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Board Shorts vs Swim Trunks: What Is the Difference?

Do you like to go surfing or just chillax beneath a beach umbrella? You may assume that guys have only one swimsuit option when it comes to water-related activities. But, when you compare board shorts vs swim trunks, you will quickly realize that they have quite a few differences!

The biggest difference between board shorts and swim trunks is that board shorts use performance-level four-way stretch material. Board shorts also have a fitted waistband and do not include a mesh liner, while loser swim trunks typically feature a lining. Board shorts work best for active sports like surfing or water skiing, while swim trunks work best for a gentle day at the pool or beach.

In this article, you will learn about the key features of board shorts and swim trunks. You will find out which garment will work best for you. Finally, you will find tips on when to wear board shorts vs when to wear swim trunks.

What are Board Shorts?

What are Board Shorts

Board shorts are a type of knee-length, quick-drying beach wear. Both men and women wear board shorts for beach volleyball, surfing, hanging around in the sand, or even going to the swimming pool. Though you can wear board shorts to go swimming, they look quite different from the average pair of swim trunks.

You will also see board shorts called boardshorts or even baggies. This is because this beachwear style tends to have longer legs and a low-slung, baggier cut than the average swimsuit. Of course, the name “board shorts” stems from the fact that surfers made these shorts popular in the 60s.

The first recorded board shorts originated in Hawaii, where surfers began to wear them because of the extra room for movement and quick-drying comfort. Elvis even wore a pair of board shorts in a movie, which quickly brought him international garment fame!

Today, board shorts have several distinctive features that set them apart from other outfits you might wear around the water.

First, board shorts traditionally have a long length, usually hitting around the knee or even a bit lower. This design helps surfers avoid getting board wax stuck to their skin.

Second, board shorts usually have a velcro and drawstring fastener at the front of the waistband. They do not typically have an elastic waist.

Finally, modern board shorts often feature high-end performance fabrics that dry quickly. Because of this and also because people who care about water or water sports tend to wear board shorts the most–this style of swimwear often costs quite a lot more than many other styles.

What are Swim Trunks?

What are Swim Trunks

Swim trunks are a casual type of swimwear for guys that often has a mesh liner inside and a drawstring or elastic waist. Swim trunks come in all kinds of prints and colors but always feature quick-drying fabric perfect for wearing in the water. Today, they often serve as the most affordable swimwear option for men and boys.

Swim trunks often have a boxy shape with wide legs. Though they come in a wide range of lengths, they typically end at some point above the knee. They look like loose, lightweight shorts.

While you can wear swim trunks around your beach hotel or at the local eatery if you stop surfing to get a lunch, these shorts look more appropriate at the pool, beach, or lakeside.

They usually contain a fabric like nylon or polyester that will feel light and floaty underwater but quickly repel water and dry out in the air.

Board Shorts vs Swim Trunks: Key Points

Board Shorts vs Swim Trunks

Check out this chart for a quick overview of the biggest differences between board shorts and swim trunks.

Board ShortsSwim Trunks
StyleCloser fitting legs with a performance fit, no liner, and sealed pockets.Loose, boxy legs with open pockets and a mesh liner.
WaistbandDouble-fastened, rigid waistband to help hold shorts in place during athletic maneuvers.Elastic pull-on waist or drawstring waistband.
LengthLonger length, falling to the knee or lowerShorter length, ending above the knee
MaterialDurable, stretchy athletic fabric that can dry quicklyCheap, lightweight fabric that can dry quickly
CostAround $30-$60Around $20
Best ForAthletic water sports like surfingHaving fun at the pool or beach

What is the Difference Between Board Shorts and Swim Trunks?

Difference Between Board Shorts and Swim Trunks

The most noticeable difference between board shorts and swim trunks is that board shorts are longer and use a more durable type of fabric.


Board shorts typically have a sleeker cut called a performance fit, while swim trunks often have a gathered elastic waist and a baggier, boxier cut. Both types of swimwear often feature bright colors, bold prints, and quirky images in the fabric, though!

Board shorts almost always feature pockets but have closed flaps, so they cannot fill up with water like tiny water balloons. Swim trunks often feature open pockets, which can easily puff up underwater.

Swim trunks almost always contain a mesh lining to help the shorts maintain their shape while wet. Board shorts do not include a liner as it can lead to chafing during active water sports like surfing.

