Are Board Shorts and Swim Trunks the Same Thing?

You’re at the swimwear store, with one hand grasping a pair of board shorts and a pair of swim trunks in the other, contemplating the differences between the two. It’s a common dilemma faced by many: which one is more suited for a beach day, a surfing session, or that poolside barbecue?

Board shorts and swim trunks, while both designed for water activities, are not the same thing. They each come with their distinct features and purposes, rooted deeply in their respective origins and designs.

As we dive deeper into this article, we’ll unravel the nuances that set these two popular types of swimwear apart. By the end, you’ll not only be able to differentiate between them but also decide which one aligns best with your needs for that perfect day under the sun.

Are board shorts the same as swim trunks?

No, board shorts and swim trunks are not the same thing. While both are designed for water activities, there are distinct differences between the two.

Swim trunks are traditionally shorter and may come with an inner mesh lining. They typically have an elastic waistband and are designed primarily for swimming.

Board shorts, on the other hand, were originally designed for surfers. They are longer, typically reaching the knee or slightly above, and do not usually have the inner mesh lining that swim trunks do.

The design of board shorts is meant to provide more flexibility and less chafing, especially during the rigorous movements of surfing.

Why are board shorts longer than traditional swim trunks?

Board shorts are longer than traditional swim trunks primarily because of their origin in surfing. The extended length serves a few purposes:

  1. Protection: The length of board shorts helps protect the legs from getting rash or abrasions, especially when surfers are on their boards.
  2. Flexibility: The longer length provides a wider range of motion, which is essential for surfers as they navigate waves.
  3. Fashion: Over time, the longer length also became a style preference for many, even those not engaged in surfing.

Can I wear board shorts for swimming?

Yes, you can wear board shorts for regular swimming as well as for surfing. While they were initially designed with surfing in mind, their comfort, style, and versatility have made them popular for various water activities, including swimming, paddleboarding, and beach volleyball.

However, some people might find the absence of a mesh lining or the longer length less preferable for general swimming, but it’s really up to individual preference.

Do board shorts have mesh liners like swim trunks often do?

Generally, board shorts do not have mesh liners, whereas swim trunks often do. The reason for this is rooted in their original design for surfing. Mesh liners can cause chafing or discomfort during extended periods of activity like surfing.

Also, surfers often wear rash guards or wetsuits underneath, which makes the inner lining unnecessary. However, due to the growing popularity of board shorts for general beachwear and swimming, some modern designs have incorporated mesh liners for those who prefer them.

Why don’t some board shorts come with an elastic waistband?

The traditional design of board shorts includes a rigid waistband with a lace-up front, similar to the closure you might find on some athletic shoes. This design offers a more secure fit, which is crucial for surfers who wouldn’t want their shorts to be pulled off by a powerful wave. Elastic waistbands might not provide the same level of security.

However, with the broader adoption of board shorts for casual swimming and beach activities, some newer designs do feature elastic waistbands for added comfort and ease of wear.

Is it appropriate to wear board shorts as casual wear?


Yes, it is appropriate to wear board shorts as casual wear, especially in settings like beach towns, tropical vacations, or during the summertime. Over the years, board shorts have evolved from being purely functional surfwear to fashionable summer attire.

Their designs have become more varied and stylish, making them suitable for casual outings. However, for more formal events or settings, board shorts might not be deemed appropriate. Always consider the occasion and location when deciding to wear them as casual attire.

Are board shorts and swim trunks made from the same material?

While both board shorts and swim trunks are designed to be quick-drying and suitable for water activities, they can be made from a variety of materials.

Common materials for both include polyester and nylon because of their lightweight and quick-drying properties. However, board shorts might also incorporate spandex or elastane to provide extra stretch and flexibility, especially useful for surfing.

The choice of material also affects the feel and appearance; some might opt for a softer, brushed fabric for comfort, while others might want a shinier finish. So, while there’s overlap in the materials used, specific blends and treatments might vary between the two.

What are the advantages of wearing board shorts over swim trunks and vice versa?

Board Shorts:

  1. Flexibility: Due to their origin in surfing, board shorts are often designed to offer more freedom of movement, which is especially useful for water sports.
  2. Protection: The longer length can provide better protection against rashes and abrasions, especially when surfing.
  3. Style Variety: With the rise in their popularity, there’s a wide range of designs and patterns available for those looking for fashionable options.

Swim Trunks:

  1. Fit: With their elastic waistband and inner mesh lining, many find swim trunks to offer a snug and comfortable fit for swimming.
  2. Shorter Length: This can be more comfortable and less cumbersome for those who aren’t participating in active water sports.
  3. Traditional Design: Some people prefer the classic look and feel of swim trunks for their beach outings.

Why do some people prefer board shorts while others prefer swim trunks?

Preference between board shorts and swim trunks can come down to several factors:

  1. Activity: Those involved in water sports might lean towards board shorts for their flexibility and protection. Casual swimmers might prefer the snug fit of swim trunks.
  2. Comfort: Some find the mesh lining in swim trunks comfortable, while others might find it restrictive or irritating.
  3. Style: Board shorts offer a wide range of designs and lengths, catering to different fashion preferences.
  4. Tradition: Some might have grown up wearing one or the other and stick to what they know and love.
  5. Fit: The way each type of swimwear fits can influence preference. For instance, the lace-up design of board shorts might be seen as offering a more secure fit by some.

Can women wear board shorts or are they just for men?

Board shorts are not just for men; women can and do wear them too. Women’s board shorts are available in various styles, lengths, and designs suitable for female body types. They provide the same benefits as men’s board shorts, such as protection and flexibility.

Women might wear them for surfing, other water sports, or simply as a comfortable and stylish beachwear option. In other words, for the same reasons that men wear them. The choice whether to do so or not often comes down to individual style preferences and intended activity.