Board shorts get a bit shorter

IN A 1978 photo, Sean Collins strides out of the Pacific, a shaggy-bearded Poseidon with a surfboard -- and a pair of red Adidas surf trunks so short they're approaching Speedo territory.

They look good.

But style wasn't the point back then. Board shorts were performance gear, made of quick-drying poplins, nylons and polyesters instead of the heavy, water-logged cottons. Waistbands and legs were designed with the interaction of surfer and surfboard in mind, and grommets helped drain water quickly.

Board shorts: In an article in the July 20 Image section, shorts worn by surfer Sean Collins in a 1978 photograph were misidentified as Adidas brand. The shorts were made by Sundek.

Of course, by the 1990s, as surf culture was co-opted by the world beyond the beach, performance gave way to fashion, and along with flourishes such as camo prints and cargo pockets came a slow, steady southward creep until some so-called shorts were dipping just below the knee with an outseam of 22 inches.

Then, in the summer of 2006, a curious thing happened: Quiksilver, the board shorts behemoth, dipped into its archive and started reissuing some of its retro styles -- complete with 16-inch outseam -- and suddenly they seemed to be on everybody's short list.

This touched off a short run by brands from core to casual that has now hit critical mass. The result? Even if all you plan to surf this summer is the couch, you can do it in a pair of mid-thigh-grazing 17-inch board shorts in quick-drying nylon from J. Crew.

"This is the best summer we've had with the shorter-length shorts since they were re-introduced," says Hayes Overton, a buyer for Santa Monica's ZJ Boarding House. "The ones that are doing it best are pairing the short length with the classic '80s designs."

Insight, an Aussie brand that brought its board-shortie stateside in 2006, has been doing well with the colorful Retro Stud wide-stripe style. Other surf brands -- O'Neill, RVCA and Billabong -- have also boarded this season's short train. Quiksilver's shorter board short has been such a hit, it will roll out shorter retro walking shorts for spring.

And Sean Collins? Like the shorts he wore that summer day 30 years ago, the surfer, sailor and founder of has come full circle. On Friday, he will be one of four surfing legends inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame in Huntington Beach.