Do Surfers Shave Their Legs? 5 Common Reasons (+Pros & Cons)

Robert Elgar

It is well known that many sports people shave their legs with the hopes of improving their performance.

Runners, climbers, rugby players, and swimmers all swear by the advantages of the reduced friction from removing their body hair, so why should surfing be any different?

Many surfers choose to shave their legs – either for performance benefits, or for other reasons such as wetsuit rash, temperature regulation, or simply to enjoy the hairless feeling that it produces.

There are both upsides and downsides to shaving your legs as a surfer.

Below we are going to take a look at these pros and cons, how surfing may affect your shaved legs, and whether shaving your legs before surfing might be right for you.

Is It Common for Surfers to Shave Their Legs?

If we consider that approximately 6.65 million (19 percent) surfers of the world’s 35 million are women, and that in our current times it is common practice for women to shave their legs, then it is fair to assume that it is fairly common for surfers to have their legs hair-free.

Furthermore, even if we take the surfing-specific reasons for men to shave their legs out of the equation, it has become more and more popular for men to have shaved legs in general as well.

This further adds to the number of surfers without leg hair.

Although there are no numbers to back up our assumptions, simply by taking the information available to us it is fair to assume that a large percentage of the surfing population chooses to shave their legs at least from time to time.

Are There Benefits of Having Shaved Legs When Surfing?

The benefits of shaving your legs before going for a surf are not likely going to take you from a beginner surfer to pro-level.

But there are some advantages that convince many surfers that shaved legs is the way to go.

1. Increased Performance

It is common knowledge that shaving your body hair improves swimming performance. 

With less hair on their body, swimmers (and other athletes such as cyclists) experience less friction from their surrounding environment (the water or air).

This has been shown to give swimmers a 3% – 4% performance increase in certain situations.

Because of this clear advantage, some surfers choose to shave their legs with the hopes of finding an edge.

This, of course, will help when standing up on your board as small amounts of friction will no longer exist, and therefore, in theory, will allow you to travel faster on each wave.

Although this may provide a small advantage, the difference will be virtually unnoticeable.

And as a surfer’s legs are on their board while paddling and not in the water, shaved legs will not add many advantages to paddling around the bay.

2. Temperature Regulation

Our body hair plays a huge role in regulating our body temperature.

When it gets cold, the muscles around our hair follicles tighten, which puts our hair on end, allowing it to trap additional heat.

This is great when we are in a colder climate, but as the temperature continues to rise, our body hair can become more of a hindrance.

Surfers that live in warm climates, such as the tropics, can often find themselves surfing in 86°F (30°C) waters with outside temperatures well above that.

Overheating is a major danger to surfers, and even when it is not a health risk, makes everything we do incredibly uncomfortable.

Some surfers choose to shave their legs (and the rest of their body hair) to help regulate their temperature in warmer climates.

3. Easier to Get Into and Out of Wetsuit

Wearing a wetsuit while surfing is not something that many surfers can avoid.

Unless you want to experience the world of being a polar bear while being shredded up by a sharp coral reef, it is simply just a tool of the trade.

That being said, anyone who has had the privilege of putting on a wetsuit and removing it after their surf will know what a pain it is to do so.

One method surfers often use is to rub their legs with talcum powder which makes them smoother. 

This makes putting a wetsuit on slightly easier but does not do much for the removal phase.

By removing your leg hair you remove a lot of the friction that you experience when pulling on and taking off your suit, which could make the process slightly less annoying.

4. Reduced Wetsuit Rash

Wetsuit rash is a nightmare and can leave you feeling uncomfortable for days while preventing you from slipping on your wetsuit for another day in the ocean.

Some surfers choose to shave their legs in order to prevent wetsuit rash.

As a wetsuit rash is caused by the friction between your wetsuit and skin with the addition of moisture, there is no guarantee that being hairless will prevent a rash.

But that doesn’t stop some surfers from using a razor just in case.

5. Aesthetics

Although it’s not specifically related to surfing alone, many surfers (particularly women) choose to shave their legs for aesthetic purposes.

This is mostly because of the social expectation – which is quickly changing – that women are clean-shaven.

That being said, there are many men that prefer the look and feel of cleanly shaved legs and often opt to do the same for themselves.

What Are the Downsides of Surfing With Shaved Legs?

Although the differences that shaved legs make for a surfer are tiny, there are without a doubt a few advantages.

But as always there are never pros without any cons.

Even though shaving your legs may benefit you, there are some downsides that you should be aware of before you make your final decision.

1. Lack of Insulation

Just as shaving your legs can help regulate your body temperature by keeping you cooler, when surfing in colder environments, the lack of body hair could result in you becoming too cold before you are done with your session.

As mentioned before, our body hair plays a large role in insulating our bodies from the outside elements.

This effect obviously differs from person to person, since some human bodies are much hairier than others.

Without this layer of hair, we become more susceptible to temperature change and possibly more likely to catch a cold as a result.

Of course, to put this in perspective: wearing an appropriate wetsuit plays a much bigger role than having body hair.

2. Increased Chance of Infection

When you shave, you not only remove the hair but the top layer of skin is often taken off. 

Along with this, we cause multiple microscopic (and sometimes larger) cuts in our skin.

This is why your face often burns if you use aftershave directly after shaving.

The problem with this and surfing is that the ocean is a mess of bacteria waiting to sneak into any of your open wounds.

Shaving just before surfing is not much different from surfing with a new tattoo – it makes you susceptible to infections from the ocean.

3. Reduced Sun Protection

Not only does our body hair help reduce heat loss, but it also creates a protective layer between our skin and the sun.

As a surfer, you will be spending many hours outdoors and in direct sunlight.

Shaving your legs and other body hair will increase your sun exposure (if you aren’t wearing a wetsuit), and make it more likely that you will experience some nasty sunburn.

How Does Surfing Affect Shaved Legs?

Surfing does not have a huge effect on shaved legs unless your legs are freshly shaved.

As mentioned above, shaving causes small cuts in our skin which will burn when we enter the ocean, as well as create a potential health risk due to the ocean’s bacteria.

Shaving can also lead to dry skin. It is not the shaving specifically that causes dry skin, but the shaving cream or soap that we use.

These products remove the oils from our skin, which in turn leads to dry flaky skin if not treated.

This is made even worse when we spend a lot of time in the ocean. 

The salt in the ocean draws moisture from its environment, and in this case, that would be you.

This, and the risk of infection, is why you should always shower after spending time in the ocean.

Should I Shave My Legs Before Surfing?

Shaving your legs directly before surfing or entering the ocean is not a recommended thing to do.

You should give yourself at least 24 hours after shaving before surfing as this will allow time for the micro-cuts on your skin to close up and heal.

That being said, if you like to keep your legs smooth, shaving a day before surfing will most likely not cause many issues.

Just keep in mind the reason you are shaving, and if it makes sense for the time.

If you shave your legs because it keeps you cool but you are in the middle of winter, you may want to think again.

It is entirely up to you whether you want to shave your legs or not. There are clear pros and cons to doing so.

Weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and come to your own conclusion of what is best for you.

Conclusion

Many surfers shave their legs, while many others do not.

It has become more common for surfers to shave their legs as it is thought to provide a slight performance advantage.

However, this advantage is so small that a body hair-free surfer is not as common as a hairless swimmer.

There are clear pros and cons to shaving your legs as a surfer. At the end of the day, the decision is yours to make.

Even if you shave your legs and don’t like the results, your hair can always grow back.

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