Ocean waves drive a wide variety of nearshore physical processes, structuring entire ecosystems through their direct and indirect effects on the settlement, behavior, and survivorship of marine organisms. However, wave exposure remains difficult and expensive to measure. Here, we report on an inexpensive and easily constructed instrument for measuring wave-induced water velocities. The underwater relative swell kinetics instrument (URSKI) is a subsurface float tethered by a short (<1 m) line to the seafloor. Contained within the float is an accelerometer that records the tilt of the float in response to passing waves. During two field trials totaling 358 h, we confirmed the accuracy and precision of URSKI measurements through comparison to velocities measured by an in situ acoustic Doppler velocimeter and those predicted by a standard swell model, and we evaluated how the dimensions of the devices, its buoyancy, and sampling frequency can be modified for use in a variety of environments.