When we’re young – in childhood, teens and twenties – sun protection is an afterthought. We know we should slip, slop, slap but this can easily be forgotten when we’re presented with a perfect lineup on a hot summer’s day. Watching our skin darken is a game of youth and the feeling of surfing in only a bikini or boardshorts is freedom. We look and feel wonderful. Until we hit our thirties and notice laugh lines becoming permanent crevices. Previously tanned skin becomes uneven pigmentation. We may even have our first melanoma scare. If you haven’t had a melanoma scare yet, then allow us the privilege.
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the US and third in Australia. Surfers are six times more likely to develop melanoma than the general population. The most common melanoma sites are those where the skin is exposed to sunshine, such as the chest, legs and face. While survival rates are high when the melanoma is detected early, treatment involves surgery and can result in significant scarring. If the melanoma is detected late and has spread to lymph nodes or remote parts of the body, the survival rate drops to as low as 25% after 5 years.
Surf hats: a simple sun protection solution
As surfers, wearing a hat may seem rather unappealing. Firstly, surf hats are usually associated with crusty old longboarders (who have learned their lesson). Secondly, they’re often really flimsy and uncomfortable. Old-style bucket hats used to obstruct lateral vision, making surfing less intuitive. Then when waves get bigger you can kiss that hat goodbye. So who needs a surf hat anyway?
You do. Getting sunburned is no fun. Short term it is painful. Long term damage is irreversible. The Better Health Channel says, “The long-term effects of repeated bouts of sunburn include premature wrinkling and an increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer). Once DNA damage occurs, it is impossible to reverse. This is why prevention is much better than cure.”
Surf hats provide a physical barrier between your epidermis and the sun. So wear one on days when the waves are small to average – when you’re not going to lose your hat. In big surf, by all means, go au naturale and let your head soak up some rays. I’ve lost many surf hats when the waves are pumping. But aim for the 80/20 rule – wear a surf hat 80% of the time and you’ll enjoy long term benefits.
Remember, a surf hat only covers the area where a shadow is cast over your skin. A peak-style hat will only cover part of your face and it certainly won’t protect your neck. A bucket hat may provide increased all-round protection but your nose, lips and chin could be exposed. You also need to factor in the reflection from the water. Sunsmart NZ says, “Water offers minimal protection from UV radiation. Reflection from water can increase your exposure to UV radiation.”
So wear a hat but also apply a mineral zinc or reef-safe sunscreen to your neck, cheeks, nose and chin. Your forehead probably doesn’t need sunscreen if you wear a surf hat. Of course, wear a rash vest or wetsuit to protect your body.
We’ve been testing surf hats for many years. Here are the best options money can buy.
Kaiola Surf Hat
The Kaiola surf hat is a seriously good-looking option. Much more like an everyday cap, the design is contemporary and comfortable. The brim angles slightly upward and is much less distracting than competing hats. We also love that it is a little longer than the Rip Curl Wetty (below), meaning that you get more protection over your nose and cheeks. The chin strap is unobtrusive and easy to use. The unique design survived some pretty good beatings in solid waves and we liked that it didn’t obstruct peripheral vision.
We’re big fans of the Kaiola surf hat and it is often our #1 choice when paddling out.
Kaiola surf hat is designed to protect you from the blazing hot sun, blinding glares and spray blurring your vision so you can surf better and longer. And your hat will stay on, no matter your maneuver, so you can focus on catching those waves.
Yes, finally a surf hat with style in mind! ‘No’ to chunky black chin straps and ‘Yes’ to colour choices! We wanted a surf hat that looks cool in and out of the water.
Our nearly invisible, yet super strong signature chin strap can easily be tucked away when not in use. We got you covered – both for surf style and street style.
Main Material: 100% Recycled Polyamide (Nylon) Front Panel: 100% Polyester
Duck-dive and wipe-out proof UPF 80 providing excellent UV protection Anti-glare to protect your vision Two sizes. Both with seamlessly adjustable straps Lightweight, quick-dry, breathable and comfortable to wear Peak/Visor is bendable yet strong. Foam interior means always jumps back into shape Signature chin-strap: nearly invisible, yet super strong. Non chafing “water to land” concept: interior tuck-away chinstrap function Folds easily so you can stash it anywhere Floats, should you ever drop it in the water Peak/Visor flips up for better paddling vision Super soft and padded internal head band
The Wetty Surf Cap is a reliable, comfortable, good-looking all rounder. It features the optional neck flap that can be a little annoying but much less annoying than skin cancer surgery. The floating brim is great and the clip is good but no match for head-high or bigger waves.
