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Best Board Shorts

The best board shorts, and nothing but. Photo: Ella Boyd//The Inertia


The Inertia

Picture it: A late-season swell brings O’ahu’s North Shore back to life. Our lead tester jumps into a pair of Florence Marine X F1 Zero boardies and charges out into the pumping surf. On his first wave, he tries to float a closeout section but instead magically boosts into the first 360 air of his life and stomps a clean landing, channeling the effortless style of John John himself.

This, of course, is pure fantasy. While the best of the best premium board shorts on the market aren’t likely to elevate your game to pro status, their comfortable fit and elasticity will certainly make you doubly glad that you’re lucky enough to be surfing warm water. The most notable contrast comes from tossing on a discount pair of boardies, only to find that the interior seams are making their presence known in the worst way possible. Few things suck more than having tropical surf sessions cut short by the chafing or rashes from abrasive seams. Reader, trust when we say that we’ve suffered through the rashes so you don’t have to.

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, we’ve included runner-up options where applicable and spoken to why we chose one short over the other as a top pick. After doing the hard work of trunking it on the North Shore in waves of all shapes and sizes, we have a good feel for what stands above the rest. Without further ado, here are the Best Board Shorts of 2024.

For more information, such as sustainability, sizing, and features check out our Comparison Table and Buyer’s Guide, found below. And for the ladies, be sure to check out our review of the Best Women’s Board Shorts. 

The Best Board Shorts of 2024

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: Howler Bros Bruja Boardshorts
Best Elastic Waist Board Shorts: Vuori Banks
Best Bang-for-Buck Performance Board Shorts: Florence Marine X F1 Burgee Cordura


Best All-Around Performance Board Shorts

Florence Marine X F1 Zero ($110)

Florence Marine X F1 Zero

Length: 18.5″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Side-zip with key loop
Sustainability: 80% recycled, Bluesign certified

Pros: Lightweight, stretchy shorts with all the highest-performance features.
Cons: Not quite as lightweight as other top-tier options, stored key tends to settle on the thigh-crease while sitting on a board, runs slightly large

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 $110 makes them a pricey option, but when it comes to performance boardies, that’s pretty reasonable. We’re also big fans of the upgrade features that come at this price point, such as welded seams (less chafing) and an unstitched (and more comfortable) waistband. While we generally preferred the side pocket, rather than a butt pocket, our lead tester found a stored key occasionally settled on his thigh crease while sitting on a shortboard. The waistband, while exceedingly comfortable, also runs about a half-inch large.

Check Price on Florence Marine X

Best Upgrade Performance Board Shorts

Outerknown Apex Trunks ($145)

Kelly Slater's Outerknown Apex Board Shorts

Length: 19″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Bonded back pocket with key loop
Sustainability: 95% recycled, Fair Trade certified

Pros: Super sustainable, super light, super stretchy, silky material, welded interior seams, quick drying
Cons: Very expensive, runs large so the closure flap folds up a bit to get a performance fit

One hallmark of a good pair of shorts is forgetting you’re wearing them. When surfing in the Apex Trunks from Kelly Slater’s Outerknown, you just might think you’re surfing naked. They’re super light, super stretchy, and the waistband is super comfortable. What more could you want? Oh yeah, they’re also made with 95% recycled materials, which is the highest percentage in this review (aside from Patagonia’s 100% 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 Zeroes as the best all-around board short when 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 Budget Performance Board Shorts

O’Neill Hyperfreak ($55)

O'Neill Hyperfreak

Length: 21″ (or 19″) outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Side zip pocket
Sustainability: Not listed

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

Some people just don’t want to shell out $100-plus on a pair of board shorts, to which we 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, but are also available in a 19″ outseam version.

Check price on REI

Best Fixed-Waist Hybrid Board Shorts

Howler Bros Bruja Boardshorts ($65)

Howler Bros Bruja

Length: 18.5″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Side pockets with mesh drainage, rear button pocket with key loop
Sustainability: 80% recycled

Pros: Perfect fit, stylish, stretchy and comfortable fabric blend
Cons: Lighter colors semi-transparent when wet

Through some type of sorcery, the Austin, TX based Howler Bros have created an enchanting pair of hybrid board shorts: the aptly named Bruja. With a perfect, true-to-size fit, colorful summer patterns, classic scalloped style, and flatlock stitching throughout, these boardies look – and feel – great. They feature enough pockets and stretchiness to perform well on a variety of athletic adventures, from surfing to trail running to sport climbing. The magic ingredient is the fabric blend, made from REPREVE quick-drying recycled polyester, spandex, and a touch of cotton, which softens the texture without significantly affecting drying time.

