The thing about testing a bunch of high-performance board shorts is it’s supposed to feel like you’re surfing in nothing. So if they’re doing the job, in theory, I’d have no feedback to give other than “I coulda sworn I was surfing naked.” That said, the opposite absolutely sucks, where you can’t help but notice the shorts on your legs… or the chafing and rashes that will soon cut your warm-water session short. With that in mind, we got out there in some of the best board shorts for surfing on the market to see what they were made of.
I also did my time in casual and crossover varieties of board/swim shorts (see our buyer’s guide for more info on the key differences) to be able to give you a variety of options — the best board short for surfing isn’t necessarily the best board short for lounging on the beach or going for a hike, and we wanted to cover our bases in this review.
To be honest, this review is, to some extent, splitting hairs — if you’re lucky enough to be surfing in board shorts or strolling the beach in them, you’re lucky enough. However, small details such as “is there a secure pocket for my key” or “is the waistband secure” can make or break your experience in board short paradise, so is it really nit-picky if those small details actually matter?
Because of the sheer volume of board shorts out there, and because the “best” board short really does depend on what you’re looking for, I’ve included runner-up options where applicable and spoken to why I chose one short over the other as a top pick so you can decide if what I thought was a dealbreaker would be a dealbreaker for you. These are the best board shorts of 2023.
For more information, such as sustainability, sizing, and features check out our comparison table and buyer’s guide, and be sure to check out our best women’s board shorts article as well.
The Best Board Shorts of 2023
Best All-Around Performance Board Shorts: Florence Marine X F1 Zero
Best Upgrade Performance Board Shorts: Outerknown Apex Trunks
Best Budget Performance Board Shorts: O’Neill Hyperfreak
Best Fixed-Waist Hybrid Board Shorts: Vuori Cruise
Best Elastic Waist Board Shorts: Vuori Banks
Best Classic Board Shorts: Birdwell Beach Britches
Best All-Around Performance Board Shorts
Florence Marine X F1 Zero ($100)
Pros: Lightweight, stretchy shorts with all the highest-performance features.
Cons: Not quite as lightweight as other top-tier options.
Length: 17.5” outseam.
When it comes to high-performance board shorts, these are hard to top. And with John John himself developing these bad boys, are you surprised? The F1 Zeroes were both one of the lightest and one of the stretchiest shorts we tested and definitely the best fitting with scalloped leg openings and a roomy fit for unrestricted movement.
Clocking in at $100 makes them a pricey option, but when it comes to performance boardies, that’s actually quite average. I’m also a big fan of the upgrade features that come at this price point, such as welded seams (less chafing) and an unstitched (and more comfortable) waistband. I’m also a big fan of the side pocket, rather than the butt pocket, as a more comfortable place to store one’s key while out in the water.Check Price on Florence Marine X
Best Upgrade Performance Board Shorts
Outerknown Apex Trunks ($145)
Pros: Super sustainable (95 percent recycled), super light, super stretchy.
Length: 19” outseam.
Remember how I said the hallmark of a good pair of shorts is forgetting you were wearing them? When I was surfing in the Apex Trunks from Kelly Slater’s Outerknown, I coulda sworn I was surfing naked. Super light, super stretchy, and the waistband is super comfortable. What more could you want? Oh yeah, they’re also made with 95 percent recycled materials, which is the highest percentage in this review (aside from Patagonia’s 100 percent recycled baggies). That’s pretty awesome.
All that said, clocking in at $145 makes them a very premium option in the board shorts category, which is why we gave the edge to the F1 as the best all-around board short when the price is considered. If price isn’t a factor, Kelly Slater’s Outertown Apex Trunks are as good as board shorts get.Check Price on Outerknown
Best Bang-for-Buck Board Shorts
O’Neill Hyperfreak ($55)
Pros: Stretchy material, comfortable waistband with a secure drawstring. Great price.
Cons: Less of the “high tech” features we see in board shorts from Florence Marine X and Outerknown above.
Length: 21” outseam.
Some people just don’t want to shell out $100-plus on a pair of board shorts, to which I say, fair enough. You don’t want to sacrifice quality, but for many of us, the bells and whistles like welded seams, laser-cut edges, micro-perforations, and the like aren’t what we’re here for.
