Fashion and Function: A Surfer's Guide to the Perfect Swim Shorts

April 30 2018

If you're anything like me, you probably take the existence of swim shorts for granted. It seems self-evident that some variation of that basic idea has existed at least since the dawn of the modern age. Surprisingly, that's not exactly the case.

Wild as it may seem in the progressive society of the present day, at one time there were actually strict laws for men and women alike dictating what a person could and couldn't swim in. Men's swim shorts didn't come into fashion until the 1930s, replacing the bulky and impractical swimwear of the Victorian Era.

Luckily, those times are long behind us, and swim shorts have been the male swimwear fashion standard for nearly a century. Well, save for a brief detour into the world of swim briefs, but we don't have to acknowledge that.

All these facts lead to one natural question: What swim shorts should I buy? Answering that is hard enough for the average consumer, but a surfer has to consider function just as much as fashion when making that call.

In times long past, it might have been impossible to effectively mix utility and style, but we live in the time of handheld supercomputers, man. Swim shorts are no problem.

Swim Shorts for Fashion

First, let's talk about the visuals. People surf for a lot of different reasons, but one constant that runs through them all is the desire to look good while you do it. Style has always been synonymous with surfing.

Just like the motivation behind surfing varies, there's no one-size-fits-all answer concerning how boardshorts should look. From the shorter cropped style of the 60s and 70s to the more spacious trends of the early 2000s, it's always been different strokes for different folks when it comes to swim shorts.

The most important factor here is of course that you feel good in what you wear. Looking in the mirror should cause you to exude confidence, not second guess your choice. There's no real way to quantify that feeling since it will be a bit different for everyone, but you'll know when you hit the sweet spot.

Another thing to consider is what's "in" at any given moment. To some, this will be less important, and there's no question that it should always take a back seat to the wearer's preference. That said, most folks don't want to be the lame guy on the beach getting laughed at. That's just no fun.

Style trends change with the weather, so it's not important to be precisely of the moment, but it doesn't hurt to at least pay attention. Finding a happy medium between current trends and timeless looks is the key to looking your best in a pair of swim shorts.

But, like I already said, personal confidence is the single most important thing to consider. Ultimately, if a pair of mid-calf length polka dot shorts make you feel good, go for it.

Granted, those might cause some issues in the function category, which is exactly what we're about to dive into.

Swim Shorts for Function

Here's where things get a bit trickier. Whereas style is subjective, there are some things that absolutely have to be considered when picking out the swim shorts that will best suit your surfing needs.

First and foremost, they need to stay on your body. When it comes to receiving a thrashing from mother nature, surfing is the foremost action sport in that category.

The waves can toss a surfer around like a rag doll, and that means your swim shorts are going to be getting pulled every which way. Unlucky is the person who finds themselves washed up bottomless on a crowded beach.

It's important to strike a balance between shorts that aren't going to be restrictive and shorts that will stay secure. A good way to find that balance is by going with boardshorts that have a combination velcro and lace fly. This will ensure an unrivaled degree of comfort and security.

Speaking of comfort, the fit of the leg isn't just something to be considered for style purposes. There are a couple different ways leg length and width can affect your performance on the board.

For one, prolonged exposure to board wax while laying on your board can irritate the legs over time. This might mean you choose to go with a longer leg fit for more coverage. Individual preferences on this will vary, so just figure out what works best for you.

Width is important because you don't want swim shorts that cling to your body. Ideally, the less you notice you're even wearing swim shorts, the better. Finding a leg width that gives you enough room to breathe without draping you in an excess material can make a big difference.

As we touched on earlier, your swim shorts are going to be subject to much more wear than most other clothing. This means durable materials are a must.

Obviously, there's an equilibrium that has to be maintained here too. Leather is super durable, but I certainly wouldn't recommend hitting the waves in it. Your best bet is going to be finding that perfect mix of adequately lightweight and sufficiently durable material, such as nylon.

Regarding comfort and mobility, if you can find shorts with 4-way stretch, you're golden. This allows the shorts to stretch in every conceivable direction, so you won't have to worry about them becoming taut and limiting your movement or tearing easily.

The Verdict

As you can plainly see, there is no shortage of things to consider when picking out a pair of swim shorts. From length to width, pattern to fit, every factor counts.

But at the end of the day, you're a surfer, not a GQ model. You need a pair of boardshorts that are going to meet your needs in far more than just the fashion realm.

Luckily, you have access to what one reviewer described as, "Hella dope shorts. Turned all the ladies' heads."

Frankly, I can't imagine asking for more.

Get out there and turn some heads.

Fashion and Function: A Surfer's Guide to the Perfect Swim Shorts