Growing up as a surfer girl in Southern California, I became somewhat of a bikini and rash guard connoisseur. In the early 90s, not only was I one of the only girls out there, but the apparel available for female surfers was … lacking. Unless you were cool with wearing a boxy, flimsy rashguard meant for boys and a bikini that couldn’t withstand a rough day on a lake, let alone a solid 4-to-5-foot summer swell. I learned early on to equate “cute” with “non-functional,” and grudgingly soldiered on in my too-loose board shorts and sports bra-shaped bikini tops.
My oh my how things have changed! There are entire clothing lines dedicated to the female surfer—and they are adorable! Fit, function and fashion are no longer mutually exclusive, and you can hardly call surfing a “boy’s club” any longer, which warms my heart every time I head down to the beach and see a dozen little grommettes preparing to paddle out to the line up.
I’ve long touted the merits of fitting surfing into a regular triathlon training routine. It’s a great workout, prevents swimming burnout, and it also improves your open water confidence—but it’s a moot point if you don’t live near the ocean or really have no interest in hanging ten. For those of you looking for a good cross-training exercise that has full-body toning benefits, I recommend stand up paddle boarding. It’s much faster and easier to learn than surfing, it’s fun to do socially and it really is a great workout. Start out by renting an SUP board and head out on a calm body of water like a lake or slow-moving river, and have fun!
If you find you love paddle boarding (which most everyone does), at some point you’re going to want to look the part. You don’t (usually) get as wet on an SUP board as you do surfing, unless you take a tumble, but you still want clothing that breathes well, has some sun protection—and of course makes you look like a bad ass. Betty Designs founder Kristin Mayer, an avid surfer and paddleboarder herself as well as Kona qualifier and elite triathlete, has recently come out with a line of surfing/SUP wear that, quite frankly, would have made my days on the high school swim and surfing teams a lot more fashionable. Here are some of my top picks from the line:
Before testing out these little gems, I’d never really considered paddling in anything but board shorts or a bikini. The best time to paddle really is early morning or sunset, and if you live in pretty much any area other than Southern California or Hawaii (I’m now a San Francisco resident), then you know that those early morning/sunset temps can get rather chilly out on the water.
These Capris offered the perfect, quick-drying coverage, not too much so that they got wet and soggy, but enough to keep my legs warm in the cool breeze along the water. The design is adorable, with enough of an edge to get you noticed in the water without being too flashy. The high waistband is especially awesome because it basically acts like a tummy slimmer, keeping you feeling sleek out on the water. I always hated the drawstring board shorts for this very reason: They might have looked cute walking toward the water, but as soon as I was actually sitting on my board or trying to move along a wave they were incredibly awkward, unflattering and restrictive. Unlike the men they were designed for, we ladies have hips dammit! And drawstring anything are really only suitable for the snake-hipped females out there, and I’m not one of them.
- Tip: These Capris run SMALL. Order up a size, or better yet ask someone at Betty Designs to help you with your sizing. They want you to get it right the first time, and you’ll be glad you did.
I like a rash guard with some meat on it. If as soon as it gets wet I can see the designs on my bikini underneath—I’m not interested. I don’t see the point, and I kind of hate the way it looks. It’s like I’m in a one-person wet T-shirt contest or something. The Signature rash guard is a heavier Lycra blend (and it’s black), so it never became even slightly see through during a two-hour paddle session where I tipped overboard more than once due to rough conditions (and perhaps my tendency to try and race my husband when I shouldn’t). The design is simple: the Betty Designs signature skull and butterfly logo in the center, along with a simple blue stripe on one sleeve. It’s a fitted cut, so order appropriately if you want things a little bit roomier in the bust or stomach area.
Okay, okay, I know the word “Brazilian” had a tendency to send some of the more modest of us out there running for the hills (or toward the Tankini section), but I assure you—this suit with make a bikini-wearer out of you yet. Before I started wearing this bikini, I was a tried-and-true one-piece girl at Masters workouts and if the surf was ever more than a foot high. I’m not Dolly Parton by any stretch—but I’m no ironing-board chest either—and ever since my high school days where bikinis were little more than ocean disasters waiting to happen, I’ve been skeptical that bikini technology could rise to the occasion. The Betty Designs bikini has stayed in place during massive IM sets, head-high surfing sets, and umpteen paddleboarding adventures. The cut is small (it is Brazilian after all), but after wearing it for the past month at Masters I went back to my one-piece for a morning and realized that the bikini was actually far more flattering on me than the Speedo ever was. There are dozens of color and design variations for this bikini, but I opted for a solid turquoise-color (it’s called “vibrant mint”) with the Betty Designs logo on one triangle. I get compliments on the suit every single day—and hey a girl can get used to that.
For more Betty Designs apparel, check out my review on her 2014 cycling line HERE.