Board Shorts vs. Swim Trunks: What's the Difference?

Board Shorts vs. Swim Trunks: What's the Difference?

Aaron Belyea

When it comes to enjoying the beach, swimming, and water play, board shorts and swim trunks are two popular options, each with unique features that cater to different preferences and activities. In this blog, we will explore the history and distinctions between board shorts and swim trunks to help you make an informed choice for your next aquatic adventure.

History of Board Shorts: The origins of board shorts can be traced back to the 1950s in Australia and the 1960s in California. They were primarily created to cater to the needs of surfers who required functional and comfortable swimwear for riding waves. The early board shorts were designed with a longer length, reaching above the knee or even mid-calf, to provide ample coverage and unrestricted movement while on the surfboard.

One of the first pioneers of board shorts was an Australian surfer named Midget Farrelly. He began experimenting with different fabrics and designs, eventually creating a pair of practical and durable shorts ideal for the demands of surfing. These early board shorts were typically made from cotton or canvas, which absorbed water and took a long time to dry.

As the sport of surfing gained popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s, board shorts became a symbol of beach culture and the laid-back lifestyle associated with it. Surfers and beachgoers embraced the vibrant colors, bold patterns, and surf-inspired designs, turning board shorts into a fashionable choice beyond the waves.

The 1980s marked a significant turning point in the evolution of board shorts, as manufacturers began using more technologically advanced and quick-drying materials like polyester and microfiber. This improvement made board shorts more practical for both surfing and other beach activities, contributing to their widespread popularity across the globe.

Today, board shorts continue to evolve, with designers incorporating innovative features such as built-in mesh liners, stretch fabrics, and stylish prints to cater to the diverse needs and tastes of beach enthusiasts.

History of Swim Trunks: The history of swim trunks dates back much further, with roots going back to the early 20th century. Early swim trunks were designed to be more modest than traditional one-piece swimsuits, which were common for men during that time. These early trunks featured a loose, boxer-style fit and were often made from wool, which, similar to the initial board shorts, tended to absorb water and became heavy.

In the 1930s, fabrics such as nylon and rayon began to be used in swimwear production, making swim trunks more lightweight and comfortable in the water. These advancements contributed to the popularity of swimming as a recreational activity, and swim trunks gradually became a favored choice for men of all ages.

Throughout the mid-20th century, swim trunks experienced several design changes and improvements. They became shorter in length and adopted a closer fit, reflecting the changing fashion trends of the time. By the 1960s and 1970s, swim trunks had solidified their place as a staple of beach fashion and swimwear.

Over time, swim trunks have diversified in style and materials, with many variations to suit different preferences. From the classic solid colors to bold patterns and graphic prints, swim trunks offer a broad range of choices for both casual beachgoers and serious swimmers.

Differences Between Board Shorts and Swim Trunks:

  1. Length: Board Shorts: Typically longer, falling above the knee or even mid-calf. They offer more coverage and are suitable for activities like surfing and beach sports. Swim Trunks: Generally shorter, ending at or above the knee. Their length may vary based on style, but they provide less coverage compared to board shorts.

  2. Material: Board Shorts: Made from durable, quick-drying materials such as polyester or microfiber. They are designed to withstand saltwater, sand, and sun exposure. Swim Trunks: Can be made from various materials, including polyester, nylon, or blends. They prioritize comfort and mobility over durability, making them ideal for recreational swimming.

  3. Style: Board Shorts: Often characterized by vibrant patterns, bold colors, and surf-inspired designs. They are popular among surfers and beachgoers for their laid-back, casual look. Swim Trunks: Available in a wide range of styles, including solid colors, patterns, and graphic prints. They offer more versatility and can be worn as regular shorts outside the water.

Choosing between board shorts and swim trunks largely depends on your preferences and intended activities. Here's a quick pros and cons list to help you make a more informed decision:

Board Shorts


  • Excellent coverage for water sports and beach activities.
  • Durable and resistant to wear and tear.
  • Trendy designs and patterns suitable for a laid-back beach look.


  • Longer length may not be preferred by some individuals.
  • Less versatile for everyday use outside the water.

Swim Trunks


  • Comfortable and suitable for casual swimming.
  • Versatile enough to be worn as regular shorts.
  • Available in various styles and lengths to suit different tastes.


  • May provide less coverage, which can be a concern for some activities.
  • Less durable compared to board shorts.

In the end, whether you opt for board shorts or swim trunks, both options offer style and comfort for your water adventures. Dive deep into your adventures with the confidence knowing you have the perfect swimwear to suit you!

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