Surfer Style: Riding the Wave of Men’s Surf Aesthetic


Ride the wave into the world of surfer style, where the lines between sport, leisure, and everyday fashion blur into a cool, adventurous aesthetic. This article dives deep into the essence of the surfer look, from its sun-soaked origins to the contemporary shores of surfer fashion for men.

Beyond just clothes, surfer style is a celebration of freedom, a connection to the ocean, and a testament to a carefree lifestyle. Whether you’re catching waves or just love the vibe, here’s how to bring a splash of the surf aesthetic into your wardrobe.

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What Is the Surfer Aesthetic?

The surfer aesthetic is a harmonious blend of functionality and laid-back style, embodying the spirit of freedom and connection to nature that surfing represents. It’s not just about what you wear; it’s a lifestyle that prioritizes comfort, mobility, and a close bond with the ocean.

This fashion style features lightweight, breathable fabrics that perform well in beach environments, including board shorts, graphic tees, and sandals, accented with accessories like shell necklaces, sunglasses, and surf watches. The surfer look is as much about the attitude of ease and spontaneity as it is about the specific pieces worn.

Surfer style: man in an unbuttoned shirt and swim pants
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The Evolution of Surfer Style

Surfer Style: From Utility to Mainstream

Surf style’s origins trace back to the early 20th century (some sources even say it started as early as the late 1800s) when surfing began to capture the imagination of coastal communities in Hawaii and California.

Initially, surfers wore heavy, woolen swimsuits that were not ideal for the sport but were the norm for beach attire at the time. These early days prioritized practicality over style, with surfers focused on garments that wouldn’t hinder their movement in the water.

The 1960s: Birth of a Culture

The 1960s heralded a significant shift in surf fashion, driven by the sport’s burgeoning popularity and the cultural revolution of the era, certainly partially thanks to the creation of Surfer Magazine. This decade saw the birth of the surf film and music scene, which played pivotal roles in exporting the surf lifestyle beyond its coastal origins.

It was during this time that surf apparel began to emerge as a distinct category. By the early 1970s, companies like Quiksilver and Billabong had introduced board shorts made from durable, lightweight materials that were designed specifically for surfing.

These shorts were longer and more comfortable than previously available, featuring eye-catching designs that reflected the vibrant energy of surf culture. Surf tees also became popular, often featuring bold graphics that advertised surf shops or celebrated surf spots, further cementing the connection between fashion and surfer identity.

Rise of Surf Brands in the 1980s and 1990s

By the 1980s and 1990s, surfwear was not just for surfers anymore; it had permeated mainstream fashion. This era saw the establishment of surf fashion as a lucrative industry, with brands like O’Neill, Rip Curl, and Hurley joining the ranks of Quiksilver and Billabong as icons of the surf and skate cultures.

These brands expanded their lines to include a wider range of apparel, from casual wear to technical gear, making surfer style accessible to a global audience.

The introduction of neoprene wetsuits and rash guards during this period revolutionized surfwear by providing surfers with garments that offered protection and enhanced performance in the water.

Surf fashion of the 1980s and 1990s was characterized by vibrant colors, bold patterns, and an overall aesthetic that emphasized freedom and rebellion, mirroring the wider cultural trends of these decades.

Today’s Surfer Style

Today, surfer style is at a crossroads between tradition and innovation. Modern surf fashion respects its rich history while embracing the advances in fabric technology and sustainable practices.

The surfer aesthetic remains casual and relaxed but has evolved to include eco-friendly materials and more sophisticated designs that reflect a growing awareness of environmental issues within the surf community.

Brands increasingly focus on sustainability, using recycled materials, and committing to ethical manufacturing processes. Today’s surfwear is versatile, designed to be worn on and off the beach, reflecting the lifestyle’s essence: a love for the ocean and an appreciation for the freedom it represents.

The modern surfer’s wardrobe combines classic pieces like updated board shorts and rash guards alongside contemporary apparel that fits into the casual, eco-conscious lifestyle many now lead.

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Key Components of Surfer Style for Men

Surfer style for men embodies a blend of practicality, comfort, and a nod to the laid-back yet adventurous spirit of the surf culture. This section delves into the essential elements that define this unique aesthetic, tracing the origins and evolution of each component and highlighting their significance within the surf community.

