one for the tide to change.  

John John, Gabriel Medina, Kelly Slater.  You get one of them in a surf helmet and we’ll see some real impact.  

What are the chances that ever happens???

Father, surfer, poet.


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