With a secure (and comfortable!) waistband, quick draining pockets, and elastic key loop, we were comfortable and confident in the surf, even while duck diving all over O’ahu’s North Shore. One word of caution: the lighter colored patterns are somewhat transparent when you come out of the water. Nothing scandalous, mind you, just something to be aware of.

Much of what we loved in the Bruja (fit, style, fabric) is also available in Howler Bros’ 17” Del Este performance boardshort ($79).

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Best Elastic-Waist Hybrid Board Shorts

Vuori Banks ($68)

Vuori Banks Short Best Board Shorts

Length: 7.5″ inseam
Waist Type: Elastic
Pockets: 2 front pockets, zippered back pocket
Sustainability: 44% recycled

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, runs a bit small

If it’s any surprise that Vuori dominated the hybrid/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. These comfy, stretchy shorts from Vuori deliver all-day comfort and make a great wear for all-around water activities. 

The Banks come with a slimmer fit than the Axis from Xcel, our budget choice for elastic-waist hybrids (see below), 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 our book). That is, unless “town” is the Pupukea Foodland, in which case a pair of Florence Marine X Standard Issue Elastic Shorts 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 Check price on Evo


Best Bang-for-Buck Performance Board Shorts

Florence Marine X F1 Burgee Cordura Boardshort ($80)

Florence Marine X Burgee Cordura Boardshorts

Length: 18.5″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: One side pocket with key loop, comfortably fits a large phone/wallet
Sustainability: Not recycled, but Bluesign certified

Pros: Great fit, performance stretch/comfort in a durable Cordura blend, amazing value
Cons: Slightly slower drying, less supple fabric than premium boardies, runs slightly large

Florence Marine X offers a needlessly bewildering array of boardshorts, but the F1 Burgee Cordura is their best-value, all-around model. Made from a blend of abrasion-resistant Cordura polyester, nylon, and a generous dose of spandex (for stretch), the Burgee Cordura Boardshorts are tough, comfortable, and flexible. Crafted with North Shore lifeguards and surfers in mind, these boardies are designed to shine in extreme conditions, day-in and day-out – our testing confirms as such. As a nice bonus, their side zipper key-pocket holds a large phone comfortably.

Thanks to an environmentally-friendly C0 DWR coating, they shed water well, but they don’t dry as quickly as ultralight premium boardies. They also don’t have the luxurious stretch of, say, the Outerknown Apex, or the F1 Zero, but they’re much more comfortable and high-performing than some other Cordura shorts we tested. Quibbles aside, durability is critical to value, and these rugged boardies are going to be with you for a long, long time. As with other Florence Marine X shorts, they run about a half-inch large, which makes for a relaxed fit – size down if you’re looking for a snug fit.

Check Price on Florence Marine X

Best of the Rest

Runner Up: Best All-Around Performance

Patagonia Hydrolock ($129)

Patagonia Hydrolock board shorts

Length: 19″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Self-draining zippered thigh pocket with key loop
Sustainability: 87% recycled

Pros: Super light, great fit, very secure and comfortable waistband
Cons: Pricey, not a ton of stretch compared to Florence/Outerknown, limited colors

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

Vuori Cruise ($74)

Vuori Cruise boardshorts

Length: 18.5″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Side pockets with mesh bottoms, inlaid zipper pocket
Sustainability: 88% recycled/upcycled

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, runs almost a full inch large

Vuori bills these shorts as its “water to life” shorts, and we honestly couldn’t sum up the Vuori Cruise any better. With a fixed waist, these board shorts 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 Cruise remains a solid option. 

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 we 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 above. Note that the waistband on the Cruise ran almost a full inch large, resulting in a (very) relaxed fit; consider sizing down.

Check price on REI Check price on Vuori


Runner Up: Elastic Waist Hybrid

Xcel Axis Boardshort ($50)

Xcel Axis Board Shorts

Length: 17” outseam
Waist Type: Elastic
Pockets: 2 front with mesh drainage, 1 rear zippered with key loop
Sustainability: Not listed

Pros: Lightweight, quick-dry fabric. Comfortable waistband. Good, relaxed fit.
Cons: Lots of interior stitching, stiffer fabric than our elastic winner.

Xcel’s Axis line features all sorts of kickass budget gear, including award-winning springsuits and wetsuit jackets. The Axis Boardshorts are cut from a similar cloth. These lightweight, elastic hybrid shorts function great for day-to-day wear (hiking, swimming, etc.) and will keep you cool and comfortable, both in and out of the water. Their airy, quick-dry fabric and fairly-secure rubberized drawstring will get the job done for mellower surf sessions, but they’re at their best as a comfy do-anything short.