With that attitude in mind, the O’Neill Hyperfreak rises to the top. They’re made with solidly stretchy material, have a comfortable waistband with a very secure drawcord, a roomy fit for ease of movement, and sustainable materials, all for only $55. You are losing features like welded (unstitched) seams and leg openings, but perhaps you didn’t even want that to begin with. They also run fairly long with a 21-inch outseam.Check price on REI
Best Fixed-Waist Crossover/ Hybrid Board Shorts
Vuori Cruise ($74)
Pros: Comfortable, fixed-waist board shorts with great pockets.
Cons: Thicker seam at leg opening, more likely to chafe than minimalist seams on high-performance board shorts.
Length: 18.5″ outseam.
Vuori bills these shorts as its “water to life” shorts, and I honestly couldn’t sum up the Vuori Cruise any better. With a fixed waist, these boardies will handle even the most powerful of surf conditions, and with great pockets and solid style, they’ll also do just fine for any and all types of land activities. It is worth noting that the fixed waist will be less comfortable than an elastic waistband on land, especially with a pair of underwear underneath, but if water activities are your priority and land activities a close second, the buck stops here.
A secure zippered pocket makes a great stash spot for keys (it does lack a key loop, but the zipper is a fairly strong one), there’s a decent bit of stretch (though nowhere near as much as the high-performance options above), and dare I say they are downright stylish, to boot, with a scalloped hem and plenty of color options to choose from. If your priorities are flipped (land first, then ocean), check out the Vuori Banks below.Check price on REI
Best Elastic-Waist Hybrid Board Shorts
Vuori Banks ($68)
Pros: Stretchy and comfortable elastic-waist shorts that transition incredibly well to the water.
Cons: Not quite as optimized for high-octane surf/water activities, but are awesome for chiller sessions.
Length: 5″, 7.5″ inseam.
If it’s any surprise that Vuori dominated the crossover/casual category in our board shorts review, it shouldn’t be. They have made a well-deserved name for themselves as creators of some of the comfiest clothes in the business, with coastal California styling, to boot. The Banks Shorts are less “board shorts” than they are incredible do-anything adventure shorts. If the Cruise Board Shorts above are Vuori’s “water to life” shorts, the Banks shorts is their “life to water” version. These comfy, stretchy shorts from Vuori deliver all-day comfort and make a great wear for all-around water activities.
Like the Cruise, the Banks come with a slimmer fit than the F1 All-Purpose Burgees from Florence Marine X, our other top choice for elastic-waist hybrids, making them a bit more of a fashionable choice for around town, a night out at the hotel bar, networking at surf events, and the like (at least in my book). That is, unless “town” is the Pupukea Foodland, in which case the Burgees might give you a bit more street-cred. They’re also available in a ton of different colors and a couple of different lengths (5-inch and 7.5-inch).
A zippered pocket at the waist gives them solid surf-ready chops — despite the lack of a key cord, the zipper is secure. And if you’re really going out in big enough surf that would make you worried about the zipper, the elastic waist will probably have you reaching for a pair of performance boardies first.Check price on REI
Best Classic Board Shorts
Birdwell Beach Britches ($85)
Pros: Classic style, very durable.
Cons: Fairly stiff material.
Length: 18″ outseam.
Birdwell has been making board shorts for just about as long as anyone, probably longer. And while the shorts of other manufacturers have changed, Birdwell’s Beach Britches have stayed basically the same since 1961. Durable two-ply nylon shorts with a secure waistband, key pocket, and oodles of style. And they’re still handmade in Santa Ana, California. Are you the type to soul-arch at the nose of your traditional single-fin log with nary a leash or care in sight? These are probably the shorts for you.
They’re certainly nowhere near stretchy. For that, check out Birdwell’s Surf Stretch line, but they’ll stand the test of time and are the kind of shorts to earn you an appraising shaka from the local surf dogs at your break. When it comes to timeless surf style, the buck stops here.Check price on Amazon
Other Board Shorts We Loved
Patagonia Hydrolock ($130)
Pros: Super light, very secure and comfortable waistband.
Cons: Pricey, not a ton of stretch compared to Florence/Outerknown.
Length: 19” outseam.
Another crazy-light board short, made with awesomely sustainable materials, as per the usual from Patagonia. The Hydrolock Board Shorts are, without a doubt, one of the highest-performing board shorts we tested for this review, with light and stretchy materials and an innovative front-tie closure that is super secure, hence the “lock” name. The shorts make use of a textured drawcord that helps keep the knot from untying, a very useful feature in a pair of board shorts.
