"If the shoe fits wear it" … so the saying goes and that's all well and good but as any of you that have ever worn an ill fitting shoe can attest, fit is a crucial element of any apparel offering.
Fit is particularly relevant in the case of trunks and workwear. For this very reason we joined forces with an expert team to ensure we did everything possible to produce items that fit by developing a block / template backed by decades of experience. We knew what good trunks needed to feel like but we did not know how to make them … That lead us to the desk of Peter "Tange" Grey.
Peter Grey (Above) has spent his entire life in and around board short factories: he’s built, owned and managed them in Australia, USA, Philippines, Indonesia and China. At 72 years of age – tailor by trade and surfer by design – Pete could be considered the largest repository of boardshort design IP that exists. Here he shares some insights.
Let’s start with three fundamentals:
If it’s called a “boardshort”, it should be optimized for surfing. Thus it should afford the surfer the requisite freedom of movement without discomfort. It should minimize rashing.
This seems simple enough – so why do so many “boardshorts” fail to deliver these basic attributes? The simple answer is this: in the decades since production moved from surfing countries to non-surfing China, the shapers of boardshorts have no idea about the end use of the product – surfing.
By “shapers” I mean the pattern makers who “design the shape” of boardshorts. Would you have someone who’s never seen the ocean shape you a board? And if you did, would you expect it to work?
None of the above should be construed as China-bashing. I’ve worked in Asia alongside pattern makers who make great jackets, shirts or dress pants. I’ve just never met one who knew anything about what makes a good boardshort. You simply can’t apply dress-pants rules to a short and call it a boardshort.
Now to some specifics.
Almost all brands present their garments to their Asian vendors via a tech-pack. More specifically the size-spec – a set of numbers on a spreadsheet which are then converted to a shape by a shaper who’s-never-seen-the-sea.
This shaper’s only aim is to “meet the spec”. The “shape” is definitely subordinate to the “spec”. Because of this fact, it is imperative to look at how we arrived at those numbers on the spreadsheet. Did we measure a pair of shorts that were comfortable? Great! But those numbers will not necessarily translate to the same fit. In fact they rarely will.
Here are two examples of front legs that will both “meet the spec”. But they will function completely differently. By the way, the black line is a popular brand’s “Relaxed fit”.
Above: The blue line is the our fit compared to a regular fit.
So what’s going to make the functional difference? The angles. No spec-sheet can define the angles and it’s the angles that define functionality.
My point in all of the above is that the development of a great surfing fit must involve the pattern shaper understanding the purpose of the short and having the experience necessary to “see” the angles. The skill is in the eye, not in Excel.
Now let’s compare a relaxed fit pattern with the pattern I hope you have a chance to surf in:
Above: Our fit is in red, the blue "J" is a tuxedo fit and the black a regular fit.
I have overlaid my pattern in red over the a popular surf brand pattern. The first point to address is the J-curve. Both the curve itself and the angle of front seam are the determining factors in comfort and freedom of movement. I added a blue line which shows the J-curve of dress suit pants. Dress suits must show a smooth, flattering front so freedom of movement is not an issue. They are made to look best standing rather than moving. Therefore the front seam is vertical. The current popular brand front seam is roughly equivalent to the angle you would find on a pair of jeans. More movement, but not much action. But the curve part of the J-curve is tighter than the (blue) tuxedo curve. I would bet that this is the reason for plenty of discomfort out in the surf. The red line has a lot more angle and a more open curve. Put bluntly; more ballroom. Likewise the back seam has more angle and a more open curve. Less binding.
Then we should look at the rise heights of these respective patterns:
Back in the 80’s we all wore short, tight boardies pretty much on our waists. Remember Tommy Carroll? Then cool kids began buying a size bigger so their shorts sat on their hips rather than at their waists. Eventually brands began making their waists bigger so that the shorts sat on the hip. But the waist was the only thing that changed. So the crotch now sat a few inches below the crutch. Webbing had arrived.
Webbing doesn’t matter if you’re a hip-hop guy walking in the ‘hood. But sitting waiting for a wave? Or trying to get quickly to your feet?
Having been a tailor in the hipster (and flares) era, the solution was obvious. You want your shorts lower on your hip? Cut it off the top!! This retains the integrity of shape and keeps the crotch where it should be so no webbing and no restriction standing up or crouching low. A side benefit is that, as you can see in the diagram, you are cutting off most of the area of the back dart. So it was easy to eliminate the dart completely. There’s a lot more I could add but I’d start to get into the area of proprietary knowledge.
In closing, two points:
- My boardshort patterns have evolved over a forty plus year period and they are still evolving. What you wear now is where they’re at now but next year they’ll be better.
- Computers (and shapers-who-never-saw-the-ocean) can duplicate or imitate. But they can never innovate.