For a long time, I struggled on and off with rash every time I went surfing.
Initially, I thought the marks on my neck resulted from too many consecutive mornings and evenings spent in a wetsuit.
I even wondered if the searing pain on my thighs after surfing was from the cheap boardshorts I acquired from my local store.
Even recently, I assumed the rashes under my armpits and chest resulted from the surfboard wax that irritated my skin.
But as it turns out, while surfboard wax or swimming in tight-fitting wetsuits may upset your skin, there’s a more encompassing and ultimately inescapable reason for all these.
Generally, surf rash happens when your skin is softened and weakened by exposure to saltwater. The abrasive sea salt and sand also create an exfoliator effect, causing inflammation, pain, and superficial wounds.
Simply put, once you’re on the water and something is rubbing against your skin, you’re likely to develop rashes.
Now, there’re several remedies to surf rashes, some effective and others not so.
The most effective way to keep away from surf rashes is never to surf… It’s not a real option!
The other method is using petroleum jelly, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Sure, Vaseline is good at stopping rash, but it rubs off easily. It also makes your board slick as ice and may degrade and damage your wetsuit over time. This is not to mention it pollutes the immediate environment.
My go-to option is investing in a good quality rash guard. The best rash guards for surfing are pretty reliable at keeping the spots, marks, and chaffs on your skin at bay.
They’re also great for your kids as you don’t have to worry about applying and then reapplying sunblock as they offer sun protection. Great for tanning.
Sure, they may not shield you from the wrath of a Jellyfish sting or even sea lice, but these shirts will definitely curb the intensity of their offensive.
They are also essential for surfers, especially for those with body hair. Wax and hair, as we all know, don’t go too well.
But with many of the surf shirts, how do you choose the right one for your needs?
Here’s a review of our favorite rash guards.
Table of Contents
The Best Rash Guards for Surfing For The Money
#1 O'Neill Men's Premium Skins - EDITOR'S CHOICE
O’Neill Men’s Premium Skins is, without a doubt, the best rash guard I’ve used. The quality, feel, comfort, and performance of this rash guard is almost perfect.
It feels comfortable in my body, and well, I couldn’t just be happier with my selection.
I preferred the O’Neil Premium over other rash guards by O’Neil because it’s made of nylon and not polyester!
While the nylon spandex runs a bit expensive, it has a silky feel and allows incredible body-hugging. Sure, polyester is okay, perfect for the casual rash guard. Its lighter feel is ideal for leisure beach use, but if you plan to do some serious stuff such as surfing or swimming, go for the nylon Premium.
O’Neil Premium Rash Guard also features a 4-way stretch fabric and is long enough to hold itself in place and not ride up or shift around when you’re in the water. It feels like second a skin , and eliminates the floating around when surfing, swimming, or snorkeling.
Meanwhile, the strategically designed seams and flatlock stitching eliminates chafing and gives the surfers a much greater range of movements than most other rash guards.
The fabric on the O’Neil Premium is thin but quite durable and will survive abuse for a long time.
Of course, it’s not ideal for fighting fires. It’s also probably too thin to wear as arctic protection and won’t shield you from gamma or cosmic radiation.
It’ll, however, protect you from box jelly stings, and if you’re in good shape, it may also help you pick some women on the beach.
But more importantly, I’ve worn this form-fitting rash guard at the beach on 80+ degree sunny days when surfing for several hours, and I was surprised to find out that I never felt hot because of wearing this swim shirt.
With the highest UPF rating of 50+, the O’Neil Premium Rash Guard will save you from the hassle of getting oiled up now and then and shield you against the harmful UV rays.
These shirts rely on the principle of evaporative cooling, drawing heat away from your body, and keeping you cool.
Plus, these shirts are breathable and quick-drying and will keep you feeling super comfy in and out of the water.
#2 O'Neill Thermo X Long Sleeve Rash Guard - Most Versatile Rash Guard
Our second pick is yet another high-performance rash guard from O’Neil.
The Thermo X is the most versatile thermal rash guard on our list and a piece that swimmers, warm-water surfers, and cold-water surfers can use to insulate wetsuits that are too thin or leaking.
Plus, it’s incredibly low-bulk and lightweight, with the whole garment weighing less than 220g. It won’t bog you down and feels like a second skin.
But its signature feature is the patented Thermo X technology, which helps regulate your core body temperature whatever climate you’re in. Few rash guards have this feature.
I love the temperature regulation for several reasons.
First, it extends my surfing and swimming sessions as I don’t have to cut my time on the water because of the cold water.
Swimming in the chilly and unheated pools at night is now more enjoyable with these shirts as they help to warm up your body.
For fall and year-round surfers and bathers with wetsuits, this Rash Guard can extend the temperature range and life of their suit. This is to say, if your suit isn’t quite thick, you can always slide into this bad boy for more “blubber.”
