The Ultimate Surfer Style Guide for Men in 2020

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Oct 09, 2020
The Ultimate Surfer Style Guide for Men in 2020

Imagine your ideal beach day. 

Mine isn’t a few hours. It’s a 2 week trip down the coast. 

Growing up in Southern California, I spent many weekends heading down to Newport beach, while vacations brought us a little further north to Pismo. 

Those beach towns are littered with dudes and chicks who live effortlessly cool. I mean, riding around on a skateboard without shoes? How cool must one be?

I miss those beach vibes, and to hold me over until I can make it back, I put together this surfer style guide to help you and I both. So if salty, sun bleached hair and four-footers sound like a dream, this guide is for you. 

Surfer Style Essentials

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After spending so many years in So-Cal, there are a few essentials I’ve learned anyone with true surfer style must have to fit in at the beach. There are tons of great surfwear brands, but one of the classic stand-by’s is Hurley. They’re our sponsor for this article and we’re excited to work with them.

Hurley makes excellent quality surf wear at a value-driven price. You can find the following essentials with any surfwear brand worth their salt, but we’ll be adding a few key finds from the Hurley online store. 

Hurley

Founded in Huntington Beach, CA in 1999, Hurley has become a world-wide surfer style icon for good reason. They deliver on quality and offer a massive variety of stylish surfer clothes at fair prices.

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Board Shorts

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Board shorts: in beach towns, these take the place of jeans, joggers, and your suit and tie. In the dog-days of summer, you’ll get strange looks for not wearing a pair of board shorts. 

You wouldn’t play football without a helmet and pads, right? Well, don’t hit the beach without your board shorts. 

This surfer staple is your chance to pick any color you want. You could play it safe with black, but where’s the fun in that? 

My favorite pair are covered in bright pink flamingos. Seriously, there’s no way to mess this up.

Hurley has a wide selection of boardshorts, from mismatched neons, floral prints, and patriotic styles, to the more conservative, standard looks.

Sandals

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There’s nothing quite like a quality pair of sandals. The first summer they feel fresh. And over the years, they become a beacon of good times. 

“Oh, the flip-flops are coming out? Today’s going to be a great day.”

There’s a right way to beach and a wrong way to beach. And I have enough experience doing the wrong way to offer some insight here. 

I was always the guy who wore sneakers to the beach because I wasn’t willing to pony up for sandals. But then I’d get jealous of all my friends easily whipping their footwear on and off. So I’d buy a cheap $10 pair, which would rub my skin raw between my toes. And then I’d take a dip in the ocean and my feet would sting like hell. 

With age comes wisdom, and wisdom for me looks like buying a pair of flip flops made with something other than easter egg plastic and styrofoam.

Graphic Tees

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I’m usually not a fan of graphic tees. Most times, it’ll make you look like your style is stuck in college. 

But at the beach, style rules are relaxed a little. Or actually, a lot. 

Sunset scenes, chicks with grass-skirts, waves, floral prints: whatever looks cool to you. Choose a light colored shirt if you want to keep the relaxed vibe going, or pick up a dark t-shirt if you’re like me and stop by every beach-side taco stand and have a tendency to spill the salsa. 

Lightweight Sweaters and Flannels

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The beach lifestyle is defined by what happens in the day-time, but anyone who’s spent a lot of time by the ocean knows that one of the best parts of the beach day is the bonfire after the sun sets. 

But that cool ocean breeze can send a chill through you, so always bring a light sweater or flannel with you. Even if it’s sunny outside, a brisk wind can put a damper on your beach-time. 

If you’re in a sea-side town, a flannel, board shorts, and flip-flops is considered fancy enough to head to dinner with. Ok, maybe not at a fine-dining restaurant. But in just about every other scenario, you can’t be bothered to put on slacks. 

Sunglasses

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I didn’t need to tell you this one. Sunglasses are a must when you want to boost your surfer style. One of the ironic things about surfer sunglasses is that expensive and refined isn’t the look you want. Chances are, you’re going to toss them in the sand before you dive into the waves. 

The classic look is the pair you buy on the boardwalk for five bucks. But those always looked stupid on my face. 

For the beachy look, I go with Blenders Eyewear. They have all those interesting lens colors and neon frames that you’d expect from a beater pair of shades, but they’re much higher quality and priced fairly. 

Sunglasses are partially for style, partially for safety. Seriously, you can sunburn your eyeballs. Ask me how I know

Most sunglasses now are full spectrum UVA-UVB protected, so make sure yours are (our recommendation is). I also prefer a polarized lens because it cuts out most of the glare from the glistening waves and really helps reduce strain if you have sensitive eyes. 

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Blenders Eyewear isn’t for everyone. The style of their sunglasses is loud, bold, and fun-loving. But they do offer nice balance between quality and value, so if loud, bold, and fun-loving describes you, well, you’re in luck.

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Bracelets and Necklaces

Accessories bring the whole surfer look together. Again, you don’t want anything expensive looking. Strings, beads, braided rope—keep it as basic as possible with your “jewelry” and you’ll be set. 

If you’re out on the waves, don’t wear anything you’ll regret losing. If you lose a beaded bracelet, you might be disappointed for a few hours, but you’ll get over it. 

If you lose a gold chain, well, that’s a different level of suck. 

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A lot of guys like to wear a watch when they’re surfing. One of my favorite waterproof watches with tons of durability is from VAER. The dial is simple, and it’s easy to get a snug fit with their nylon Nato straps. 