Overall, board shorts look a bit more like “regular” clothing than a bathing suit, while swim trunks look a bit more like you should wear them to the pool.


One of the biggest differences between board shorts and swim trunks is the kind of waistband they use. Swim trunks often have a drawstring waistband or a gathered elastic pull-on waistband.

In contrast, board shorts often have a sturdy double closure at the front of the waistband that uses both a drawstring and a velcro tab. Plus, many popular board short brands also use a reinforced panel to make the waistband more rigid and keep it firmly in place during a high-action moment like catching a wave.


The most obvious difference between board shorts and swim trunks is that board shorts usually have a longer length. Because of their original purpose as the uniform of choice for surfers, board shorts always fall to the knee or even lower as a protective measure. Swim trunks, in contrast, can come in many different lengths.

Swim trunk length often rises and falls with changing fashion trends. Sometimes swim trunks get pretty short, like 1980’s-style basketball shorts! Today, the average swim trunk length for men falls around 16 inches, putting the hem of the shorts well above the knee.

As a pro tip, clothing brands talk about the inseam or outseam of shorts when they describe the length of the garment. The inseam means the distance from the crotch to the hem of the shorts. The outseam means the length of the outer side seam down the outside leg of the shorts.


It may not appear obvious at first glance, but one of the essential differences between board shorts and swim trunks is that they use very different kinds of material.

Swim trunks typically contain cheap, lightweight materials. Polyester, nylon, and cotton all make popular swim trunks. This fabric will feel light underwater and dry quickly in the sun and fresh air.

Board shorts use much fancier fabrics. They typically contain durable, four-way stretch athletic fabrics. This type of material will not bag or get waterlogged during crazy surfing maneuvers. It will stretch with you instead of sliding off or ripping. Of course, it still dries quickly once you come up for air!

While swim trunks often feature 100% cheap polyester, board shorts need a lot of Spandex or elastane to create the four-way stretch performance material that keeps them in place on your body. This material can sometimes contain 20% elastic fibers!


Board shorts cost significantly more than swim trunks. The main reason for the cost disparity is that board shorts use more expensive kinds of fabric that contain costly fibers like elastane or Spandex.

Swim trunks for guys often cost as little as $20-$30, but board shorts usually cost at least $30-$60. Of course, if you want name-brand trunks or shorts, you could pay way more for either kind of swimwear!

As you shop for board shorts, make sure you look for all the essential characteristics of the surfing uniform, such as the proper length and high-performance fabric. Some brands use the term “board shorts” to liberally mean any cheap swimsuit.

Best For

Swim trunks work best for casual swimming, hanging out at the beach, or wearing on vacation. Board shorts work best for high-energy water sports like surfing, playing beach volleyball, or even waterskiing.

If you go surfing while wearing regular swim trunks, the pockets will likely fill up with water and weigh you down. Plus, the less secure waistband could slip right off as you dip and dive!

Board shorts offer extra protection and security for more athletic water pursuits. Because of the longer length, they also look a bit more “normal” if you wear them around town after going surfing early in the morning. Of course, you can wear board shorts to go swimming as well!

Can I Wear Board Shorts in a Swimming Pool?

For casual wear, you can wear board shorts in the swimming pool or out of the water. However, you would not wear board shorts for many swimming sports as these require specific types of competitive swimsuits for both men and women.

If you plan to attend a pool party, take a few laps around a hotel pool, or chill at the beach, board shorts will work fine!

Do You Wear Anything Under Board Shorts?

You should wear swim briefs or a bikini bottom under your board shorts for several reasons.

First, board shorts typically do not have the puffy mesh liner that swim trunks sport. This liner helps prevent the swimwear from clinging to your shape and becoming too revealing. Since board shorts do not have this liner, you can imagine what would happen if you wore them with nothing underneath!

The second big reason is your own comfort. Once again, board shorts don’t have a lining to avoid chafing. But without some type of undergarment, you could quickly acquire chafing in delicate areas from the board shorts anyway!

Don’t just throw on any old pair of briefs or boxers. Your best bet is to use swim briefs, compression shorts, or (for women) comfortable bikini bottoms. These water-resistant items will keep a firm grip on you and will not become waterlogged and heavy as you swim or surf.

