Board Shorts to Speedos: What to Wear When

by Michael on June 2, 2010 · 10 comments

(Photo by The Wandering Angel)

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:

Hugo Boss Men's Tahiti Om Board Short

You’re Surfing

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?

Rvca GT Lines Trunk

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.

Speedo Men's Quantum Splice Jammer Bathing Suit

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.

10 comments… read them below or add one

DDG March 7, 2012 at 8:34 pm

No speedo at the beach, close minded you are, SHOW ME YOUR KNEE TAN!


Michael June 5, 2016 at 4:32 pm

It’s funny that so many guys seem to be confusing function with fashion — I don’t think you saw the part where I tell you that Speedos are great for actually swimming. I gently suggest reading the whole article again.

Aussie swimmer May 19, 2012 at 9:16 pm

The brief style is an Aussie icon Why Are Americans so sensitive about the brief?


name me! March 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Double standard? People should just wear what they want and feel comfortable in. Women dressing in skimpy bikinis, even the fat ones but young guys wearing shorts to the knee? Give me a break. I feel retarded swimming in shorts, while my girlfriend swims by me in an actual swimsuit! If there wasn’t such a puritanical and gangster culture in America, most guys here would wear more comfortable, real swimsuits to the beach. Knee tans are just plain retarded man.


Michael March 31, 2013 at 9:43 pm

What you want to wear is your own business. What’s actually stylish to wear is another thing entirely.

And as I mentioned, if you’re actually swimming, Speedos or jammers are what you should wear. Michael Phelps wears jammers; they must be good for swimming! No one should be wearing baggy “gangster” shorts (or worse, “jorts”). Wear the clothes with the appropriate function and you’ll be fine.

If tanning is your goal, find the nude beach.

Tapo April 4, 2014 at 7:36 am

I find that these days guys are so lame and conservative, whereas girls tend to move with the fashion swing. There is nothing wrong for men to show off their assets if they do have something to flaunt…


Mr. Stallion April 21, 2014 at 1:47 am

Sounds like somebody is either ashamed of their own bodyimage, or jealous of other men who may be in better shape than the author of this article.
Being that these are strictly opinions, these are opinions written in your image.
Therefore, who are you to say what looks best on me.
I have work the smallest swimsuit out there made for a man, and there had been nobody bold enough to confront me, or make an issue of it in My face.
Therefore, What I put on my body is up to me not you.
If you don’t like what I, or others like me have on, look somewhere else
If you are ashamed of your own body, then work on yourself, Don’t try to bring others down with you.


Michael May 5, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Hi there Mr. Stallion!

Thanks for the comment and the critique, and I applaud your bold style. Indeed, it’s important to feel comfortable in your own skin, and it sounds like you do. You love your Speedo briefs, and that’s fine with me.

You may be misinterpreting the goal of this article, however, which is to provide guidance to guys who aren’t sure what to wear in various surfside situations. Being the body-confident man you are, you clearly have no need for this piece, and rather than take it personally, I would suggest checking out a different area of interest, where perhaps you haven’t made up your mind quite so strongly.

Thanks again for reading though – that always makes me happy!

James May 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I’m 65 years old and go to the gym regularly to stay in shape. I recently got some board shorts because I couldn’t find anything else but I honestly don’t understand their popularity among non-surfers. I also don’t understand the ignorant, closed minded attitude so many men have regarding Speedos. If you’re so ashamed of your body then swim in Levis and a t shirt or clean up your diet and get your pitiful self to the gym. I won’t win any trophies but I’m proud of my physique and in my opinion Speedos are the way to go for most swimming situations. My comfort outweighs your personal hangups any day.


Michael June 20, 2014 at 8:53 am

Hi James! As I mentioned to Mr. S. above, if you’ve made up your mind on a personal style, that’s all your business and you SHOULDN’T care anyone else thinks. You’re concerned more with comfort than style, and it sounds like you’re a serious swimmer, and as I said, that’s who Speedos were made for. (Congrats on continuing to exercise and keep in shape at 65!)

At the same time, it’s possible to both be comfortable and look good, and as I also mentioned above, this article is for those who are looking for guidance, not someone whose mind is fully made up. Breaking the “rules” of fashion is fine – I do it myself from time to time – but it’s important to understand that’s what you’re doing, and try not to take it personally. Thanks for the note!

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