Likewise, if your wetsuit is in shambles, this swim shirt can shore up the hole and slow leaks.
Simply put, the O’Neil Thermo X Rash Guard is a great option, even if you’re only going to be in moderately cool water or swimming at night.
Also, if it’s windy, the rash guard helps to keep my body warm, especially when doing backstrokes and getting out of the pool to come back inside.
Aside from the incredible thermal protection, this rash guard is breathable and doesn’t add any bulk. It will keep you comfortably cool when active.
It doesn’t add quite a bit of drag, though; that takes some getting used to. However, it helps and may be effective for strength training. If you’ve hit a wall, you can try this swim shirt to rechallenge your muscles.
It comes with 4-way stretch fabric and ergonomically designed seams. The snug fit is great and ensures there’s absolutely no restriction in your movement.
Even when dry, it’s super snug but not suffocating. I could still wear it out of the water. Plus, the slim fit looks sexy on everyone.
But keep in mind it runs a bit expensive but worth every penny.
#3 Hurley Dri Fit Sleeve Protection Rash Guard - Best Quick-Drying
The Hurley Quick Dry isn’t the most stylish rash guard, but it’s lightweight and airy feel make it the most comfortable UPF long-sleeved t-shirt both in and out of the water.
It boasts of Nike’s Dri-Fit technology, which helps deliver a comfy and stretchable comfort, whether deep in the water diving or on the beach sun tanning.
The most important thing to note about Hurley is it’s comfy and lightweight enough to leave on after you’re out of the water. In contrast, heavier shirts are a drag to wear wet and will leave you with a chill.
I’ve spent time with the Hurley, and while its design isn’t anywhere technical, it’s best for people looking to spend their time on the beach while keeping the sun’s harmful rays at bay while staying cool.
It’s also a quick-drying sun shirt, even when wet, and this alone makes it my favorite rash guard. It dries out pretty fast, while the moisture-wicking properties remove away sweat when you’re out of the waters.
While it comes short of some of the technical aspects of the best rash guard, it’s comfortable enough to leave on even after you’re done with your surf.
Plus, this odor-resistant guard feels ultra-thin, so you won’t feel like you’re even wearing a t-shirt. Still, with a UPF rating of 50+, it’ll save you from the need for constant sunscreen lathering. But more importantly, it offers sun protection from the harmful effects of UV rays and rash prevention.
Hurley Rash Guard fit is right on size, which is nice. It’s not too tight, which is key with a rash guard. It also has a little room, so it doesn’t stick to the love handles.
The shirt’s design is also simple, plain black with a little logo. My brother loves the shirts as he doesn’t like to show off the clothing brand, so this was a nice purchase as the logo is small.
Sure, it’s pretty basic, with a more loose-fitting but not too baggy size. Perfect for those who need comfort.
The only point I’ll deduct from the Hurley is for staining. The shirt is designed for fishing, but it stains easily, and taking it out on the fishing was a big mistake.
#4 O'Neill Men's Basic Skins - Best Overall Rash Guard for Men
As with other O’Neil rashies we’ve reviewed, you can’t go wrong with the Basic Skins rash guard.
This best long sleeve Rash Guard is the best in terms of comfort, style, and performance. It’s also one of the best rash guards for men.
One of the things I love the most with the O’Neill Men’s Basic Skins is the UPF rating of 50+ sun protection. It works well, helping users from getting sunburns while also keeping you from rubbing on the corals during snorkeling trips.
But a few important things you should know, as the name implies “skins,” so the Basic Skins isn’t a very good insulator, but meant for maximum sun protection and block.
The airy design also allows heat and moisture to escape your skin, making you feel cooler for longer periods when not in the water. Even when sweating, the shirt won’t make you feel hot.
It’ll shield you from the sun’s harmful UV rays but is only appropriate for a warm climate or tropical water diving.
The 6-ounce polyester/ spandex is thick but not enough to protect you from the chills of cold water. However, if you still need to surf in cold water, you can wear it under a dry suit.
While offering great sun protection, the Basic Skins Long-sleeved guard is flexible, giving you enough freedom to slide and glide across the waves without any restrictions.
Its flexibility also means you can wear Basic Skins guard both alone and underneath your wetsuits and provides rash protection with minimal seam placement.
Basic’s shirt length is also perfect. The length extends well below the waist, while the long sleeves go just beyond the wrist without riding during activity.
This long sleeve shirt also has a comfortable crew neck and is intended to act as a second skin. It hugs your body well while ensuring there’s minimal heat absorption.
Despite the snug fit, the Basic Skins long sleeve shirt is incredibly comfortable. The material used on the Basic is both lightweight and breathable, while its seamless paddle zones work to reduce chafing.
The strategically-placed seams with flatlock stitching also help to reduce the risk of chafing.
