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Men's Guide to Surfing Swimwear

swimsuit to surf

Surfing is a demanding watersport requiring a swimsuit built with specific performance features. From the abrasive, unforgiving surface of the surfboard deck to the unpredictability and force of a breaking wave to the dreaded "wipeout," it's important to choose a swimsuit that helps mitigate any of the potential challenges one might encounter during a warmwater surf session. In general, there are three questions you should ask before choosing the best surfing swimsuit for you:

  1. What conditions will I be surfing in?
  2. How long do I plan to stay in the water?
  3. Will I be hanging out on the beach after I surf?

These will help you determine where to start when looking for your next swimsuit.

Swimsuits by Activity Type

Based on the information above, warmwater surfing swimsuit options can be narrowed down to three different categories:

Small Conditions/Beach Hangs

If you're planning on spending a day at the beach and jumping out for a session or three in fun, playful (read: small) surf, you have many options for your surfing swimsuit. This is the time when style and loose, casual comfort can take priority over swimsuits built for pure surfing performance. You're going to want a swimsuit that's just as comfortable on the beach as it is on a board, so consider a comfortable, fixed-waist boardshort, an elastic-waist boardshort or even a hybrid walkshort as your best options.

High-Performance Conditions

If you're choosing a swimsuit specifically for surfing, you're going to want to narrow the field to more "tech-specific" shorts. These are primarily the fixed-waist boardshort category, with a streamlined fit, engineered performance fabrics and features designed to minimize any friction you might encounter during your surf.

surf action

Multi-Hour Sessions

Finally, if you're planning on surfing for extended hours (two hours plus per day), you may want to consider additional options to help protect from chafing and extended exposure to the sun. These options might include a wetsuit jacket along with your fixed-waist boardshort, a rash guard or additional warmwater wetsuit options (like a spring suit or short john), eliminating the need for a swimsuit altogether.

Different Types of Surfing Swimwear for Men

boarshorts

Boardshorts

The most common swimsuit for surfing is traditionally known as the “boardshort.” First developed in Hawaii in the late 1950s, boardshorts are built with surfing first in mind. Key features include:

    • Streamlined fit with an outseam length ranging from 16-24" (depending on trend)
    • Elimination of pockets or closed/sealed, strategically-placed pockets
    • No internal lining
    • Performance stretch fabric (typically a polyester/nylon blend)
    • Quick-dry or water-repellent properties
SHOP BOARDSHORTS

swim trunks

Swim Trunks

Swim trunks are typically built for recreational use in and around the water and are not an ideal option for surfing. Features include:

    • An elastic waist with cinch tie (will not withstand any waves of force)
    • Loose, baggy fit
    • Non-stretch fabric with outseam lengths averaging 15" or less
    • Open side pockets (will fill up with water when surfing)
    • Inner mesh lining (causes chafing when paddling on a surfboard)
    • No quick-dry or water-repellent properties (adding extra weight)
SHOP SWIM TRUNKS

hybrid shorts

Hybrid Shorts

Hybrid shorts are a relatively new development utilizing the water-optimized performance fabrics of a boardshort and applying it to a walkshort. Just as functional in the water as it is out, hybrid shorts are best for more recreational water activities like boating, a day at the beach or hanging by the pool. But they are still an option if it's all you have, you want to go surfing and conditions are playful and small.

SHOP HYBRID SHORTS

rash guards

Rash Guards

Rash guards are meant to complement your surfing swimsuit to help extend your session, alleviate skin irritation from paddling and protect you from extended exposure to the sun. Options include the short sleeve rash guard, long-sleeve rash guard and hooded long-sleeve rash guard (optimal for UV protection).

SHOP RASH GUARDS

wetsuits

Wetsuits

There are a handful of warmwater wetsuit options that — for many professional surfers — is the suit of choice for a high-performance surf session. This tends to be because wetsuits perform like a "single skin" on the body and also offer added protection with coverage and the light neoprene padding. The most common styles of warmwater wetsuits are the spring suit (short arm, short leg) and the short john (tank top, short leg) with wetsuit thicknesses ranging from 0.5 mm to 2 mm.

SHOP WETSUITS

Neoprene Shorts and Undershorts

Neoprene shorts are a functional, though less common option for high-performance surfing conditions. More popular in the "athletic-inspired" eras of the '80s and '90s, neoprene shorts are for those surfers who place a premium on performance over style. Key features include:

    • Many neoprene shorts and undershorts include polyester/nylon "stretch panels"
    • Cinch tie at front of waist
    • Outseam length 17" or less

Additional Considerations When Choosing Surf Swimwear

Length And Fit

Boardshorts are designed for minimal drag, giving them a more streamlined, snug-but-not-tight fit. Length-wise, the averages fluctuate with trend cycles, but the median over the past 30 years is an 18.5-inch outseam.

Rash Protection

While technical boardshorts feature performance fabric designed to minimize chafing, there are times when extended hours in the water or on the beach result in an uncomfortable leg/inner thigh rash. When you plan on putting overtime in the water, a base layer, compression garment (polyester/nylon form-fitting short) will help prevent this from happening.

surf action shot

Inner Lining or No?

Any swimsuit with a mesh or built-in inner lining is most likely not ideal for surfing. These inner linings tend to fill with water and "balloon" when submerged, making for a surfing experience that can be a real drag.

Style

As much as surfers want a boardshort that allows them to perform at their best, style matters. A lot. So keep that in mind when choosing your next boardshort. And with unlimited options in the marketplace, there's undoubtedly a style that is meant for you.

Start off your search for the best swimsuit through which type of surfing you'll be doing and choose which features would suit you best to get you geared up for your next warmwater surf session.

CREATE YOUR OWN BOARDSHORTS

Related Articles

The Ultimate Men’s Wetsuit Buyer’s Guide

Boardshorts vs Swim Trunks: Which Is Right for You

How To Choose a Rash Guard

How To Choose Surf Accessories

Men’s Wetsuit Thickness & Temperature Guide