The Design Style of Surf as Told Through Boardshorts


Max Vorlop was on Oahu’s North Shore during the Vans Triple Crown surfing series in early December. He couldn’t help himself; the inspiration was all around. He was snapping pictures of every Hawaiian flower he could find, visiting museums to go in-depth on Hawaiian culture. Vorlop, a Vans boardshort designer, was inspired.

The design style of surfing comes no clearer than through a boardshort, the one piece of apparel always on (hopefully, at least) a male surfer. “What’s great is that (surf style) can be anything,” Vorlop tells HOW Design. “There is such a rich heritage, so much back catalog to draw from and there is a strong sense of style that comes along with it.”NATE-H15-COLLECTION_RAN0910

From the flowers in yards to prints on quilts found in museums, the surfing heritage can help drive design. And that’s just using Hawaii as motivations. The surf heritage and culture has so many roots, from the 1920s in Waikiki, the 1950s in Malibu, California, the 1970s vintage looks from California or the 1980s at Pipeline on the North Shore, just to name a few.

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Boardshort design inspiration

Boardshort design inspiration

But Vorlop says he doesn’t stop at history to help inform the next wave of surf design. “There is so much going on in the world of art and style outside of surf, whether on the runways or in modern art,” he says. “We filter that through the lens of surf.”

But how does that surf lens change designs? If tiny prints have turned the rage in modern fashion, a surf motif may use a palm tree or a hula girl as the key image playing on the tiny prints. Vans also works with artists, musicians and other brands for collaborations to keep it modern.

Daniel Hernandez, Vans merchandiser, says that while surf design may have a classic style, it can have modern comfort with new fabrications or silhouettes. “While staying true to classic surf heritage, maybe it has modern prints and stripes, not just a 1950s look-a-like,” he tells HOW. All the while, though, the surf culture demands authenticity.

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Take professional surfer Joel Tudor as an example. The surfer tells HOW he has been designing board shorts since he was a teenager, learning about fabrics, stitches and waistband widths from a longstanding Hawaiian seamstress shop decades ago. Now with multiple signature boardshort iterations with Vans (and prior to that with Diesel), Tudor plays to that authenticity, finding fabrics, prints and designs from his travels around the world that speak to the culture of surf. Hernandez calls him a surf design “historian.”

“My whole existence, it has made sense (to design),” he says. Now he enjoys working with artists and designers to create new looks, patterns and colorways to appeal to both culture and style.

As surf design has evolved, so has the concept of surf lines. Sure, the boardshort will always remain the “heart of the surf market,” but that is because it is the one piece of clothing pioneered by the surf industry. You have flip-flops, t-shirts, hats and more that fall perfectly in line with surf culture, but those apparel items didn’t originate in surf, so their surf style always takes a cue from the boardshort driving the culture. Maybe a flip-flop will have a flower print from the short, a t-shirt the exact short pattern in a new color or a hat with a patch found on the short. The design always starts with the boardshort.
Sp16-GlobalConsideration-M-SturdyStretchBoardshorts-JoelTudorDressBlues-JoelTudorDressBlues Sp16-GlobalConsideration-M-SturdyStretchBoardshorts-JoelTudorDressBlues-Side In the end, though, Vorlop says the world of surf design revolves—at least for him—around excitement.

“It is really whatever keeps us stoked,” he says, “whatever excites us in the moment.”

For Vorlop, right now, that’s an array of Hawaiian flowers.

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Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW Design. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.


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