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What makes a good board short? Important facts

8 things that make a great pair of board shorts, and why you shouldn’t wear underwear under your boardies

Compare the heavy, thick-seamed, slow-dry high-cut board shorts of the ‘70s and ‘80s with today’s high-tech offerings and you can see just how far boardies have evolved. Companies like Hurley, Billabong and O’Neill make great board shorts. Their top-shelf offerings mirror state-of-the-art wetsuit designs and come with a hefty price tag, often as much as $180 price.

Is it worth is? While the canvas and nylon boardies of yesteryear (and some current retro-inspired designs) boast steez for days, today’s expensive, performance-minded crop won’t give you a rash. And that’s important.

Vintage 1980s surf wear advertisement

Steez or Sleeze? Advertisement from the pre-tech days when board shorts ballooned, dragged, rubbed and looked rather funny.

 

Chaffed thighs, scrotums, vulvas and taints will cut an expensive wave pool session short. A good pair of boardies is essential to both surfing performance and your genital comfort.

Each and every pair of board shorts is comprised of the same basic performance parts: material, seams, fly, waistband and length. It’s the details of each piece when added together that will make a great short.

Curious? Read on. We will explore what makes board shorts work, whether they are amphibian hybrid walk shorts, or the latest compression gem from Oakley.

 

Quiksilver highline board shorts in black

Modern, high performance board shorts are made of light, stretchy material and won’t create drag in the water

Board Short Basics

You can swim in board shorts, but you can’t surf in swim trunks. First off, board shorts differ from swim trunks in that they don’t have a mesh liner on the inside and they tend to be a bit longer in length.

Although volley ball shorts (high cut with an elastic waist) have become more popular, a traditional boardie leaves room to move and stretch. A bunched up waistband and a larger profile of material will drag through the water when you’re paddling or duckdiving.

Swim trunks not board shorts

Bulky swim trunks create drag and aren’t good for paddling or duckdiving.

Think of what Olympic swimmers wear to cut down on friction. The work great in the water. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you don’t like seeing budgie smugglers) wearing Speedos in the surf leaves your thighs exposed to chaffing from the rails of your board. You need to surf a wave pool in board shorts and not swim trunks or bunhuggers.

Never, under any circumstances wear underwear under your boardies. The cotton will get wet and heavy and will rub you raw faster than a pair of sandpaper socks.

Material

The canvas cotton and nylon material of yesteryear, while super durable, is not comfortable. You’d be pressed to find a pair of heavy-canvas shorts today, but styles that harken back to those decades of thigh exposure are regaining popularity. Fortunately they are now constructed with softer, thinner cotton fabric.

These cotton blends hang differently than lighter quick-dry material, so the shorts will look different. If you’re choosing boardies for poolside BBQs, short wave pool sessions or just hanging out, you wont need high-end performance material. But for extended sessions you’ll want something that’s light-weight, stretchy, hydrophobic and quick-dry.

water drop on water repellent board short material

Water-resistant properties help a board shorts’ performance by staying light and drying quickly.

 

Material stretch is defined as either two-way or four-way. Two-way material either stretches horizontally or vertically. Four-way stretch gives in all directions.

Whatever material you choose be sure it breathes a bit so you stay comfortable. 100% latex is super stretchy, but would make a horrible pair of boardies because it doesn’t breath. Concerned about plastic pollution? Many companies now offer recycled and upcycled materials in their designs.

Seams

Seams are crucial to a board shorts’ performance and come in standard, finished, welded, taped and fused designs. Generally, the less seam protruding from the shorts, the less material there will be to rub against and chaff your waterlogged thighs, crotch and genitals. Any high performance material benefits are quickly lost to bulky seams.

So why don’t all great board shorts have high-end welded seams? It’s simply a matter of cost. The more flat or welded the seam, the more it costs to produce at the garment factory. This attention to detail drives up the price. Rub your finger along the seam on a pair of $200 Quiksilver Highliner board shorts and you will feel no seam protrusion. It’s amazing. But not everyone wants to spend that for a top-end boardie if they are just hanging out poolside.

welded board short seam

Can you find the seam? Fused seams replace stitching in high-end board shorts.

Fit

This one is obvious, but a short that’s too big will pleat at the waist and expose your ass during duck dives and wipeouts. It will also create drag in the water. A too-tight boardie, regardless of how stretchy and high-performance the material, will make it hard to bend and move and won’t close properly at the waistband. Wear these and you also run the risk of muffin top.

Pockets

Originally designed so you could take your wax with you into the lineup, the pocket has evolved quite a bit. They can be external and protruding or hide along interior seams. All board short pockets close with either a waterproof zipper, velcro, a button or nothing. A great board short pocket will not protrude from the profile of the short, so it doesn’t create drag.

Also consider pocket placement. Do you like a side pocket or a back pocket? It’s actually pretty important, as some pockets sit squarely on one buttock while others are off to the side which helps when sitting on your board. Most have a key leash inside them. Check the length of the key leash. if it’s too long, the key can poke you. Some shorts come with goodies like wax combs, bottle openers and fin keys. Lastly and most importantly, make sure there’s a proper drain hole for water to exit.

board short waist band

Board shorts should fit snug and secure at the hips. The material should lay flat against the skin.

Waistband

A good fit will sit on your hips. In the fitting room you can tug on the short to mimic a wipeout or duck dive. See if they stay in the same place or slide down. Some great board shorts have specialised “cross-weave” waistbands to keep the shorts on your hips as you move through all the positions that wave pool surfing requires: paddling-to-sitting or sitting-to-standing and, yes, even getting sucked over the falls.

Fly and Laces

For surfing all day, the less obstruction you have between your board and body, the less the short fly will rub you. A good way to find out if the fly system is legit is to turn the board shorts inside out and look at how the fly area is constructed. Rub your finger along the area to feel for hard edges caused by seams or velcro. If the fly feels bulky with material or is stiff, you will feel it when you lay on your board.

Board short closure systems are zippered, velcro’d, buttoned or none-existent. Buttons or zippers are better suited for more time poolside rather than surfing in the pool. One of the most popular designs is having an extra piece of stretch material where a traditional fly would be, leaving the closure method entirely up to the laces or snaps. Laces come in flat or round construction and some have little silicon dots melted onto them to help keep them from slipping loose. Current state of the art is a flat lace with some type of silicon material added. These stay tied better as the knot won’t slip.

 

Vintage board shorts advertisement from Billabong

Board short length circa 2000-something when boardies hung below the knee. Stylish at the time, the extra length protects knees and thighs, but can hamper getting to your feet.

Length

Shorts inseams range in length from 14’ to 22”. This is measured from the waist to the where the shorts fall at the lower hem. A 15” short will sit well above your knee and will also not protect the skin on your thighs when transitioning from sitting to paddling positions. Conversely a 22” out seam will protect you during that same motion and will fall to around the knees when standing. But you run the risk of the extra material getting caught on your knees when you go to stand up. This is known as knee-drag. Fortunately the super-big board shorts of the early 2000s are not so popular. Most shorts today have between a 17”-20” inseam.

Always remember to consider the material, fit, seams, waistband, fly, length, pocket design and general use before parting with your hard-earned cash on a new pair of board shorts. Good hunting and see you in the water.


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