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It might sound like a minute distinction, but boardshorts should not be mistaken for swimsuits. They can certainly function as swimsuits — they’re made to get wet, after all — but they can also easily work as a standard pair of shorts, a clutch application for travelers looking to travel light. Generally, most boardshorts are made of synthetic fabrics (think polyester or nylon) which makes them more durable than cotton, allows them dry quickly, and means they can be treated with water repellent tech. Unlike bathing suits — which often have an elastic waist — all boardshorts are secured via a drawcord that’s threaded into four to six metal grommets so the waistband lies flush against your hips. The longer length — anywhere between 18 to 22 inches from the waist to the bottom (known as the outseam) — isn’t just for aesthetics; it also protects surfers from abrasion against their surfboards. Below, the best boardshorts on the market now.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Patagonia Wavefarer Boardshorts
If only more things in this world were as simple and well-thought-out as the Patagonia Wavefarer. Rather than rely on unnecessary bells and whistles, these boardshorts only deliver features you need, like 50+ UPF sun protection, a DWR finish to shrug off rain when you’re not swimming, and durable 100% nylon fabric that will stand up to abuse and dry fast. You also get a self-draining pocket on the right hip (accessible via a non-corroding plastic zipper with an internal key loop), a self-lined three-piece waistband that contours perfectly to your hips, and a flat-lying fly and drawstring closure for ideal fit. Forward inseams eliminate chaffing when surfing, playing volleyball, biking to and from the beach, or doing whatever the water and warm weather inspire. The Wavefarer is available with either a 19- or a 21-inch outseam to accommodate those who want more protection.
Best Value: Quiksilver Everyday Kaimana 21-Inch Boardshorts
Kaimana translates to “diamond” in Hawaiian, and in many ways, these boardshorts embrace the central characteristics of the mineral — except that they're a far cry less expensive. The Everyday Kaimana Boardshorts are a true workhorse, made of fast-drying polyester along with 10% Elastane for ample stretch. The 21-inch outseam drops to just about the knees, offering ideal coverage while surfing, and four-way stretch assures a full range of motion. They also boast Quiksilver’s proprietary “DryFlight” technology — a water-repellent hydrophobic coating that’ll fend off rain and unintended splashes. A zippered pocket offers room for small essentials like a hotel room or car key, though you won’t be hauling your phablet out on the water.
Best Retro Design: Howler Brothers Chandler Old School Boardshorts
The name of Austin, TX-based Howler Brothers was inspired by the sound the co-founders heard while surfing in Costa Rica—the call of the loudest animal in North America, the howler monkey. Their limited-run release embodies the soul, passion, and timelessness of water sports like surfing, layering in modern influences to create products with functionality and attention to detail at its core. For evidence of that, look no further than to the Chandler Old School boardshorts. Constructed of polyester micro-fiber, the fabric is blissfully soft to the touch and dries in the blink of an eye. Velcro keeps the fly secure below the drawstring closure, and you get both a button-closed coin pocket as well as a snap-down back pocket with a drainage grommet. Otherwise, just embrace the cool ‘70s Cali vibe, thanks to its relatively modest 18-inch outseam, a Howler Brother paradise patch on the left leg, and retro racing stripes running up the sides.
Best for Fishing: Tormenter Waterman Five-Pocket Boardshorts
Unlike most of the boardshorts on this list, which lean heavily toward a minimalist approach, the Tormentor Watermen goes big — in size (26 to 44), color (from blue camo to black — all with a fish skeleton graphic plastered on the right leg), and features. As its name implies, these boardshorts come with five pockets that have been specifically engineered to accommodate a fisherman's must-carries, including fishing plyers, cell phones, and tackle. A four-holed draw chord secures the waistband (which is slightly taller than your traditional boardshorts) likely to better support the weight of your kit once you’ve distributed it through the network of pockets. The fabric is a mix of fast-drying polyester and cotton and as you might expect, they run a bit baggy. That said, most customers report that they fit true to size and stop just at the knee.
Best for Surfing: Rip Curl Mirage Simmer Boardshorts
Serious surfers know the difference between a sport-centric pair of boardshorts and their lesser counterparts all comes down to constriction — the last thing you want to encounter when crouching into a barrel. The Mirage Simmer avoids that thanks to Rip Curl’s proprietary Elastrostrech 4 material, a mix of polyester and Elastane that delivers four-way stretch without sacrificing any shape retention over months of hard use. The scalloped body construction further compliments the athletic moves needed in the dynamic sport of surfing, with a welded waistband, high-hip zipper pocket, and seams to bolster durability and fit. A 20-inch outseam drops just above the knee.
Best Anti-Chafe: O’Neill Hyperfreak S-Seam Boardshorts
Unlike most boardshorts, which typically run the out- and inseam of the shorts straight down the legs, the Hyperfreak S-Seams sewed their outseam in a lazy S shape. This keeps your thighs friction-free and eliminates the risk chaffing when you’re engaged in high-octane activities like surfing, kiteboarding, and paddling. O’Neill also employs an anti-rash hyperthread that’s ultra-soft and flexible to eliminate any extraneous abrasion, as well as four-way stretch which offers complete freedom of movement without sacrificing durability. The bulk of the short is made of quick-drying polyester, which has been treated with HyperDry to further accelerate the process, and a zippered side pocket on the right leg is ample enough to store your on-board essentials without adding bulk.
Most Durable: Birdwell 311 Boardshorts
Birdwell’s origins trace back to 1961, when — as the tale goes — surf mom Carri Birdwell Man yearned to replace the canvas shorts used by her So-Cal surf-obsessed sons with some made of fabrics similar to sails. More than 50 years later, the “Birdie” boardshorts have become an icon. The 311 is a medium-length short, hand-cut from their proprietary SurfNyl nylon fabric — a replica of the two-layer construction seen in most sails — and hand-sewn in Santa Ana, California. The garment employs both double and triple seams to deliver years of reliable use and abuse, with a triple lace closure and nickel-plated grommets. Surf wax drops perfectly into the snap-button back pocket, which also includes a key loop and an internal drain hole.
Best for Freedom of Movement: Hurley Phantom JJF 5.0
Made in partnership with two-time World Champ surfer John John Florence, the Phantom JJF 5 is focused on one thing: letting you surf unencumbered. And it largely achieves this due to Hurley’s Phantom fabric — a mix of quick-drying recycled polyester along with 15 percent spandex for serious stretch. An 18-inch outseam ends just above the knee, and the overall athletic fit leans more into a tailored silhouette than clown-suit over-sized bagginess. A zippered side pocket on the right leg is made of mesh to reduce bulk, and can hold wax, credit cards, or keys securely.
Our writers spent 3 hours researching the most popular boardshorts on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 12 different boardshorts overall, screened options from 10 different brands and manufacturers, read over 30 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 4 of the boardshorts themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.