The Axis Boardshort is neither as silky or stylish as our award-winning Vuori Banks (though we loved the Tiger Shark print). The fabric blend and interior stitching also feel somewhat stiffer, but they do indeed offer “all day comfort” and a relaxed fit – plus their sale price is downright amazing.

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Runner Up: Bang-for-Buck Performance

Roark Passage Primo ($79)

Roark Passage Primo

Length: 18” outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: One side pocket with key loop
Sustainability: 86% recycled

Pros: Ultra-lightweight, comfortable, stretchy, and quick-drying, good value
Cons: Closure tie not as secure as other high-performance models, questionable durability, limited color options

Perhaps just a notch below Florence Marine X, Outerknown, and Patagonia in their overall combinations of technical features, the Roark Passage Primo Boardshorts nevertheless do everything you’d want a performance pair of boardies to do, while also saving you a decent bit of coin, especially at their sale price. They’re feather-light, extremely fast-drying, and with chafe-free welded seams throughout, they’re flexible and supple enough for two-a-day sessions. 

While we didn’t manage to wear them out quite yet, the fabric is so light and stretchy that it’s not as durable as the comparably priced Florence Marine X F1 Burgee Cordura (Our Bang-for-Buck winner, above). Their drawstring/closure also doesn’t feel as secure as the other premium boardies, but we haven’t mooned anyone thus far. Also, there’s a limited selection of patterns. Like most performance boardies, the Passage Primo has minimal functionality out of the water: a zippered side pocket (with key loop) that’s just big enough to fit a large cell phone.

Check price on Roark

Timeless Style

Patagonia Baggies ($65)

Patagonia Baggies board shorts

Length: 5″, 7″ inseam
Waist Type: Elastic
Pockets: Side pockets, back button pocket
Sustainability: 100% recycled

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

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% 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. The one major complaint about these shorts is that they have a mesh liner, which isn’t our tester’s favorite, but it’s fairly easy to cut out. They’re also, as the name suggests, quite baggy, which might not be a top choice for some. 

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Innovative Feature: Neoprene Lining

Driftline Drifties ($89)

Driftline Drifties neoprene lined board shorts

Length: Not listed
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Side zip
Sustainability: Not listed

Pros: 0.5mm neoprene liner does, in fact, “stop chafing and chilly balls.”
Cons: Heavier and increased drying time as a result, doesn’t come in sizes below 30 waist

Driftline is a company we’ve known about for a while at The Inertia, and we 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

Classic Board Short Style

Birdwell Beach Britches ($85)

birdwell beach britches for our list of best board shorts

Length: 18″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Back button pocket with key loop
Sustainability: No

Pros: Classic style, very durable
Cons: Fairly stiff material

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

Another Elastic-Waist Hybrid Option

Florence Marine X Standard Issue Elastic Shorts ($70)

FMX Standard Issue Elastic Waist Shorts

Length: 17.5″ outseam
Waist Type:  Elastic
Pockets: 2 Front pockets, 1 back zippered
Sustainability: 80% recycled

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

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 Standard Issue Elastic Shorts. 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 our top choice in the heavier stuff. 

Check price on Florence Marine X

Another Fixed-Waist Hybrid Option

Roark Chiller ($68)

Roark Chiller Board Shorts

Length: 17″ outseam
Waist Type: Fixed
Pockets: Side pockets, back patch pocket
Sustainability: 48% recycled, 8% hemp

Pros: Great style
Cons: A bit tighter fitting, which isn’t as good for performance

During a testing session on the North Shore of Oahu this winter, we spent 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.

The waist-tie only features two eyelets (as opposed to the classic four for a more secure fit) which gives the waistband a bit more of a relaxed feel than your wide, snug, performance board short waistband. The shorts fit a little on the tighter side, a pro or a con depending on your point of view.