Finally, the superior style, performance, and comfort O’Neil Basics bring you will want you to wear any of the colors it features.
It’s not the cheapest in the market, but its technical features, classic details, and simplistic style make it worth it in your eyes.
Basic’s quick-drying properties and comfortable fits mean it can be worn all day long in and out of the water.
#5 Kanu Surf Men’s Long Sleeves Platinum UPF 50+ Rash Guard - Best Long Sleeve Rash Guards
Our last pick, the Kanu Surf long sleeve guard, is an excellent rash guard from a brand that has been designing and selling surf wear since 1997.
As with all Kanu products, the Kanu Surf Long Sleeves is high-functioning and a good rash guard. It’s versatile too and can be used in different conditions.
It has a nice blend of materials consisting of 87% polyester and 13% spandex, so it’s just as flexible as it’s durable.
Polyester guarantees that the material remains soft so no chaffing on your skin, while spandex allows the fabric to stretch according to your physique and body movements.
The rash vest also has a generous UPF rating of 50+ sun protection, so you don’t have to worry about applying sunblock to your body. More importantly, it provides the best protection under the sun, and you won’t have to worry about getting sunburnt after a long day of surfing.
Kanu’s fabric is also dense and will protect from cold. While not effective when used on its own, it can be used as an additional layer of thermal protection during the colder months. Also, if you plan on being in the water for a prolonged period, this shirt can be extremely handy.
This ocean-pleaser is also form-fitting and may make a suitable addition to underneath clothing or a wet suit.
Another thing surfers don’t need to worry about with the Kanu Surf long sleeve is how it holds up against the elements of the ocean. You’ll be impressed by the durable construction that stands up to chlorine and saltwater. Plus, the long sleeves will cover most of your skin.
For further convenience, Kanu is machine-washable, so you don’t have to waste time handwashing the suit after every use.
Sizing shouldn’t be one less thing to worry about as it’s available in various sizes, so perfect for surfers of all levels.
Best Rash Guards Buying Guide
In our best rash guards buying guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about swim shirts and selecting the best option for your surfing needs.
But first, let’s define rash guards.
What are Rash Guards?
Rash guards, also known as rash vests or swim shirts, are athletic shirts made out of spandex, polyester, or nylon.
As their name suggests, this rash vest protects the wearer against rashes caused by abrasions or sunburn.
They prevent the chafing that happens from sliding on and off the waxed surface of a surfboard. Plus, they shield you from the rubbing of sand that a wax holds on your board.
Why Surfers Need to Wear Swim Guards
It’s tempting to surf topless, but here are some of the reasons you benefit from using a rash vest.
Sun exposure and UV rays can be quite harmful to your skin.
Having an additional layer over your skin gives maximum protection, blocking UV rays, and keeps your skin protected.
Most rash guards have an ultraviolet protection factor rating (UPF rating), and it lets you know just how much of the sun’s harmful rays the fabric can bear.
A Quick Look at UPF Protection
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor.
It’s a designation specifically geared towards clothing and a measure of sun protection.
Usually, manufacturers state the UPF rating, and it shows that the clothing was constructed to prohibit the sun’s rays from hitting your skin.
The UPF rating directly correlates to the ratio of ultraviolet rays that get blocked when the clothing is worn.
For example, a designation of UPF rating 25 means every 25 sun rays, only one will pass through the clothing (i.e., 4%).
Therefore, a UPF rating of 50% means that a rash guard can ward off approximately 98% of the harmful UV rays emitted by the sun.
Simply put, the higher the UPF rating, the better sun protection a rash guard offers.
Protection from Rashes and Chafing
Rash guards provide an extra layer for protecting your skin in and out of the water.
It shields you from scrapes and scrapes caused by sand and waxy residue of the surfboards.
And granted, typical rashes are caused by sliding on and off a rough board, so rashies play an important role in protecting kids from their active days on the sandy shores.
Thermal Insulation Layer
Rash guards are lighter and intended for warm weather when it’s too warm to wear a wetsuit.
Keep in mind they’re not designed to keep you warm or offer thermal protection but rather help keep you dry.
However, some unique guards offer thermal protection, such as O’Neil Thermal X, and will work well in chilly water conditions.
Most rash guards use a moisture-wicking fabric for drying the moisture away instantly.
They utilize breathable fabric, too and tend to dry pretty quickly.
Easy Wearing and Taking Off your Wetsuit
We all know wearing a wetsuit feels like a chore.
But with a wetsuit, wearers are saved from the familiar tugging, pulling, and squeezing.
Plus, its quick-drying properties prevent microbial build-up, so they won’t smell.
Overall, guard rashes are more useful than you think.
Rashies aren’t just something to wear when you need to make a splash in the water. They’re now gaining popularity in other sports and swim fashion.
