In the US, the Memorial Day weekend normally marks the unofficial beginning to summer, and our thoughts begin to turn to beaches, pools and lakes. The dilemma is finding swimwear that both looks good and is functional for your day on the water. Shorts for water sports come in many lengths and fits, and if you’re actually going in the water, this matters.
First a few rules:
- If you’re slim, you’ll look better in patterns. If you’re on the heavy side, look for solids.
- Baggy shorts look bad, but tight shorts look worse. Find a pair that fits with a little room to spare.
- Elastic waistbands are a sign of cheap shorts. Look for shorts or trunks with a fly and laces.
- No Speedos at the beach, unless there’s a number written on your arm in grease pencil.
With the basics covered, pick your activity and find your swimsuit:
Despite the fact that just about every man and boy under 35 wears them just about everywhere, board shorts actually have a purpose: to keep your leg hair from getting ripped out by your surfboard’s wax. So if you surf and you don’t shave your body hair, board shorts are the way to go. However, if you’re going to be doing much actual swimming, you’ll be better off with something that doesn’t create so much drag in the water.
Well-fitting board shorts should feel loose around your legs but snug at the waist. Good shorts don’t have elastic in the waist at all. The length should be short enough to stay above the knee. Shorts that fall below the knee are actually capri pants. You don’t want to be the guy in the capri pants, do you?
You’re Swimming in the Ocean or Lake
If you’ll be splashing around, look for a pair of trunks. Less fabric means less drag, so swimming will be easier. In addition, trunks with a classic design or “racing stripe” will help you look much more masculine and grown up than board shorts. Finally, you’ll have a better range of motion in a trunk, giving you the upper hand in the game of beach volleyball.
In fact, the trunk is making a comeback in a big way right now, and you can find them in a range of lengths. Go down to a couple inches above the knee to cover your toothpicks, or up to mid-thigh to show off the results of your workout program.
You’re Taking Swim Lessons
Believe it or not, there is a purpose to a Speedo, other than making people on the beach laugh at you. That purpose is serious swimming. Lycra swim shorts (made by many manufacturers besides Speedo, including Nike and Reebok) are intended to be functional, and they do reduce drag significantly over a baggy board short.
But stop: don’t touch that itsy-bitsy brief-style swimsuit. Instead, choose a “jammer” suit that continues down the leg, or at most (least?) a “square leg” style. Better yet might be the style called a “drag suit,” which looks like the square leg suit but isn’t as form-fitting as its spandex cousin.
Just remember this rule of thumb: unless you’re also wearing goggles and/or a swim cap, you probably shouldn’t wear a Speedo.
You’re Not Getting in the Water
The answer to this one is “it depends.” Really, a trunk with a longer leg or a slim-fitting pair of board shorts ought to be fine. You can even consider a pair of light (in fabric and color) cotton or linen shorts or pants with a drawstring waist if you won’t be getting them wet. Couple them with a sleeveless t-shirt and flip-flops (just remember they’re for beach wear only) and you’re ready for the evening’s bonfire party.
If you just want to go out and get some sun, I might suggest looking for a nude beach for the fewest tan lines. Just remember to use a good sunscreen, don’t fall asleep, and don’t stare.