Check price on Roark

Best Board Shorts Comparison Table

Board Shorts Price Category Length Waist Type Sustainability
Florence Marine X F1 Zero $110 Best All-Around Performance 18.5″ outseam Fixed 80% recycled
Outerknown Apex Trunk $145 Best Upgrade Performance 19″ outseam Fixed 95% recycled
O’Neill Hyperfreak $55 Best Budget Performance 21″ or 19″ outseam Fixed Not listed
Howler Bros Bruja Boardshorts $65 Best Fixed-Waist Hybrid 18.5″ outseam Fixed 80% recycled
Vuori Banks $68 Best Elastic-Waist Hybrid 5″, 7.5″ inseam Elastic 44% recycled
Florence Marine X F1 Burgee Cordura Boardshort $80 Best Bang-for-Buck Performance 18.5″ outseam Fixed Bluesign certified
Patagonia Hydrolock $130 Runner Up: All-Around Performance 19″ outseam Fixed 87% recycled
Vuori Cruise $74 Runner Up: Fixed-Waist Hybrid 18.5″ outseam Fixed 88% recycled/upcycled
Xcel Axis Boardshort $50 Runner Up: Elastic-Waist Hybrid 17″ outseam Elastic Not listed
Roark Passage Primo $79 Runner Up: Bang For Buck Performance 18″ outseam Fixed 86% recycled
Patagonia Baggies $65 Classic Adventure Short 5″, 7″ inseam Elastic 100% recycled
Driftline Drifties $89 Innovative Feature Not listed Fixed No (eco version available)
Birdwell Beach Britches $85 Classic Boardshort Style 18″ outseam Fixed No
Florence Marine X Standard Issue Elastic Shorts $70 Elastic-Waist Hybrid 17.5″ outseam Elastic 80% recycled
Roark Chiller $68 Fixed-Waist Hybrid 17″ outseam Fixed 48% recycled, 8% hemp

Boardshorts lineup

We got our hands on the best of the best. Photo: Will Sileo//The Inertia

How We Tested The Best Board Shorts

We considered two main factors when determining the best board shorts for surfing: stretch and fit. The whole point of surfing in board shorts is to be unrestricted and free. So the shorts have to be made of stretchy material and have a roomy enough fit so as not to restrict movement, but not so baggy as to hinder performance in other ways. Additionally, the waist needs to tie securely, and seams should be engineered to reduce chafing. 

As a surfer (or someone engaged in a similar high-octane watersport), you also want your 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 with more pockets 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 for increasingly exorbitant prices.

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% in shorts like the Vuori Banks to 95% in the Outerknown Apex Trunks and 100% 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 (spandex or elastane) in the shorts. Patagonia’s Baggies, being 100 percent recycled, simply don’t stretch, whereas the Apex Trunks were the stretchiest on our list. 

We took all this and more into account, loaded up our North Shore-based tester, Mike Bishop, with a boatload of boardies, and sent him out to surf, swim, hike, sport climb, run errands (and trails), and more in every pair of trunks included in this review (as well as plenty that didn’t make the cut) to give you this updated guide to the Best Board Shorts of 2024.


Tuck Barrel Board Shorts

High performance board shorts should let you get as low as you need at a moment’s notice. Photo: Ella Boyd//The Inertia

Best Board Shorts Buyer’s Guide

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. 

Boardshort comparison

Left to right: Vuori Cruise (fixed-waist hybrid), Florence Marine X Standard Issue (elastic-waist hybrid), Outerknown Apex Trunks (high performance). Photo: Will Sileo//The Inertia

Different Types of Board Shorts

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 our 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. We’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 loose waistband on a pair of boardies is just about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. 

It’s always wise to 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. There’s a good bit of variance in the shorts listed here, with some fitting true-to-size and others running large/small, and we’ve done our best to indicate any issues we had with sizing. 

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. 

guys in boardshorts watching waves

Hybrid board shorts seek to bridge the gap between water and life with pockets, elastic waistbands, and more. Photo: Ella Boyd//The Inertia

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/hybrid 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. 

best board shorts howler bros bruja

The Howler Bros Bruja Board Shorts are a hybrid short that feature a fixed waist for in-the-water security, and slash pockets for on-land convenience. Photo: Sarah Shaw//The Inertia

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 our 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, we generally have more problems with a key in the back pocket while sitting on a longboard than when sitting on a shortboard. 

Patagonia Hydrolock Board Shorts

The Patagonia Hydrolock board shorts feature a slim performance fit with solid stretch and great sustainability, as usual. Photo: Ryan Foley//The Inertia

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, like the textured strings on Patagonia’s Hydrolock board shorts or elastic ties on O’Neill’s Hyperfreak board shorts. We’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. 

Future Updates

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. We’ll be doing our best to keep this article updated as board shorts go in and out of stock online. We will also keep you posted as we’re able to try any new board shorts or if any durability problems arise.

Editor’s Note: Surfing somewhere colder? Check out our guide to The Best Wetsuits. If you’re surfing in the tropics, we’ve also reviewed The Best Springsuits, The Best Wetsuit Jackets, and The Best Rash Guards. For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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