From Rip Curl
The Wetty Surf Cap is an investment in your wave-count… You can’t shred if you’re suffering sun-stroke! This amphibious cap features a detachable chin cord with toggle, a soft and flexible floating peak, and removeable neck flap. Chuck on this tech little sun smart number and surf yourself into oblivion!
Cotton/nylon micro canvas
High Density badge on front Detachable chin cord with toggle Detachable neck flap Soft floating peak Cotton / Nylon Micro Canvas
100% recycled nylon with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish
Internal Headband: The internal headband dries quickly and provides a comfortable fit Dark Underbill: Built with a dark underbill to reduce glare and eyestrain Adjustable for a Custom Fit: The adjustable rear buckle has elastic for a snug, personalized fit Adjustable Chin Strap: A soft neoprene chin strap tucks away when not in use Vent/Drain Holes: The two vent/drain holes reduce water and heat buildup and allow airflow Supporting the People Who Made This Product: Fair Trade Certified™ sewn, which means the people who made it earned a premium for their labor Country of Origin: Made in China. Weight: 79 g (2.8 oz)
Dakine Surf Cap
Okay, the Dakine surf cap may be a little more reminiscent of a jockey’s hat but the construction can’t be faulted. Breathable mesh over the ears provides even more protection where the other models don’t.
Breaking waves and bright sun. The Dakine Surf Cap stays put wave after wave to shade your eyes. A mesh chin strap keeps this quick-drying water hat securely in place, while ventilated ear covers maintain breathability.
Black: 100% Nylon Grey: 100% Polyester
2 Year Limited Warranty Designed for water use Nylon Taslan or Polyester fabric is rated UPF 50+ Mesh ventilation at ears Brim flips up for paddling Adjustable chin strap Adjustable back closure
The Little Hatch Surf Hat is a functional 5-panel surf hat with water-resistant walkshort fabric and adjustable back closure. Featuring side panels with mesh inlay, emroidered eyelets at side, chin strap and woven labels, the Little Hatch is just as useful as a fin rope (but for your skin) on those Summertime surf trips.
Keeping the sun off and the performance on, the Surf Cap stands out with superior function. Made from Recycler Stretch performance boardshort fabric, the surf hat adds on UV protection with vented ear covers. Built with a fitted shape to reduce drag and increase comfort in the water, an adjustable neoprene chin straps keeps it secure in the surf.
90% Polyester 10% Elastane
Recycler Pro Stretch boardshort fabric Adjustable neoprene chin strap Vented ear covers Form fitted
For optimal protection the O’Neill Eclipse Bucket Surf Hat is your best bet. This is serious sun protection for the adventurous – or those mad enough to surf in the midday sun. A wide, floppy brim and neck protector will ensure that your skin stays in the shade, while a heavy duty strap will keep the hat firmly attached.
FCS have been making surf hats for many years. Their bucket hat is simple, no fuss and reliable. It features a safety clip so that you can attach it to your wetsuit or rash vest.
Buckle closure Designed in collaboration with the world’s leading surf athletes and surfboard shapers, the FCS range offers a diverse range of surfboard accesories suited to a variety of board models, wave conditions and surfing styles. FCS fins are the preferred choice by the world’s best surfers and shapers.
Like the O’Neill Eclipse, OE have designed a serious bucket hat for complete protection from the sun. It has a stiff front brim and a safety loop to keep it connected. Possibly the best option for surfers planning to spend all day in a tropical lineup.
Stiff front brim to keep clear vision also flips up for paddling Padded neoprene inner head band for comfort, Safety loop – attach to wetsuit zipper webbing for added security Padded neoprene straps for comfort Adjustable quick release chin strap Stash pocket inside top of hat Rear mesh vents release water after duck dives and wipe-outs Velcro head adjustment Protective mesh over ear section Removable “Legionnaire flap” neck protection Lightweight, quick-dry material Invaluable protection from harmful sun exposure Minimizes annoying glare