Buying Guide: What to Consider when Picking the Best Rash Guard
Getting the best rash guard for surfing will depend on your preferences, but here are some of the important things to consider when selecting a new rash guard for your needs.
Generally, rash guards should provide a snug and relaxed fit.
Fit rash guards have less resistance and minimize the protection against rubbing and chaffing.
But sizing a rash guard can be challenging and may depend on the purpose.
For example, you could wear a tight yet relaxed fit rash guard when:
- Layering it under a wetsuit. It’ll prevent materials from bunching up
- Surfing, so everything is streamlined and doesn’t flap around when getting speed.
- Snorkeling and swimming. A tight-fit rash guard doesn’t ride up
On the other hand, a loosely fitted rash guard is ideal when:
- Hanging around at the beach
- When using it only for protection against sunburn and harmful UV sun rays
- When planning easy activities like paddleboarding
Rash guards come in different forms of fabric.
The best fabric for your guard will depend on your needs.
Generally, the most common fabric for rash guards is:
Lycra is a breathable material, offering great flexibility.
A Lycra rash guard prevents chafing and dries quickly.
Neoprene rash guards help to keep you warm when submerged in chilly waters.
This material is a thermal insulator and can maintain its flexibility throughout a wide range of temperatures.
Rashies made from polyester are breathable and effective in moisture-wicking your skin when you sweat.
While polyester rashies are durable, their flexibility and stretch are limited, so they’re best used in activities that don’t demand continuous movements.
A nylon-spandex rash guard is breathable, stretchable, and form-fitting.
Aside from the choice of material, it’s also critical to consider the stitches.
The best rash guard for surfing has flatlock stitching, which creates a seam lying flat to the garment instead of hanging loose.
It provides comfort and strength for activewear and exercise.
Sleeve length is important when choosing a rash guard.
The three popular options for sleeve-style are:
1) Long Sleeve Rash Guard
The long sleeve rash guards extend up to your wrist, giving you full coverage.
They’re the best options for full-body protection and ideal for those engaged in a lot of intense movements against scuba gear or saltwater.
The long sleeve rash guards are also recommended for cool waters that don’t have temperatures low enough to warrant a full wetsuit as they offer just the right amount of insulation.
2) Short sleeve rash guard
Rash guards with short sleeves cover your torso and extend up to your shoulder.
A short sleeve rash guard is suited for light water sports and regular swimming on hot summer days when worn alone.
The short sleeves are also popular with deep-sea explorers as a supplement to scuba gear.
3) Sleeveless rash guard
The sleeveless rash guards are also known as tank rash guards.
They offer the least amount of coverage and are generally worn underneath wetsuits to keep you warm.
Sleeveless rash guard’s greatest strength is they’re less restrictive and ideal for swimming and surfing.
The design, choice of materials, and seams are important, too.
These factors help the rash guard deliver what it intended for.
For example, the best rash guard has seams that won’t feel like it’s there.
- Not all rash guards offer UV protection, so consider those treated with a special UV coating.
- Lightweight and quick-drying rash guards are critical to your comfort. You can also choose options with antibacterial properties.
- Generally, the best rash guards are tight-fitted, but they don’t need to be perfectly fitted to be fully functional.
Best Rash Guards for Surfing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Should rash guards be tight?
A: Generally, the fit of a rash guard depends on what purpose it’ll be used for.
For example, the tight rash guards are ideal for swimming, surfing, and diving as they allow you to move freely without excess fabric getting in the way.
But if you need a rash guard for sun protection, a loose fit will do.
Q: Is overheating a major concern with rash guards?
A: Not really.
They are designed for warmer water conditions, so they’re light and breathable.
Even those with quick-drying qualities won’t make you look like dried lea upon getting out of the water. They will still pull moisture from your skin to make you feel cool.
Q: What can I wear under a rash guard?
A: Most men don’t wear anything under their rash guard and use the guard directly on the skin.
When it comes to leggings, surfers can wear a rash guard without anything under them for hygienic reasons, but we recommend wearing briefs or boxers.
Q: What do women wear under a rash guard?
A: Women can also wear rashies without anything underneath, but many choose not to.
Remember, a rash guard doesn’t offer any chest support when doing strenuous activities.
The stretched fabric of rash guards also tends to get transparent when wet.
For these and other reasons, it’s why women consider wearing something underneath the rash guard.
Bikinis are acceptable, but you need to keep away from ties, knots, metal rings, and dangling decorations as they’re uncomfortable and may rub against your skin.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner of the best rash guards is the O’Neill Men’s Premium Skins.
It’s one of the top rash guards, and its name says it all; it’s a premium option, built with performance and ease of use in mind.
The O’Neill Men’s Premium Skins is nice to wear, and it fits well.
More importantly, it’s provided with safety against the sun and elements when surfing.
While it comes at a price, you’ll quickly realize it’s worth every penny.