You want to return from a surf session with stories and a tan not chafing and rash. That’s where rash guards come in. Rash guards help protect precious parts like nipples, armpits, and your neck from getting rubbed raw by a combination of salt water, movement, and surfboard. Rash guards can be worn underneath wet and dry suits or on their own as a top and bottom set. A lot of them offer sun protection with built-in UPF.
Reading as much as you can about the topics in this guide will help you learn how to choose the best rash guard for your style.
UPF: One of the main benefits of a rash guard is sun protection. Protection from harmful UV rays—both directly from the sun and reflected by the water—is necessary if you’re going to spend the day at your favorite break. Most rash guards built to block UV rays feature at least UPF 50 for sun protection.
Material: Rash guards are typically composed of a synthetic blend of fibers, but mainly feature Lycra, neoprene, polyester or a nylon-spandex blend. While each offer different levels of stretch, warmth, and breathability, the final decision should boil down to what material you find most comfortable.
Lycra: Breathable with optimal stretch, a Lycra rash guard will prevent chafing and dry quickly.
Neoprene: Some rash guards also insulate the body in cooler waters, which is where the neoprene comes in to provide both insulation and stretch for flexibility of movement.
Polyester: Polyester rash guards offer maximum breathability and sweat wicking, but lack the same stretch and flexibility of those composed of a lycra blend.
Nylon-Spandex: With a nylon-spandex rash guard, a surfer will get stretch, a tight fit, breathability, and a quick drying.
Fit: Rash guards are supposed to fit tight to the body to keep chafing or uncomfortable rubbing at a minimum. However, some styles are made to fit a little looser to be more forgiving to the body-image conscious.
Stitching: Most rash guards feature flat-lock stitching and a six-panel construction for the best fit, and thus ultimate rash and chafing prevention.
Sleeve Length: Rash guards are available in tanks, short sleeves and long sleeves. Each style has its own uses.
Tanks: Tanks are great for hot and sunny days when over-heating can be an issue. Going sleeveless means lots of flexibility and a greater range of movement—plus no farmer’s tan.
Short Sleeves: Also great for hot days, short sleeve rash guards are optimal for beating the heat and for protection from the sun’s rays.
Long Sleeves: Long sleeve rash guards are best for protection against cooler temperatures, as they’ll keep the surfer insulated and warm, while also providing UV protection.
Style/Art: There are two ways of putting designs and artwork onto a rash guard: sublimation and heat transfer.
Sublimation: Rash guards with sublimation artwork are typically more expensive than those with heat transfer artwork, since the process of sublimating a graphic is much more tedious and expensive. Sublimation means the art actually becomes a part of the rash guard, so it will never fade or crack.
Heat Transfer: Less expensive and a lot easier than sublimation, heat transfer is more or less like an iron-on graphic. The downside: the artwork doesn’t last as long and they crack, peel, and fade over time.
Shorts: Rash guard shorts can be worn in place of a wet suit or swim shorts to help with chafing and rash prevention on the lower half of the body. They have a compressed, snug fit, keeping everything tight to the body, without sacrificing movement and flexibility. They also feature SPF protection.