Surfing is a sport synonymous with Australia but also has strong roots in North and South America, along with European countries such as Spain and Portugal. The popularity of surfing has required more and more clothing brands to release products that not just cater to surfers when in the water – such as wetsuits, boots and rash vests – but out the water too.
Suffice to say: surfing is a sport that requires you to act cool, as well as look it. Your tight muscle t-shirt and Louis Vuitton belt will have you standing out like a sore thumb at after-surf beers, as everyone will usually be wearing an oversized t-shirt and some board shorts or relaxed-fit jeans. Shoes are optional. Unfortunately, there’s little we can do to improve your lineup awareness. What we can do, is help you look the part, with these surf brands that prove performance is no longer an affront to surfer fashion.
After all, to get into that laidback mindset, there’s nothing like rocking a few on-trend (or carefully chosen retrograde) threads; something the coolest surf brands below are more than happy to provide.
From Outerknown to Vissla to RVCA to TCSS to Former, these are the only surf brands the insides of your thighs will ever need to know when it comes to surfer clothing.
How To Wear A Surf Clothing
It helps if you surf, but you really don’t need to! In fact, most surf branded clothes are bought by people who’ve never put feet to wax. So all you need to do to is to bin the snapback, throw the trucker cap in the trash and purchase a Mikey Wright style Akubra (if you’re not brave enough to go all out and rock the mullet).
Pair this with some naturally bleached hair, trashed jeans, an oversized scoop neck, sockless Vans, a stupidly comfy jacket, and you’ve got yourself a surfer. Bonus tips include: avoiding tacky accessories and talking about the weather like an overqualified meteorologist.
And never washing your board shorts.
You could also, if you’re so inclined, dress like a skater (a la Craig Anderson) with chinos, button-ups and crew-neck tees or like a nue-age golfer (a la Kelly Slater) if you like to come off as a sophisticated globetrotter with enough dinero not just to travel the world, but also to plant enough trees to counteract the carbon emissions in your wake.
Also worthy of note, for those who emigrated to Mexico 20 years ago and just got back ‘on-grid’, is that legacy brands like Billabong and Rip Curl, despite sponsoring some of the hottest surfers on tour (Griff Colapinto, Italo Ferreira, Gabe, etc.) have lost their sheen in the eyes of the younger audience (in some cases by a magnitude of 40%) creating space for up and comers like Former, Rhythm, Outerknown and TCSS to heat up the market.
Surf Apparel Brands FAQ
What is a surfer style?
It comes down to the basics – tees, shorts, flannel, chinos and worn-in denim – something that you can pull off with your eyes closed. A surfer style should be casual, comfortable and above all, cool.
How to select the right wetsuit thickness ?
Your wetsuit’s thickness should depend on your local water temperature. For very cold water, a 6/5/4 wetsuit (6mm on the torso, 5 mm on the arms and 4 mm on the legs) is best. 2/1 is very thin and offer mid protection from water and wind.
How to wear board shorts?
Find a pair of board shorts that is versatile in terms of style and functionality. If you plan to wear them casually, choose colors that are muted and not gaudy, nothing too baggy or too long.
Despite being the promised love child of 11 time world champion Kelly Slater and acclaimed designer John Moore, Outerknown's first designs were a bit too vanilla for most surfers' liking. However, they have gradually become masters of eco-friendly, understated style, perfect for the man who wants to shred Hossegor beachies by day and hit exclusive Biarritz disco-theques by night.
A subculture that has risen out of the ashes of Billabong and Quicksilver, RVCA is a surf brand for the twenty (or thirty) year old who hasn't lost his teenage spirit and appreciates clothing that combines art, music, fashion, and a desire to disrupt the ordinary.
The Critical Slide Society
Founded in 2009 on Australia's sleepy central coast, The Critical Slide Society has come into it's own over the last few years, providing everything from dark and brooding to bright and sunny threads for on-trend surfers.
The brand for the surfer who doesn't want to look too much like a surfer, Saturday's NYC is as appropriate at a New York art show as it is in a Sydney cafe or a Torquay pub.
Founded by Billabong's former America's chief, Paul Naude, Vissla is the result of flagship surf brand execs smelling the roses and giving the youth what they want—eco friendly, innovative designs that the 'surf dads' are yet to catch on to.
For the surfer who owns a French Press and doesn't mind a retro throwback, Banks Journal, designed by Chris Schulstad, have an epic range of fashion-conscious prints, most notably their latest boardshort range, which takes you back to the 60's in style.
The Howler Brothers
For something a little offbeat (and for the man who ain't averse to a little fly fishing), The Howler Brothers are a quirky little brand based out of Texas, run by two mates who grew up surfing together in Florida.
Australian-born brand Rolla's is dedicated to all things denim. With a heavy focus on stripping denim back to its clean, simple basics, Rolla's produces jeans and denim jackets in the classic silhouettes any surfer would froth over, from skinny to straight-cut fit, and in various shades of blue and black. Comfort is a precedence for Rolla's too, with the majority of its jeans featuring some hint of stretch. Rounding out its clothing range is a selection of shirts and t-shirts, all offering cool, laidback vibes.
Let's be honest: real surfers go to Hurley for two garments. Boardshorts and wetsuits. And although this sporty brand were initially predicted to crash and burn in the 'rebellious' surfer market (Hurley is a subsidiary of Nike), it turns out all of surfing's cool cats, from John John to Julian Wilson, are huge fans.
