We’ve all seen the Hollywood stereotype of the blonde surfer.
Much of the media around surfing depicts participants with blonde hair far more often than any other hair color, and popular culture has since accepted the blonde surfer stereotype despite surfers having any and all hair colors.
That said, the blonde surfer stereotype has its basis in reality, and surfing often leads to people’s hair lightening in color.
So why do surfers have blonde hair? Here’s why.
Why Are Surfers Known For Blonde Hair?
First of all, of course not all surfers have blonde hair. Anyone can surf, and there isn’t a rule that says your hair needs to be blonde for you to surf.
However, there are a few factors that have led surfers to be associated with blonde hair. These range from stereotypes about surfer subculture to the natural bleaching caused by a day on the waves.
Frequent surfing results in hair naturally lightening due to exposure to harsh sunlight and salt water. These strip hair of its color by reacting with the melanin (the pigment that gives hair its color) to oxidize it and leave the hair colorless.
While this can affect darker hair colors as well, lighter shades of brown and red hair are more susceptible to this bleaching.
The association between surfers and blonde hair also stems from surfer culture, and more specifically from the subculture that grew out of Southern California in the 1960s.
The rising popularity of surfing as a sport in the USA helped propel the image of the tousled blonde ‘surfer hair’ into the public eye.
While surfing first originated in Hawaii (where blonde hair is few and far between), this idea of the blonde surfer has since become synonymous with the sport and its participants.
What Causes A Surfer’s Hair To Lighten?
As mentioned before, exposure to the sun and saltwater can cause light-colored hair to naturally bleach and become blonde. But how exactly does this happen?
Hair contains pigments that give it its color. Most of the color in hair comes from a pigment called melanin, which also affects the color of people’s skin and eyes.
There are several different types of melanin, and these produce different hair colors. For example, red hair is mostly made up of a large amount of pheomelanin, while brown hair is caused by a variety called eumelanin.
When hair is bleached (either through natural or artificial means), the melanin it contains is oxidized by a chemical reaction. This means that while the melanin is still present, the pigments it creates become colorless – because of this, the hair now appears blonde.
There are several aspects of surfing that cause hair to lighten and become bleached. The main culprit of this is long-term exposure to the sun.
Over time, the sun’s rays will begin to leach the color out of your hair. By breaking down the melanin in hair, the sun will turn it lighter and lighter the longer you stay out in the sun.
Surfing makes this process easier, as surfers will frequently spend hours at a time every day out on the water.
Salt water is the part of surfing that really makes hair lighter.
The salt content in ocean water strips the keratin away from your hair. Keratin is the protective protein that covers each strand of hair. Not only does keratin protect your hair, but it also gives your hair elasticity and helps keep its natural moisture inside.
This is why salt water leaves your hair brittle and straw-like.
Without its protective coating, it’s much easier for your hair to lighten.
In addition to removing the keratin from your hair, salt water on its own is capable of bleaching hair. The salt dries out your hair and widens the cuticles in your scalp, allowing the salt water and sunlight to directly access your hair.
From there, the salt leaches color out of the hair; this change is even more substantial with frequent and longer surfing sessions.
Combine this with the impact of the sun over time, and it’s no wonder that blonde hair is so synonymous with surfing.
Can You Prevent Your Hair From Bleaching While Surfing?
So now that you know why surfers’ hair gets lighter over time, is there any way to prevent this from happening? While the blonde streaks and tousled appearance of ‘surfer hair’ is a popular and desirable look, darker hair doesn’t fare as well as lighter shades.
Thicker hair is more prone to tangles and breaks, and artificially-dyed hair can be stripped of its color.
If you don’t want your hair to be damaged by the sun and salt while you surf, here is what you can do.
One of the best ways to protect your hair from damage while surfing is to use a product designed to keep your hair safe from sun and salt water.
This could be a specifically-designed product like a hair mask intended to lock in moisture over time. These products often contain a form of moisturizing conditioner, which creates a barrier against the salt water and helps maintain your hair’s color and integrity.
If you want a more natural approach to conditioner, coconut oil is a much more eco-friendly option that is free from chemicals that might harm your hair or dissolve in the water.
You could also wear a swim cap while you’re surfing. This keeps the water and sun away from your hair, preventing it from being damaged.
Hair lightening isn’t reversible, and if your hair gets bleached then you’ll need to wait for new hair to grow. By stopping sun and salt from reaching your hair you eliminate the risk of this damage happening at all.
Just bear in mind that wearing a swim cap over long periods of time can also damage your hair, so if you like to surf all day every day you might need to consider an alternative.
So there you have it – a combination of salt water, sunlight, and long days on the beach all combine to lighten hair color and turn lighter shades blonde over time.
Because salt and sun leech the keratin and melanin from hair, it’s common to see people with light brown or red hair turn blonde if they surf frequently.
While not every surfer has a head of blonde hair, these factors and the cultural growth of surfing in California have helped cement the blonde surfer stereotype.
Like it or not, the blonde surfer is here to stay.