The stretch was not quite up to the same level as the board shorts from Florence Marine X or Outerknown, which, along with the $130 price tag, kept them out of the top spot. All that said, these are solid performance board shorts. Very well made and very high performing.Check price on Patagonia
Runner Up Fixed-Waist Hybrid
Roark Chiller ($68)
Pros: Great style.
Cons: A bit tighter fitting, which isn’t as good for performance.
Length: 17″ outseam.
During a testing session on the North Shore of Oahu this winter, I found myself spending a lot of time in the Roark Chiller board shorts. They look good, feel good, and complete the main function of hybrid board shorts (go from the surf to living life without changing) with ease.Check price on Roark
Runner Up Elastic Waist Hybrid
Florence Marine X F1 Burgee ($70)
Pros: Awesome, super-comfortable performance shorts that are great for land and water activities.
Cons: Elastic shorts will never be as secure in heavy surf as a fixed waistband.
Length: 17.5” outseam.
You can tell John John and team know what they’re doing when it comes to board shorts. And it makes sense. As a guy who likely spends more time in warm water than anyone, you’d think John would know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to boardies. It shows in the F1 All-Purpose Burgee. As the name implies, these shorts are made to do everything, with an elastic waist and loose fit for max comfort while chilling, spending time in the water, or whatever else fits your fancy.
The shorts have three pockets, two in front and one in back, with a zipper and a key loop, meaning they’re ready for surfing as well as hikes, excursions, and the like. The drawstring elastic waist is solidly constructed and will do for most surf conditions, but it wouldn’t be my top choice in the heavier stuff.Check price on Florence Marine X
Patagonia Baggies ($65)
Pros: Come in both five- and seven-inch inseams, pocket tie for key, classic style.
Cons: Low-performance elastic waist for water activities. Mesh liner.
Length: 5″, 7″ inseam.
Patagonia’s Baggies have truly achieved legendary status over the years. An all-around adventure short that works just as well at the campground as it does at the beach, there’s a reason why they’re universally loved: these shorts rock. They are comfortable, super durable, and made of 100 percent recycled nylon. They’re also available in a ton of different colors, as well as five- and seven-inch inseams.
They’re not really board shorts due to the elastic waist, but these are a pair of shorts worth mentioning and would certainly do in a pinch for less-intense surf sessions — they’ve done so a number of times for me.
My one major complaint about these shorts is that they have a mesh liner, which I personally am not the biggest fan of as I often wear this type of shorts with underwear or some sort of sport-short underneath — but it’s fairly easy to cut out. They’re also, as the name suggests, quite baggy, which I’m a fan of and might not be a top choice for some.
Check price on Patagonia Check price on REI
Innovative Feature: Neoprene Lining
Driftline Drifties ($89)
Pros: 0.5mm neoprene liner does, in fact, “stop chafing and chilly balls.”
Cons: Heavier and increased drying time as a result. Don’t come in sizes below 30 waist.
Length: Not listed.
Driftline is a company we’ve known about for a while at The Inertia, and I do think they’re onto something here. The Drifties board shorts come with an attached liner made from 0.5mm neoprene that fits snugly like a pair of sports shorts or compression shorts. And they work for keeping things in place, which leads to less chafing potential and gives you an extra bit of warmth in a place that does tend to get colder faster than the rest of the body.
That said, they are board shorts with a 0.5mm neoprene liner, so they are a bit bulkier than any other pair of board shorts on this list and take a bit longer to dry, so they won’t be for everyone. But if you aren’t a fan of traditional board shorts for the reasons above, these are certainly the answer.Check price on Driftline
Interesting Feature: Side-Tie
Hakuna Wear Punalu’u Board Shorts ($79)
Pros: Board short side-tie works — stays secure and doesn’t untie or get waxy.
Cons: Not as “premium” of a feel as some boardies on this list.
Length: 18″ outseam.
Hakuna Wear is a rad little company with sustainable and ethical chops to the core. They make innovative swim- and surfwear designed for people of all shapes and sizes, and their side-tie board shorts are a pretty rad idea. With the drawstrings front and center on basically all other board shorts (O’Neill’s Hyperfreak being an exception), those strings both are an annoying area where wax accumulates and are prone to loosening or even opening up and often need to be retied a few times throughout a session. Hakuna Wear puts the tie on their board shorts on the side, the right hip, to be exact, which works fairly well in that it stays secure and doesn’t get waxy. A nice pocket on the left side completes the shorts.