What Kind of Shorts Do You Use for Swimming?

Shorts for Swimming

The best shorts to wear for swimming are swim trunks or shorts designed specifically for use underwater, like board shorts. Regular workout shorts, basketball shorts, or khaki shorts can cause both you and the water a lot of problems.

Many types of fabric that contain cotton will dispel tiny cotton particles into pools as you swim. This can cause a big problem for the quality of the water! Plus, cotton will become heavy and waterlogged and feel uncomfortable for you.

Swimsuits often contain materials like nylon, Lycra, polyester, and spandex. Manufacturers weave these synthetic fibers into porous structures that allow water to pass through the weave easily. This makes fabric designed specifically for swimsuits your best choice for a comfortable swimming experience.

What are Short Swim Trunks Called?

The shortest type of swim trunks is called briefs; though, in the United States, you may still see this garment called swim trunks. Technically, swim trunks can come in various lengths and styles, and each style has its own name.

  • Briefs fit the body closely and are quite short. Athletes wear this type of swimwear because it decreases the amount of resistance in the water as they swim. While not quite as abbreviated as a Speedo, this style comes the closest to that barely=there look.
  • Aquashorts have a boxier look though they typically end at the top of the thigh. They have more drag than briefs but look a bit less revealing.
  • Water shorts or regular old swim trunks come in various lengths and styles, perfect for leisure wear. While shorter than board shorts, they usually fall to at least mid-thigh, unlike briefs or water shorts. This is what you probably think of when the term “swim trunks” pops into your head!

Women Board Shorts vs Swim Trunks

Women Board Shorts

Women wear board shorts often these days, especially for activities such s surfing or kayaking activities. Originally, only men wore board shorts. It took a while for women’s fashion to catch up, but today, you can easily find many big-name brands like Land’s End that sell board shorts for women.

Women’s bathing suits also often come with swim shorts today. That said, you do not often see this swimwear called “swim trunks,” possibly to differentiate it from men’s swimwear. But just like men’s swim trunks, these shorts work best for leisure swimming or lounging on the beach.

Board shorts, in contrast, offer women a protective and durable option perfect for wearing while kayaking, canoeing, surfing, or playing beach volleyball.

Are Board Shorts for Swimming?

Both men and women can wear board shorts for swimming. While this athletic kind of water wear works best for high-action activities like surfing or kayaking, there is no reason you can’t wear board shorts to lounge around the pool too! You will want to wear water-friendly undergarments beneath the shorts, though.

The bottom line here is that board shorts were not designed for swimming. But over time, the surfer culture made them so cool that plenty of people wear board shorts to the beach or the pool.

Are Volley Shorts Swim Trunks?

You can wear volley shorts as swim trunks, as they serve as a cross between board shorts and swim trunks.

Volley shorts are a newer fashion trend based on the idea of board shorts, but with fewer athletic features. They have a less secure elastic waistband and do not often feature expensive fabrics. But they have the general shape of board shorts and often come with a long inseam, just like board shorts.

Board Shorts vs Bathing Suit

Board Shorts vs Bathing Suit

Board shorts usually have a longer length and more durable fabric than other types of bathing suits or swim trunks.

For men, board shorts offer a more athletic alternative to the less durable, less secure fit of the average pair of swim trunks. Board shorts have a double-closure waist and contain athletic fabric that offers more protection than most lightweight swim trunks.

For women, board shorts offer a comfortable and secure athletic alternative to any of the hundreds of different styles of bathing suits, bikinis, and swim shorts available in women’s swimwear. Board shorts tend to have a sporty look rather than a fun or sexy look, in contrast to many other styles of women’s bathing suits.

Both men and women should plan to wear comfortable undergarments such as swim briefs or bikini bottoms under board shorts.


The biggest difference between board shorts and swim trunks is that board shorts have a longer length, reaching below the knee. Another key difference is the intended use of each garment. Board shorts work best for sports like surfing and swim trunks work best for water activities like swimming in the neighborhood pool.

Because of their athletic design, board shorts often feature expensive fabrics that contain a high percentage of elastic fibers. Swim trunks cost less than board shorts and come in various lengths suitable for all kinds of leisure activities. But they do not offer as much protection, durability, and comfort as board shorts for high-action events.