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(20% OFF with code HOLIDAY20)

VAER is a prime example of the shift in watchmakers toward quality and affordability. As a small brand, there are some struggles around shipping times, but their field watches offer killer value that’s hard to find elsewhere.

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Wetsuits and Rash Guards

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I’d like to say something upfront before I go any further: wetsuits and rash guards aren’t for walking around town. 

I only bring this up because there was a kid at my high school who wore a wetsuit every day. He wore it with a Lakers jersey and made chainmail armor for fun—a total legend. 

But if you’re looking to spend any significant time in the water (and you’re not in the tropics) a wetsuit makes the experience much more comfortable.

Hats

In my opinion, there’s only one kind of hat for the beach: the gigantic, wide brimmed straw hat. Walking down to the Santa Barbara pier, I’d see what looked like an avian mating display, each guy wearing a bigger straw hat than the last. 

You can’t live the surfer lifestyle if you take yourself too seriously. There’s an element of “I don’t care how I look” that goes into perfecting the fashion. 

A massive straw hat is the best way to get some sun protection, but also show you’re not too serious. 

How to Get Surfer Hair

There’s no substitute for that sun bleached look you get from years out riding waves. But there are a few ways you can get something close to surfer hair without taking a dip in the ocean. 

Surfer hair is obviously dependent on the surfer, but generally speaking it’s wavy and not often frizzy. 

Sea salt tends to clump and stiffen hair, so it acts almost like a hair-care product. 

If you want that firm, almost crunchy feel to your hair, try using a sea-salt spray. With surfer hair, simplicity is key. After you get out of the shower, do 8-10 spritzes of sea-salt spray and style your hair with your hands. A comb will break up the natural locks—plus it makes it look like you tried, and that goes against the surfer ethos. 

BYRD Texturizing Surf Spray

Sea salt spray helps give you that stiff, textured feeling in your hair you can only otherwise find at the beach. Say hello to laid back surfer hair.

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Surf Culture 101

Surf culture depends on the time of day. The early-bird surfers out on the water at 5:30 in the morning are a welcoming bunch. In most communities, they’re all buddies. After all, the guy next to you has to be pretty crazy to be out in the ocean before the sun’s fully up. 

Later in the day, you get a more crowded field—usually younger guys who’s idea of waking up early is 9:30. 

Most importantly, surfers aren’t fond of beginners trying to make it out on the big waves before they’re ready. 

It’s a strange sport in that each wave only has a certain amount of real estate. If you’re new to a beach or don’t have much experience and you’re in crowded waters, you can show respect by passing on a few waves.

Some people have the idea that local surfers are jerks. I’m sure that’s true in some cases, but in my experience, showing some deference to the local guys goes a long way. I suck at surfing and it’s obvious to anyone within a mile, but I’ve never had trouble getting out with a group by taking some of the smaller swells and leaving the first few prime waves to the veterans. 

In my opinion, the best book on surfing and surfer culture is Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. He’s an experienced reporter for the New York Times and has a wicked obsession with surfing. The descriptions of waves are poetic, and anyone yearning for a little beach life would do well to soak these pages in. 

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Our top pick for the best book on surfing life. Get lost in the glorious descriptions of perfect waves and beach bums in this Pulitzer Prize winner.

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How has Surfer Style Evolved?

Surfer style absolutely erupted in the mid 60s during The Beach Boys’ prime years. If you watch some of the video above, you’ll notice a lot of bright blocks of color.

In some ways, a lot of surfer style has changed. And in others, it hasn’t.

Today’s surf wear embraces bright and bold colors just like it always has. But shorts are a lot more loose and fall closer to the knee. 

Growing up in the 90s and 00s, there was an obsession with super long board shorts that came well below the knee. But now, men’s boardshorts are trending back toward the shorter lengths. 

The technical quick drying fabrics we have today are much thinner and relaxed than the thick polyester suits around back in the 60s and 70s, so if anything, surfer style has become even more casual over the years. 

Surf’s Up

Surfer style doesn’t stop at the beach. 

These essentials will serve you well even when you’re away from the cool ocean breeze. But you need to have the attitude. That worry-free wanderlust that makes surfers so cool in the first place. 

To stock up on the basics, check out Hurley. They’re clothes are affordable and they’ve got a wide variety of surfer classics so you can pick and choose your favorites. 

Hurley

Founded in Huntington Beach, CA in 1999, Hurley has become a world-wide surfer style icon for good reason. They deliver on quality and offer a massive variety of stylish surfer clothes at fair prices.

Shop Hurley Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

I’ll see you in the waves, right?

FAQs

What does it mean to be a surfer?

A strict definition of a surfer is being someone who rides waves on a surf board at least a few times a year. But being a surfer is so much more. Hard core surfers make sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to chase the biggest, best waves. They’re known for global travel and a relaxed, bohemian lifestyle. But there are also plenty of wed businessmen who enjoy plenty of surf, so there’s really no set form for surfers.

How long does it take to become a good surfer?

With consistent practice (3x week) you should be able to ride your first wave within a month. But to get good at surfing, expect six months or more of consistent wave riding. Don’t expect to become a seasoned pro after a summer.

What kind of shoes do surfers wear?

Surfers mostly wear sandals. But off the beach, you’ll find them wearing flat canvas sneakers like these Cariuma shoes.