Noa Deane is now to Volcom what Craig Anderson used to be for Quicksilver: instant street cred. Not that they really needed it—of all the legacy surf brands, Volcom is probably the only one that has stayed cool all this time, sponsoring some of the industry's biggest legends and wildcards like Ozzie Wright and Ryan Burch.
Barney Cools is an Australian based lifestyle brand that has built a reputation for having a rebellious spirit and open mind. It's this ethos defines their clothing which you'll find no where else, it's all super cool, laid back and somewhat alternative. It's the perfect surf companion.
Founded by two friends from Brazil who have a love for all things boardsport-related, Cariuma is a footwear brand that places an emphasis on comfort and sustainability. The entire range of canvas sneakers (it's only canvas you'll find here) are made from materials that include bamboo, naturally-obtained rubber, organic cotton and ethically-sourced sugarcane, along with a number of recycled materials. Almost half of the company's footwear range is 100% vegan (a percentage it is continually striving to increase) and best of all, the sneakers are surprisingly handsome.
You'll find a range of styles encompassing low and high-top, along with an extensive selection of colours to suit any casual outfit. And, for every pair of Cariuma sneakers bought, the company will plant a pair of trees in Brazil to combat deforestation.
Founded in Australia's famous Byron Bay in 1962 by an equally famous Bob McTavish, McTavish has built a reputation for not only making some of the finest boards to grace the water, but also for creating a selection of super cool laid back clothing to complement. Their clothing is the perfect beach companion and will comfortably take you from the beach to any coffee shop or cafe.
Not just a fair weather surfer? Patagonia, which was originally a climbing brand, now makes some of the classiest outdoor gear around for any surfer who needs to keep himself warm with sustainable threads. They have also recently started doing a cool summer collection (especially the flannel shirt range), which has their trademark durability and automatically (we reckon) invokes you with the bumbling charm of a British adventurer of old. Our conclusion? Patagonia proves sustainability doesn't have to be an affront to style, and can actually embellish it.
Swell was founded in 1999 as an "action sports retailer" to deliver clothing and accessories that deliver on both style and substance. The brand has expanded into offering surf hardware products such as board bags and leashes, and has since been taken over by online retailer SurfStitch where it has become an exclusive brand.
The definition of an alternative brand, Rhythm is a globe-trotter's colourful best friend, launched on Anzac Day 2003 by a crew of surfing creatives who saw a gap in the market for a melding of surf, art, music and lifestyle.
Katin started life in 1954 in Surfside, California as Kanvas by Katin, a company selling boat covers. Walter & Nancy Katin expanded into clothing when Corky Carroll asked for a pair of robust surf shorts, which the Katins made from their durable boat cover material. Both Walter & Nancy have since passed away, but their seamstress continues to run the company to this day, including the original shop in California. The Katin ideal of selling high-quality, durable goods remains.
Deus Ex Machina
Whilst originally founded for revved up motorbike enthusiasts, Deus Ex Machina has dabbled in the surf world to complement their bikes and ultra cool clothing line. Their 'surf' offering includes a selection of retro 'rubber' that looks at home on any longboard or single fin. They also have a great selection of clothing that will keep you looking fresh when you're by the beach or out at a bar. Whatever you're in need of Deus is well worth a look, they have one of the best curated aesthetics around.
Thrills describes itself as a "culture defining lifestyle fashion brand". Lifestyle most certainly, as it's not just surfers who have flocked to the company's music and motorcycle culture-inspired designs. The brand is the brainchild of three friends who share a love of music, art and culture. They got their Aussie-inspirations after moving from the USA to Byron Bay and in the past 10 years, has seen exponential growth.
Founded in 1969, in Tourquay, Australia, Quiksilver is known as on of the best surf brands all over the world. They have a broad selection of sea fearing and land oriented clothing that will keep you comfortable and looking chilled out wherever you are.
When Craig Anderson ended a multi-million dollar contract with Quicksilver to join who many regard to be the best freesurfer in the world, Dane Reynolds, and the most stylish skaters in the world, Austyn Gillette and Dylan Rieder, to found an indie new brand, it marked a pivotal moment in the surf industry (it was also around the same time Kelly Slater left Quicksilver to start Outerknown). Inspired by surfings old (or 'former') anti-establishment spirit and skating's grunge-y style (which never went anywhere), Former makes clothes and surfwear that performs like athletic brands like Hurley, but doesn't make you look like a jock.
Misfit Shapes represents a gritty response to a corporrate era. An OG 'surf' movement that allows art, design and individuality to co-exist, as they put it, "within a realm more commonly dominated by conformity and observation." Misfit Shapes is fast becoming known as a rare collective of mildly deranged but high-powered surfers and designers with threads to match. Not luxe, but not bad looking, and not too pricey either.
What would any surf related article be without Rip Curl. The famed Bells beach born brand invented the wetsuit and has been improving on it ever since. They also offer an extensive selection of other clothing and water wear that will suit anyone.
Score one for the underdog. Who doesn't love to support small, local businesses? Well, it's even easier to do so when the brand in question is one of quality, eco-consciousness and sustainability. Enter, Halska, an Australian surf wear label founded in Cronulla, Sydney (a hotspot for big waves) that promises to deliver simple, minimalist clothing (so far encompassing t-shirts, hoodies and accessories) with a prominent focus placed on ensuring as much of the production process takes place in Australia itself.
That means greater control over quality, which ultimately means a bigger smile on your face. Best of all, this fledgling brand already ships worldwide, so it's not just us Australians who get to benefit.
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