Did it feel dorky? In the image-conscious and tradition-steeped realm of Oahu’s North Shore, a bit. But who knows, maybe we’ll all be side-tying at some point in the future.Check price on Hakuna Wear
|Board Shorts||Price||Category||Length||Waist Type||Sustainability||Testing Notes|
|Florence Marine X F1 Zero||$100||Best All-Around High Performance||17.5″ outseam||Fixed||80% recycled||Best Fitting, Best Overall|
|Outerknown Apex Trunk||$145||High Performance||19″ outseam||Fixed||95% recycled||Highest Performing|
|O’Neill Hyperfreak||$55||Best Budget Performance||21″ outseam||Fixed||No||Excellent Price|
|Vuori Cruise||$74||Best Fixed-Waist Hybrid||18.5″ outseam||Fixed||88% recycled/upcycled||Great Pockets|
|Vuori Banks||$68||Best Elastic-Waist Hybrid||5″, 7.5″ inseam||Elastic||44% recycled||Fashionable Out of the Water|
|Birdwell Beach Britches||$85||Best Classic||18″ outseam||Fixed||No||Classic Style|
|Patagonia Hydrolock||$130||Runner-Up High Performance||19″ outseam||Fixed||87% recycled||Secure Waistband|
|Patagonia Baggies||$65||Classic Adventure Short||5″, 7″ inseam||Elastic||100% recycled||Timeless Style|
|Florence Marine X F1 Burgee||$70||Runner-Up Elastic-Waist Hybrid||17.5″ outseam||Elastic||80% recycled||Comfortable|
|Roark Chiller||$68||Runner-Up Fixed-Waist Hybrid||17″ outseam||Fixed||48% recycled, 9% hemp||Great Hybrid|
|Driftline Drifties||$89||Innovative Feature||Not listed||Fixed||No (eco version available)||0.5mm Neoprene Liner|
|Hakuna Wear||$79||Interesting Feature||18″ outseam||Fixed||Recycled material||Side Tie|
Testing Criteria/How We Tested
There are a few important aspects that we considered when it came to determining the best board shorts for surfing, the first being stretch, as well as fit. The whole point of surfing in board shorts is to be unrestricted and free. So the shorts had to be made of stretchy material and have a baggy enough fit so as not to restrict performance but not so baggy as to hinder performance in other ways. The waist needs to tie securely, and seams should be engineered to reduce chafing and keep things comfortable.
As a surfer or kiter, you also want those board shorts to have a secure pocket, preferably one with a hardy zipper or key loop, so you’ll have peace of mind bringing a key with you into the surf.
However, if you’re looking for a short that will also do well on land, a hybrid board short might be your best bet.
They should also be available at an affordable price. High-performance surf board shorts are made with the lightest and stretchiest materials available, so they are often expensive, but that’s no excuse to be exorbitant.
Sustainability is always a concern as well. A lot of these board shorts feature recycled material, usually polyester, if that matters to you. The percentage of recycled material is what to look at, as it ranges from about 45 percent in shorts like the Vuori Banks to 95 percent in the Outerknown Apex Trunks and 100 percent in Patagonia’s Baggies. Of note is the fact that, for the shorts to stretch, it would seem there needs to be some un-recycled content (nylon) in the shorts. Patagonia’s Baggies, being 100 percent recycled, simply don’t stretch, whereas the Apex Trunks were the stretchiest on our list.
I took all this and more into account, packed them all up and went to the North Shore of Oahu and surfed my brains out, hung out, and more in every pair of trunks included in this review (as well as plenty that didn’t make the cut) to give you the Best Board Shorts of 2023.
What Are Board Shorts?
There’s a few key aspects that separate a pair of board shorts from any old pair of swim trunks or a bathing suit. First of all, the waistband. Board shorts were first and foremost invented for surfing and high-octane water sports, meaning they need to stay put, even when the warm tropical tube you’re duck-diving through is ferociously trying to rip them off. To that end, a pair of board shorts typically forgo the elastic waistband you’ll find on a pair of pool shorts for a fixed one with a secure drawstring tie at the front to keep things locked down.
That said, we’ve seen a few different variations that also do fairly well in the water. So with that in mind and the fact that a number of you are likely here looking for swimming and lounging shorts rather than surfing board shorts, specifically, we made sure to test a wide variety of elastic-waist shorts, as well as board shorts that were less performance-oriented.
What Kind of Board Shorts Are Right for Me?
If you’re looking for a board short for surfing, kiteboarding, foiling, waterskiing or any other high-octane watersports undertaking, you’ll likely want to go with a fixed-waist board short.
