These Are the Best Boardshorts of 2021
11 pairs tested, one winner chosen.
Editor’s note: After watching the film, see the bottom of the page for a Best Boardshorts x BN3TH giveaway.
What makes a pair of boardshorts great?
Is it super-stretch tech? A modern cinch apparatus? Or do traditional constructions still reign supreme?
And, how much do aesthetics come into the equation? Print, length, color, etc.
Most of us know a great pair of surf trunks when we see them. Or feel them. But most definitely when we surf in them.
While there’s no true right or wrong, I’ve found that anything too far on either side of the spectrum feels a bit off. The stretchiest pair of boardshorts will leave one feeling like a try-hard adult gymnast, while more archaic fabrics will have you walking with a limp. Short-shorts are too bold for most, and shin-slappers (while due for a resurgence) reveal too much about one’s political leaning.
The best boardshorts, I’ve found, are ones that blend tech with tradition. They’re stretchy but not too stretchy, soft but with a solid foundation, and cut just above the knee. Their appearance is timeless. They feel like home.
In Best Boardshorts 2021, my goal was to find the surf shorts that felt like home. But I also wanted to recognize the importance of appearance, as that seems to be what most people care about when it comes to summer sliders.
So, we designed a simple criteria to find the best boardshorts of 2021:
- The first 50 points will be allocated to Performance, based on a suit’s overall comfort, stretch, and feel in the water. This will be judged by yours truly.
- The other 50 points will be attributed to Style and judged by our audience. Nobody needs fashion tips from a guy who wears the same pair of black basketball shorts and no shirt on a daily basis, so we let our Instagram followers vote on which trunks looked the best.
Watch our Best Boardshorts 2021 feature above, and learn a little more about each pair of trunks we tested below (in alphabetical order).
Journal Boardshort 18”
These boardshorts are first on the list due to their letter composition—it just so happens they were also our favorite trunks of the bunch. The Journal Boardshort are a true Goldilocks pair: they’re soft but not flimsy, stretchy without being elastic, and cut finely without being restrictive. They feel phenomenal in the water, the style is classic and refined, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of trunks on the market today. We sure as hell couldn’t.
Fifty50 Airlite Plus 19”
Another top-scorer in the Performance department, these Billabong trunks are laser-cut and precision-minded. More of a “modern” style trunk (with imperceptible seams and a flyweight fabric), you’d be amazed to learn that they’re made entirely of recycled plastics. Much like their Furnace Natural 3/2 that performed at the top of the pack in our 2020 Best Wetsuits test, it’s commendable that Billabong has built such a technically advanced product from literal trash.
311 Boardshorts 17”
The original. The ageless. The Chuck Taylors of surf shorts. While Birdwell’s two-ply Surfnyl construction mightn’t be soft to the touch, it’s expertly designed to rub against itself rather than your delicate skin. They also look amazing, make you longboard 34% better, and I take personal offense to whoever voted them a 34/50 in style. A crime against surfing itself! Birdwells aren’t the most progressive surf shorts, but everyone needs a pair of these at some point in their life.
NFA 19” Boardshort
Octopus traction and leashes adorn many of the boards in the Stab office—the result of undeniable utility, but also because they look cool. When their boardshorts landed on our doorstep, I expected something subtle and sleek to align with their typical branding. Instead we got a pair of badass burgundy raiders, in a style befitting of your favorite basketball shorts. While not at all what I had anticipated, the shorts were well-received by all who crossed my path. They were only partially docked for their tendency to bunch up in the front.
Hyperfreak Hydro 20”
While these trunks weren’t exactly my style (nor yours, based on the IG story votes), I can say that O’Neill’s no-tie system is truly revolutionary and will likely become more common over time. The one downside of the system is that it requires precise sizing on the shorts, as there’s no real room to give (or take) with the ultra-stiff waistband. So if you buy these shorts, make sure they fit nice and snug (but not too snug), or else you won’t access their full value.
Highlite Arch 19”
These boardshorts are light. Ridiculously light. So light that when Mateus Herdy borrowed mine to surf in Stab High (his were lost in transit), he performed one of the biggest airs of the trip in his very first session. I attribute this entirely to the Quik shorts and not at all to his preternatural ability on a surfboard. Beyond their (negligible) weight and recycled construction, these are a pretty run-of-the-mill performance short—something you could wear every day without a second thought. And sometimes that’s all you need.
Mirage 3-2-One Ultimate 19” Boardshorts
Just looking at these shorts, you can tell that more R&D went into them than any other pair we tested. Rip Curl has always put an emphasis on design, and the results are often industry-leading. That is definitely the case here. The sturdy front and back panels are flanked by an uber-stretchy fabric on the side, allowing the most lateral movement of any boardshort we tested. My only criticism is that the trunks are a little boxier and and baggier than I’d prefer, which affects both their appearance and weight. But as far as overall design goes, these are the top of the pile.
The Boatman 17”
Any brand that provides a lifetime warranty either has immense faith in humans’ ability to lose receipts OR immense faith in their product. With Roark, I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter. Their Boatman short is incredibly rugged, which lends itself more to durability than performance or stretch. That said, I enjoyed wearing them as they felt sturdy and protective. Buying this short is an investment in yourself—one you will not be disappointed in five, 10, 30 years down the track.
Surf Trunk 3 19”
Style: 41 /50
Everything Vans does, they do it big. And different. Their recently-released Surf Boot Mid applied skate shoe technology to neoprene and changed the way we surf in cold water. Now they’re doing the same with boardshorts. Their no-tie system is verging on perfect—it allows for plenty of waistband manipulation without the bulky knots. I believe that with one more design iteration, they’ll have the cinch system by which all others are measured. The fabric on these shorts is also worth mentioning—it’s thick and smooth, almost like a seal. Feels great against your skin and feels like it would last forever.
Burch Stoney Trunks 19”
This is the most straightforward pair of surf trunks we tested—like something straight out of the early-oughts. Thick fabric, classic design, no frills whatsoever. Not sure if Volcom’s paying homage to a bygone era or if they’re just keeping it core, but I was surprised to see such a simple short in this test. I didn’t dislike them per se, but they didn’t do much for me either.
Cruise Boardshort 18”
Curious what kind of innovation existed outside the endemic surf brands, we reached out to athleisure kingpin Vuori to see what their boardshort game looked like. The result was, perhaps as we should have expected, that of a brand for whom surfing is not the top priority. The trunks looked and felt nice on land, but they ballooned in the water and seemed too delicate for the brine. This is a pair of shorts you’d rock at the beach with your friends, not for four-hour sessions at Mexican points.
The unsung hero of this year’s Best Boardshorts test were BN3TH undershorts, which saved me from unspeakable pain and suffering. Running up the Mexican points was a joyful experience thanks not only to BN3TH’s rash-protecting properties, but also their unwavering huevo support. Their MyPackage technology is the best invention since Airdrop, and anyone not rocking the Entourage short this summer should be arrested for future-child abuse. They’re also made from recycled plastics, so go ahead and add climate protection to their list of positive attributes.
BN3TH x Best Boardshorts giveaway
Want to test the world’s best boardshorts and undershorts for yourself? Send an email to [email protected] with your trunk size as the subject line. We’ll be giving away free gear to the following waistlines: 28, 30, 32, 34, 36.