A lot of hairstyles float in and out of fashion depending on the year, but there’s one look that’s as timeless as it is desirable: surfer hair.
The term surfer hair emerged in the 1960s when magazines like Billboard and Life started documenting the rise of surf culture in southern California. They noted how “beach bums” often wore white Levi jeans, cut off at the knee. But the defining characteristic was their hair: thick, long, tousled, wavy, and naturally bleached from the sun and saltwater.
Surfer hair got a cult following, but over the following decades it made its way into pop culture with shows like Baywatch and movies like Surfer, Dude starring Matthew McConaughey (who rocks immaculate surfer hair).
But surfer hair is more than “a look.” It’s a social statement. At the risk of sounding cringey, you might even call it a lifestyle. It symbolizes rebellion, independence, and freedom. Maybe that’s why guys, like you, want it.
But we digress. We’re not fashion critics—we just help guys get amazing hair. Read on to get all the tips you need to rock surfer hair.
How to Get Surfer Hair
Surfer hair gives off chill, care-free vibes, but ironically it takes time and effort to achieve the look (that is, if you don’t actually surf). Luckily, you don’t need to live by a beach to look like a dude who catches waves for a living. You just need the right routine, the right products, and a little patience.
Grow Your Hair Out
First things first: you need long locks to pull off the surfer look. Ideally, it should be long enough on the sides to reach the bottom of your ears and long enough in the front to go past your eyes. (For a complete guide to growing out your hair, head over here). Depending on how long your mane is right now, this can take up to a year.
Once your hair reaches the optimal length, you’ll want to cut long layers to get a shaggy look. Pro tip: ask your barber or stylist to cut your hair with a razor, which gives your hair a rougher, deconstructed look you don’t get with scissors.
Ditch Your Shampoo
Texture is the most important component of surfer hair, so you need to avoid nuking your head with harsh shampoo at all costs. Sulfates (the ingredients that make shampoo lather up) are your biggest enemy because they destroy your hair’s outer protective barrier, leaving it dry, poofy, and brittle.
Authentic surfer hair retains an abundance of natural oils and minerals, but shampoo strips all of that away. If you feel too grimy, wash your hair with a shampoo alternative like Modern Mammals: a rinse packed with vitamins and essential oils that cleanses your hair without compromising its health.
Did you really think surfers in the 60s were buying Head & Shoulders?
Use a Sea Salt Spray
The secret ingredient to surfer hair is saltwater which expands hair fibers, giving them texture and volume. Think of it as the ocean’s natural pomade. Exposing your hair to saltwater day after day will certainly pump up its volume, but what if you’re nowhere near a beach?
A handy alternative is sea salt spray, which is basically surfer hair on demand. This product will open your hair cuticles and add extra definition to your locks (without adding the other nasty stuff you’d find in ocean water).
Sea salt spray works best on damp hair, so just spritz it in after showering. This mimics the effect of air-drying after a day of catching waves.
Get Some Sun
When you spend all day in the sun, you’re bound to develop natural highlights. These “sun streaks” come from UV rays (although too much sun can actually damage hair). This is more common for people with blonde or red hair, but sun streaks can develop on dark hair too.
You might get that sun-bleached look during the summer months, but if you want more pronounced sun streaks you can ask your stylist for highlights. Just make sure they’re subtle—you want to look like a surfer in 1969, not Justin Timberlake in 1999.
Catch Some (Hair) Waves
Most surfers tie up their hair so it stays out of their face when they’re out catching waves. Over time, this creates waves or curls in the hair which is a signature part of the surfer look. You can replicate this at home by letting your hair air dry while it’s scrunched up.
Maintain Surfer Hair Year-Round
Once you nail the surfer hair look, you’ll probably never want to get rid of it. To keep those tousled tresses healthy, make sure you avoid the shampoo aisle. Opt for conditioner washing (co-washing) instead with a rinse like Modern Mammals, then let it air dry. And when it comes to styling, use a wide-tooth comb to avoid breakage.
If you stick to this guide, people will think you’re a SoCal native, even if you live in South Dakota.