Board shorts are a staple of warm-water surfing. The trunks’s design has developed in tandem with the sport as it expanded through the latter half of the 20th century. Now, an infusion of new materials and technology offer performance that traditional nylon board shorts just can’t match. Bonded seams, water-resistant treatments, stretch fabric and laser-cut details are defining the new breed of performance trunks. One of the best examples is the Apex Trunk from Outerknown — Kelly Slater’s signature board short. While the price — the solid black colorway costs $145 — is far greater than traditional trunks, the features and performance follow suit. These aren’t your traditional trunks, and that’s a good thing.
Outerknown Apex Trunks by Kelly Slater
Material: 86 percent recycled polyester, 8 percent recycled spandex, 6 percent spandex with PFOA-free DWR
Construction: Bonded, stitch-free seams
Pocket: Welded back pocket with an Aquaguard zipper and internal bungee key ring
Length: 19-inch outseam
Our Hands-On Review
On test day, the waves in the New York area weren't anything to write home about. The Atlantic was as flat as a lake. I slotted a few times to get out, though, and I made sure to bring the Apex Trunks with me to test. And full disclosure: I’m not a highly gifted surfer who’s devoted his life to the waves. I was introduced to surfing relatively late, comparatively, but it’s become a significant part of my life. Over the years I’ve worn a number of different board shorts in the water, but most recently I’ve been alternating between a traditional pair of Birdwell’s and a modern pair from Volcom. The Apex Trunk from Outerknown is at another level though.
Designed by 11-time surfing world champion Kelly Slater, the trunks are made from a 4.9-ounce recycled-polyester fabric that features four-way stretch (14 percent spandex) and PFOA-free DWR treatment. This performance fabric is both stretchy, water-resistant and in line with Outerknown’s sustainable practices. Another significant feature is the stitch-free bonded seams that make chafing a thing of the past. To help with ventilation, the trunks also include laser-cut details at the side seam.
The Apex Trunks are sleek and minimal; they aren’t weighed down with details aimed at the casual beachgoer. The only pocket they include is a stitch-free back pocket that includes an Aquaguard zipper and internal key ring. A cool aside is that the trunks pack into the back pocket for travel, a condensed way to transport your board shorts. Available in five colorways, the trunk retails for $125 (blacked-out colorway) and $145 (color-blocked options).
Using the Apex trunk was a bit of a revelation. While the Atlantic’s waves weren’t pumping, I still managed to spend long days at the beach with my groveler. The trunks were comfortable and non-restrictive. They remained light after hours in the water and the fit was ideal. Fastening with both velcro and a double-lace closure, the trunk didn’t falter under through hours of use. I honestly didn’t even think about them after a while, but that’s perhaps the best part. They allow you to focus on yourself, the ocean and the next set of waves.
These board shorts are lightweight, flexible and breathable. Because they feature bonded, stitch-free seams, they eliminate chances of seam-chafing, something bound to happen while living in your trunks on a surf trip or long weekend. The slimmed-down construction also allows these to be packed into their back pocket for travel, an efficient way to bring your trunks anywhere. On top of the well-thought-out design, the Apex Trunks fit into Outerknown’s sustainable ethos of ethical manufacturing and responsible materials.
Who They’re For
As the price implies, these aren’t your everyday board shorts. They’re designed for someone who spends a lot of time in the water and needs a lightweight and durable short that won’t slow them down. The added stretch — 14 percent Spandex — allows for ease of motion both in and out of the water. These aren’t a hybrid short designed for all-day wear and lack functional lifestyle features like a working fly and side pocket — they’re made for performance in the water.
Make sure you check Outerknown’s sizing chart before ordering because these aren’t as adjustable in the waist as traditional board shorts. I found that they fit true-to-size, but it’s worth double-checking your measurements before ordering. As these are designed for performance, they don’t have side pockets. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, check out some of the other Outerknown options. For a trunk focused on stitch-less construction, there is one anomaly: the care tag is stitched to a small portion of the inner waistband. While it didn’t cause irritation when I used the trunk, it may for some people.
If you’re someone who spends a lot of time in the water during the warmer months, these shorts are hard to beat. They offer performance-driven features, modern design and ethical manufacturing in a package that’s very fairly priced compared to the competition. If you suffer from chafing in traditional shorts, you’ll definitely appreciate these stitch-free seams. While they certainly cost more than traditional styles, you’re getting a lot more for your money.
What Other Experts Are Saying
• “We’re looking at 9/10 for overall use and 10/10 for this amazing construction, for an eco-friendly premium boardshort.” — Goofyfoot George, YouTube
If you’re into Outerknown’s sustainable mission and don’t need a board short that’s so performance-oriented, they make more affordable options: the Apex Hybrid Trunk ($128), Tasty Scallop Trunk ($128) and Nomadic Volley ($78).