Board Shorts: The Quintessential Surfwear

At the heart of surfer fashion (and my middle school wardrobe) lies the board short, a piece that has undergone significant evolution to meet the demands of surfers. Initially, board shorts were designed to provide comfort and durability in the water, using materials that could withstand the wear and tear of surfing.

The 1960s and 1970s saw the introduction of shorts that were specifically designed for surfing, featuring longer lengths to protect surfers’ legs from wax on their boards and offering a range of vibrant designs that reflected the free-spirited nature of surf culture.

Today, board shorts symbolize surfer style, incorporating advanced materials for quick drying and enhanced flexibility.

Graphic Tees and Tank Tops

Graphic tees and tank tops serve as canvases for expressing personal style and the collective identity of the surf community. These often feature surf-related imagery, from iconic wave designs to logos of popular surf brands and shops.

The evolution of surf tees from simple shop advertisements to intricate designs reflects the sport’s artistic side and its influence on mainstream fashion. These pieces are not just about style; they connect to the surf culture, serving as wearable tokens of the surfer’s lifestyle and ethos.

Laid-back Outerwear

Outerwear in surfer fashion, such as lightweight hoodies and windbreakers, is designed for functionality and comfort. These pieces are essential for surfers facing the early morning chill or the cool breezes of beach evenings.

The style of surfer outerwear is unmistakably casual, often featuring washed-out colors or subtle surf branding, embodying the sport’s laid-back nature. The materials used prioritize comfort and mobility, ensuring that these garments can transition seamlessly from a day on the waves to an evening on the pier with the crew.

Footwear: Sandals and Slip-Ons

Footwear in surfer style emphasizes ease of wear and comfort, with sandals and slip-ons being staple items. Sandals, particularly those designed with a surfer’s needs in mind, offer durability, arch support, and water resistance, making them ideal for beach environments.

Slip-ons, popularized by brands like Vans, embody the casual, laid-back vibe of surfer fashion and are favored for their versatility and comfort. These footwear options reflect the surfer’s preference for simplicity and functionality, suitable for both beachfront and urban settings.

Accessories: Watches, Sunglasses, and Hats

Accessories play a crucial role in surfer style, blending practicality with personal expression. Durable, water-resistant watches are essential for keeping track of surf sessions. Polarized sunglasses protect the eyes from the harsh glare of the sun off the water.

Hats, ranging from trucker hats to wide-brimmed styles, offer protection from the sun and are a nod to the practical needs of life on the beach.

These accessories are carefully chosen to withstand the elements while adding a touch of personal style to the surfer’s look, embodying the blend of functionality and fashion that defines surfwear.

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Surfer Hairstyles & Grooming Trends

Surfer hairstyles and grooming trends reflect the natural, carefree essence of the surf lifestyle.

Surfer Hairstyles for Men

The iconic surfer hair—long, sun-bleached locks tousled by the saltwater and wind—is not just a style but a badge of honor, signifying hours spent in the ocean. This look embodies the surfer’s laid-back approach to life, prioritizing natural beauty and ease over meticulously styled appearances.

Shorter hairstyles, too, maintain a sense of effortless cool. They are often textured and styled to mimic the effects of saltwater for that “just off the beach” look. These cuts are practical for active lifestyles, requiring minimal maintenance while still exuding the surfer’s easy-going charm.

How to Style Surfer Hair

Styling surfer hair is all about achieving that effortlessly cool, sun-kissed look reminiscent of days spent on the beach. Start by allowing your hair to air-dry after a wash to embrace its natural texture. For those who have straight or slightly wavy hair, applying a sea salt spray can help add volume and create those desired beachy waves.

Scrunch your hair gently with your fingers to enhance the texture. If your hair is longer, consider a light, texturizing product to maintain hold without sacrificing that characteristic laid-back vibe.

Remember, the key to perfect surfer hair is minimal effort; it should look tousled and carefree, as if you’ve just emerged from riding the waves under the sun.

Surfer Facial Hair

In grooming, the trend leans towards minimalism, focusing on sun-kissed skin and a healthy, natural glow. When facial hair is present, it is kept neat but casual, further emphasizing the surfer’s nonchalant attitude towards personal appearance.

