How to Turn your $250 Garmin VivoActive HR into an Ultimate Water(wo)man Watch
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
I've tried a lot of fitness wearables in my journey from Couch Potato to Contender. When it comes to wearable fitness tech, I've gone through many different brands ... some at the same time. Realizing I was at risk of becoming a bionic woman, I wanted to stop having both wrists covered in tracking tech and downsize. Not to mention, I would rather have all of my data in ONE PLACE and subscription services were slowly draining my "athlete budget." (Spoiler alert, to skip reading the article and just get the tide face and surf tracking app, scroll to the bottom - it's like a bad recipe blog ;-P )
NEEDS vs WANTS
In day-to-day life, something I would expect out of something I'm wearing 24/7 would be heart rate... all day... and all night. If you train 2x a day keeping an eye on your resting heart rate to ensure you're not over training or coming down with something - or experiencing something extremely stressful that could be reflected in your heart rate before you're aware of it - is pretty darn important. I would put this up pretty high on my list of NEEDS because I have a history of overtraining. This may not be as big a need for others...
Then, a fitness wearable that helps me keep track of my hydration, menstrual cycle, calories... and all of that other stuff would also be helpful to help me achieve ultimate human optimization :-) but I'll put those under WANTS, along with apps to check the weather, emails, texts, and appointments.
Training for big events like the Carolina Cup and the Pacific Paddle Games meant I needed a solid fitness tracker. I want to track my speeds, distances, and heart rate throughout my training season to ensure I'm improving (that which is measured improves). This is the bare minimum in what I NEED.
Things I would WANT in a fitness tracking watch would be stroke rate for paddling, and power for running. I would also want my watch to record my strength workouts.
There were other things I NEEDED like a tide watch to know when the highs and lows were so I could safely plan my daily paddles. This devices took up more wrist space. Anyone who lives in a coastal environment knows that the tide could mean the difference between a pleasant outing and one where you're dragging your fin or rudder along oysters. The tide also can make your paddle really fast or slow when you're timing a loop around an island with wind and current - having the tide on my wrist at all times and not having to remember to check it before hand helped streamline the paddling process.
Then there were really cool functions of other GPS watches that I WANTED, like a wave counter that told me how many waves I caught, how fast I went, and total distance surfed, that had me seriously consider giving up more wrist-real-estate.
The Bottom Line
It seems like I needed a fitness watch, a tide watch, a surf tracking watch, and a smart watch. That would be 2 watches per wrist - I would look damn ridiculous. You could condense some of these, and get it to one watch per wrist. Even then, you're looking at anywhere from $500 meeting just my NEEDS to $800 for meeting all of my WANTS too. At least in the year 2016.
Have your cake... and eat it too
Enter my VivoactiveHR. At the time of this writing, I've had the watch for 3 years, and it's still going strong (Update: Garmin has discontinued the VivoactiveHR, but it is still for sale on Amazon.) It turns out that for $250, this watch can do everything I mentioned... and more. I was living in the technological past, thinking that I had to wear multiple watches... so naive!!
Without going into too much detail about the watch itself, which you can find on Garmin's website, it is a smart watch, and right out of the box it met all of my "life" needs and wants. This included a weather widget so I can take a quick look to see if there are any last minute changes to the afternoon storm forecast!! When paired with the Garmin Connect app, I can track all of those additional fitness metrics I previously mentioned like hydration, sleep, etc. and it is keeping an eye on my heart rate at all times.
In the "training" department, it is a robust fitness watch with a special program just for Stand Up Paddling - this gives me stroke rate in addition to pace and heart rate, metrics that I need to ensure I'm making progress. The sensor easily picks up my stroke rate in the Outrigger Canoe. Furthermore, when using it alongside other devices for stroke rate and distance, I've noticed that the GPS is more accurate (when the difference between first and second place is seconds - this makes a difference). I've hooked up a foot pod for running power on hilly trails, and it keeps track of all of my strength sessions. So I finally have all of my data in ONE place to get a complete picture of my training. This helps so much when doing my post-race assessments. I can see what I did (or didn't do) leading up to a race, and draw any conclusions about my performance in relation to my training!!
NOW, for the "Paddling" portion. Outside of the "Stand Up Paddle" app for fitness tracking, I wouldn't consider this a waterman watch right out of the box. But with two minor additions, I saved myself about $250 on a waterman/surf specific watch.
The beauty of this "smart watch" is the ability to download additional apps (developed by people other than Garmin) that fit niche needs.
A little research revealed the two apps that I needed to make this watch everything I needed and wanted for paddling. A tide watch face and a surf tracking app!! BOOM.
And that's it.