For something more relaxing like lounging on the beach, swimming, etc., you can certainly get away with an elastic waist board short, and will likely be happier with one if you want your trunks to double as shorts and plan on layering underwear underneath at times. In my experience, fixed-waist shorts that fit perfectly while surfing don’t fit perfectly with underwear underneath or require a very low-profile pair of sports underwear/compression shorts.
Fixed-waist board shorts also have a few different varieties. There’s both high-performance varieties as well as more laid-back options with side pockets and an emphasis on style that still retain the fixed waist for watersports. I’ve chosen to call these Fixed Waist Hybrid board shorts for the purposes of this review.
Another point of variation is that High-Performance board shorts can have both stitched waistbands and welded/unstitched waistbands. Welded waistbands tend to be a bit more comfortable while paddling but aren’t any more secure than a stitched waistband. That has more to do with what’s going on up front, aka the drawstring closure (see “board short features” below).
Board Short Sizing
In the spirit of staying put, board shorts need to fit tight. And unless you’re going with an elastic waistband, it’s best to make sure that fit is dialed. You’ll (likely) want to go down a waistband size from your everyday pair of pants, as you’ll (likely) not be wearing anything underneath those boardies. And a baggy waistband on a pair of boardies is just about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
I’m normally a 30 waist, but wear a 28 in board shorts. In other words, size down. That said, if you’re purchasing a pair of fixed-waist board shorts on this list that you plan on having double as a pair of shorts for hiking, around town, etc., sizing down too far might make it a little tight down there with underwear on. If you’re trying to nail that sweet spot with a fixed waist board short, it’s best to try the shorts on first or refer to sizing on board shorts you already own.
Also of note, a bit too small is better than a bit too big, as the fixed waist does expand a little bit with the drawstring tie at the front, but without something like a tunnel drawstring (a drawstring that goes all the way around the waist) board shorts don’t get any smaller.
Board Short Length
Board shorts tend to range in length from about 9 inches (measured at the inseam) to as small as 5 inches. Frustratingly, there’s no standardization of measuring at the inseam or the outseam, so they can also range in length from 22 inches to 16 inches, with 20 inches at the outseam equaling about 7.5 inches at the inseam (very roughly, depending a lot on the pair of shorts in question and how low the crotch sits).
Classic “performance” board shorts tend to run longer to protect the inside of your thighs from that waxy surfboard you’re sitting on, but more style-oriented board shorts often run a bit shorter, with casual/crossover shorts often being the shortest styles of board shorts. We did note the length of each pair of shorts we tested, despite the inseam/outseam measuring discrepancy.
Board Short Pockets
Pockets matter when it comes to a good pair of board shorts. If you’re surfing, you’ll likely want a nice secure pocket to store a key, nub of wax, or some sunscreen. If you’re just spending time at the beach, by the pool, or want to take your boardies for a stroll around town, it’s likely you’ll also want some additional pocket space for a phone, wallet, or other small items.
Pocket location also matters. The single butt pocket is the classic option, but not my favorite place to put a car key and then sit on a surfboard. Side pockets are taking off as a result, keeping those sharp keys out of harm’s way. Of note, I have more problems with a key in the back pocket while sitting on a longboard than I do sitting on a shortboard.
What Other Features Matter in Board Shorts?
Seams are a big one. It sucks to have a session cut short because it got a bit uncomfortable down there sitting on your board. With that in mind, a number of the high-performance options on this list feature minimalist seam designs such as welded seams (no stitches for less chafing and more stretch) or laser-cut edges (such as the leg openings on the Roark Passage Primo shorts).
The drawstring that keeps the board shorts on your hips is an often-forgotten but one of the more important features in a pair of board shorts. With the classic placement of front and center on your waistline, when paddling, that bow you tied is going to be rubbing all over that waxy surfboard deck, not only picking up little bits of wax that you’ll be picking out of the strings for the next few years but also giving the knot you just tied every reason in the world to come undone. To combat this, some companies have come up with various solutions to the biggest pain point in board shorts, such as Hakuna Wear’s side-tie, O’Neill’s velcro closure, or simpler options like the textured strings on Patagonia’s Hydrolock board shorts or elastic ties like O’Neill’s Hyperfreak board shorts. I’ve also seen shorts out there (Vissla’s Solid Sets Board Short) with a drawstring that goes all the way around the waist, a useful feature if you want your shorts a little roomier for a better transition to land activities.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.