The overall approach to hairstyles and grooming in surf culture celebrates authenticity and a connection to the natural world, favoring looks that are as functional as they are stylish.

kelly slater in a black hat and grey shirt with print
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Men’s Surfer Style Icons

Surfer fashion, though deeply rooted in the sport’s rich history and culture, has been shaped and popularized by a number of iconic figures whose personal styles and contributions to surfing have left an indelible mark on the aesthetic.

These style icons not only showcase the versatility and appeal of surfer fashion but also embody the spirit and ethos of the surf culture.

Duke Kahanamoku: The Ambassador of Surfing

Duke Kahanamoku, often referred to as the father of modern surfing, was not only a legendary surfer and Olympic swimmer but also a key figure in popularizing surfing and its associated styles beyond the Hawaiian Islands.

Duke’s classic, laid-back style in the early 20th century, characterized by simple swimwear and an effortless approach to beach attire, laid the groundwork for the surf aesthetic. His influence extends beyond the sport, embodying the grace and camaraderie that are hallmarks of the surf community.

Kelly Slater: The Prodigy

Kelly Slater, considered by many to be the greatest professional surfer of all time, has had a significant impact on surfer style both in and out of the water.

His clean, athletic approach to surfwear, often featuring performance-oriented gear and casual, polished looks, showcases the evolution of surf fashion towards more technical and sophisticated designs.

Slater’s involvement in sustainable fashion initiatives also reflects the modern surfer’s growing concern for environmental conservation, further shaping the aesthetic of the surf community.

Laird Hamilton: The Innovator

Laird Hamilton, known for his big wave surfing and innovation in the sport, also plays a pivotal role in defining surf style. Hamilton’s approach to surfwear blends functionality with a rugged, adventurous aesthetic, reflecting his pioneering spirit.

His preference for durable, versatile garments that can withstand the demands of extreme surfing has influenced the design and functionality of surfwear, pushing the industry towards innovation in materials and sustainability.

John John Florence: The Free Spirit

John John Florence, with his modern take on the surfer aesthetic, embodies the free-spirited, adventurous nature of the surf culture. His style, both in and out of the water, mixes traditional surfwear with contemporary fashion elements, reflecting the dynamic and evolving nature of surfer fashion.

Florence’s laid-back yet thoughtful approach to style, incorporating eco-friendly and sustainable practices, represents the new generation of surfers committed to protecting the oceans they cherish.

man wearing a short sleeved shirt with pattern and black shorts
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Surfer Outfits for Men: How to Wear the Surf Aesthetic

Embracing the surf aesthetic in everyday wear involves incorporating key elements of surfer style into your wardrobe while maintaining a sense of individuality and comfort. Start with the basics: a pair of well-fitted board shorts and a graphic tee or tank top that reflects your personal connection to surf culture.

Layer with a lightweight hoodie or windbreaker for cooler days. Choose footwear that embodies the laid-back vibe of the beach, like sandals or slip-ons, and complete the look with practical accessories such as a durable watch, polarized sunglasses, and a casual hat.

The key to wearing the surf aesthetic is to blend functionality with personal style, creating outfits that are both comfortable and reflective of the surfer’s carefree lifestyle.

Final Verdict

Surfer fashion for men is more than just a collection of beach-ready garments; it reflects a lifestyle that values freedom, adventure, and a deep connection to the natural world.

The evolution of surfer style from functional beachwear to a globally recognized fashion statement speaks to the universal appeal of the surfer’s laid-back yet purposeful approach to life.

By incorporating key elements of this style into your wardrobe, you embrace not only the aesthetic but also the spirit of surf culture, characterized by an appreciation for simplicity, sustainability, and the joy of the ride.

Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or simply drawn to the ethos of the surf lifestyle, surfer fashion offers a versatile, comfortable, and timeless approach to personal style.


    • To achieve the surfer look, focus on maintaining sun-lightened, tousled hair, often achieved with sea salt spray for texture. Wear relaxed, comfortable clothing like board shorts, graphic tees, and open button-down shirts paired with sandals or slip-on shoes.

      • Surfer hair is widely considered attractive because of its natural, carefree appearance that evokes a sense of adventure, freedom, and connection to the outdoors.

        • Dressing like a surfer involves choosing casual, beach-inspired pieces such as board shorts, tank tops, loose-fitting tees, and lightweight hoodies. To complete the laid-back, ocean-ready look, accessorize with sunglasses, a waterproof watch, and, if applicable, surf brand logos.

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