In 1959, California's Walt and Nancy Katin started selling shorts made specifically for surfing. This fact gives the couple the distinction of being the originators of the boardshort. Throughout most of the '50s they'd been making canvas covers for boats in the nearby Long Beach and Huntington harbors, but after sewing some durable, surf-specific trunks for a few area surfers, their new business was off and running -- and so was the surf industry, worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 billion today.
Boardshorts remain the flagship product for most surfwear brands. Flip through Surfer magazine's recently released "Big Issue" and it's page upon page of ads for the latest and greatest in surf-trunk technology. "Boardshort Buyer's Guides" can be found online. And it extends from the beach to the catwalk: Even high fashion has their rendition of the classic cut.
But forget the hype and the slick marketing campaigns. For those who actually wear them in the water, a good pair of boardshorts has always been about how well they serve the purpose Walt and Nancy originally intended.
Perhaps we can thank global warming for this one, but the ocean temp in Orange County, Calif., has been hovering around 70 degrees since mid-May. It's been nothing but boardies for months, which gave me the chance to pit Hurley's top-shelf Phantom Fuse 2 trunks against Rip Curl's Mirage. The fact that the Phantoms have won SIMA's "Boardshort of the Year" five years running was reason enough to put them to the test. But they carry a $125 price tag, which was added motivation to see how well they really performed.
And when it came to the Mirage, Rip Curl advertised them as being made with "Aggrolite." What is "Aggrolite"? I don't know, but it sure sounds cool. And the Mirage retails for $65, making them half the price of the Phantom.
And so the test was on. I surfed, body surfed, took my kid surfing, lounged around in the sand, even did some beach runs in both pairs of trunks. Somewhat cynical about my endeavor, I figured there probably wasn't going to be much difference between the two.
I came to find I was wrong. There is a difference. And that difference would be, gross as it may sound, butt sweat. Yes, butt sweat.
In the water, both the Phantom Fuse 2 and the Mirage felt great. Both are cut just above the knee, which helps with cleaner takeoffs and less trunk entanglement. The Mirage is a little lighter and seems to flitter through the water as you paddle, sort of like a fishing lure, which feels cool. Also, the Mirage has the wax pocket built into one of the legs, which seemed a little more functional.
The Phantom has an unobtrusive pocket in the back, but twice I fumbled and lost chunks of wax when they got tangled up. Losing your wax is always kind of a bummer, and most of the blame probably falls on me, but just the same, it doesn't happen often.
As for construction, both the Phantom and Mirage have kept their seams to a minimum. Chafing or rash wasn't ever an issue in either pair, even wearing them all day. Rip Curl preferred to go with more-traditional stitching for most seams, while Hurley used laser cuts, welding and spot taping. After less than a dozen surfs in the Phantom, one of the sewn seams around the waistband was beginning to come unstitched. If I'm paying $125 for a pair of boardshorts, that probably shouldn't happen.
But what really separated the two pairs of trunks was, as mentioned, butt sweat. Hurley utilized a neoprene-based material on the inside of the waistband. The intention was good; designers were obviously looking for a way to help the super-stretchy fabric stay better adhered to your hips in the water. Unfortunately, if you're not surfing in them, the material is not breathable, and in warm summer weather this leads to -- you guessed it -- butt sweat.
The Mirage uses a more standard fabric in the waistband, which would probably make them more comfortable in tropical climes. I can't really imagine spending all day, every day, in the Phantoms; the sweat issue is just kind of too gross.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of good brands out there offering a lot of good boardshorts. The key is to take your time, try on as many as you want and get the right fit. Pay attention to the details and ignore the hype and the price tag. There's still plenty of summer left; it's time to trunk it.