History of boardshorts

Summer has finally come, and everyone can now start to enjoy some hot waves, even in the Mediterranean sea! Let’s take boardshorts out of our closet now. Though they were created for surfing, boardshorts have expanded to a wider public over the years. Well, try not to show off exaggerately if the last time you rode a wave was at the nearest water park (and the lifeguard had to come saving you from drowning). Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the history of boardshorts!

Joni-Sternbach-boardshorts history

We are in the 1950s and surfing start to take a more popular dimension. In Hawaii, local surfers wear shorts made by hand in small workshorps disseminated over the island beaches. Shorts, or rather something looking like traditional sailor trousers they would have cut over the knee for more comfort. No comparison with futuristic, stretch, ultra-quick-drying models on the market today. Its from a Haleiwa tailor called Minoru Nii, and his wife Florence that was born the “Hawaii’s non-official uniform”.

1960s boardshorts history

When waves get the better of their outfits, Makaha surfers go to M.Nii’s shop so he can darn them. Quickly, him and his wife start the create shorts especially made for surfing. They use heavy canvas with a laced waist, some big buttons and thick seams, almost like wearing jeans to surf these days. One thing leading to another, according to surfers’ feedback, the Hawaiian couple improves the boardshorts. People stard calling them M.Nii Makaha Drowners.

A relic...

A relic…

Again, as surf becomes more and more popular during the 1960s, surfers from all over the world come visit Hawaii and its huge surfing spots. An inevitable stop is M.Nii’s shop from where they buy many shorts to replace their massive models. Makaha Drowners reputation is now set, and vocations appear. Many brands specialized in boardshorts starts their business, as other existing ones show interests in this new “fashion” product. One called Katin start to make boardshorts of the same shape on the Californian beaches. In some way, the end of the 1960s sees the surf entering the common culture with all symbols surrounding it.

boardshorts history 1960s

boardshorts history

Those brands are called Jantzen, Sundek, Surf Line Hawaii, Jams World, Ocean Pacific, they try to enhance the product and get rid of its imperfections. The firsts boardshorts made of nylon are created then. In the meantime, Pillip “Flippy” Hoffman, a surfing legend whose family held a textile company, decides to import a fabric from the island where he liked the most to practise. He could sell this “aloha” floral fabric to boardshorts and shirts manufacturers then. Yes, floral shorts are just a myth, as they were all plain colored up to this date!


So, here come authentic Hawaiian prints, nylon shorts and the velcro fastening belt. Boardshorts start to take a contemporary shape. All those new features last up to the next decade (even up to the present days) and lead new companies to meddle in this market using them in their own way. In 1969, Quiksilver is created and brings many new features to optimize comfort and surfers’ sensations.


During the 1970s, the brand launches its firsts customized boardshorts, with a wider waist, two buttons puls a velcro fastening for some over-knees shorts. These models were the most perfect for surfing, and their reputation quickly grew. Two of the best American surfers from that time, Jeff Hackman and Gerry Lopez were surfing across Australia in seach for amazing waves wearing Quiksilver boardshorts. They appreciated wearing them because of their comfort thanks to a poplin construction. Once back in their country, both decided to start their own brand and call it Lightning Bolt with an immediate succes. The competitor’s answer quickly came, and Sundek created its famous “Rainbow Boardshort” then.


From the other side of the World, in Australia, a country where surfing grew in popularity, local brands also started to create their first boardshorts. Doug “Claw” Warbrick and Brian “Sing Ding” Singer launched Rip Curl from their hut in Torquay, only few kilometers from Bells Beach. Originally specialized in surfboards manufacturing, they soon understood how surfing outfits had an impact on riding techniques evolution. So they tried some first hand made experiences on boardshorts from their beach hut (1969). Then followed Billabong, from Gordon Merchant’s experience. He was an Australian surfer with a special gift for being on the right beach when conditions were ideal to ride to most extreme waves. In 1973, he started to create super-resistant boardshorts to help riders from the “Goald-Coast” for that purpose (riding the most extreme waves). It worked immediately!


As surfing followed growing, the competition was getting harder regarding equipments. It had now become a professional sport, and brands felt the need of showing their logo. A new era began for surfin and boardshorts manufacturers. The mythical Quiksilver logo saw the day (1971) followed by a new shape for boardshorts, inspired from running, with scallop hems and leaving more freedom to legs movements. On another matter, the brand was provided by the Hoffman California Frabrics at that time.


World’s Surfing Championships had alwready existed for a decade in the early 1980s, but surfing moved on to a further step during these years. Worldwide ambitions of Australian brands grew, and they started to land on surfing spots all over the world, especially in California and Hawaii, pushing the American competition to change their conception of professional surfing following the exemple of other sports. Quiksilver redesigned its logo (which is still the same today) and started to sponsor pro-surfers releasing a highly branded boardshorts model, with a big logo on the back.


Surfing was a cultural succes, so the American label tried to get in the fashion market through its ambassadors. In the meantime they released pop prints for its boardshorts, according to the 1980s fashion. In the same years, Billabong introduced Lycra in his models, giving this stretch, light and comfortable fabric. This major innovation was immediately adopted by all competitors. In a general meaning, fits got looser for more comfort and the first long models (knee level) appeared, still from a movement initiated by Billabong.

Kelly Slater, Todd Holland, Scott McCranels, ?, Matt Kechlee, Charlie Kuhn

Kelly Slater, Todd Holland, Scott McCranels, ?, Matt Kechlee, Charlie Kuhn

Hairy Kelly Slater!

Hairy Kelly Slater!

Lightning Bolt vintage ad

Lightning Bolt vintage ad

Since then, time have changed. A Floridian called Kelly Slater piles up World Champion titles, with or without hair. Boardshorts are made of new quick-drying technical fabrics. Brands have got rid of boardshorts seams to avoid irritations. Their length has remained the same, though short swimming trunks have made their come back in these times of vintage inspired fashion. Surfing has become a professional sport like any other (even more) and its champions are considered like rockstars. On the contrary, some dissidents still praise surfing original values: beach, free lifestyle, eating coconuts and roots, living by surfing reclused in a beach hut.

Quiksilver costumized boardshorts, test to come...

Quiksilver costumized boardshorts, test to come…

Few links:
http://www.mnii.com (reissue of 1960s boardshorts models)

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