I've Mastered the Technique For Perfect Beach Waves

POPSUGAR Photography | Aviel Kanter
POPSUGAR Photography | Aviel Kanter
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Growing up, the movie "Blue Crush" had me in a complete choke hold. All I wanted was to be Kate Bosworth (ahem, Anne Marie). She was the epitome of the effortlessly cool, no-makeup, natural blonde, tan surfer chick that my 13-year-old self desperately yearned to be. All this is to say that beach waves have been top of mind for me for the past 20-ish years. There's just something about the undone, imperfect, just-came-from-the-water style that I can't shake.

However, I have never been able to fully achieve the beach waves of my dreams — my curls have either looked too defined or my air-dried texture too unpredictable. It wasn't until I recently asked (well, forced) my stylist to show me the exact steps so I could try and replicate them at home that I finally mastered beach waves for good. My wave game was also changed by adopting a new hot tool into my hair routine: the T3 SinglePass Curl 1" Iron ($150). Because I would never dream of gatekeeping, I've broken down every step I use, along with the key products, to get perfectly imperfect beach waves.

Step 1: Air-Dry Your Hair

Because you're using a good amount of heat in this process, you want to get your hair to as close to 75 percent dry as you can before you actually style it. I have pretty fine hair, so it only takes about 20 minutes or so to wrap my hair in the Crown Affair Hair Towel ($45). A microfiber towel like this one is going to help limit any damage to your hair and absorb moisture much faster. It's not a huge deal if you don't have a lot of time to let the towel do its thing — even five to 10 minutes will get you pretty dry, depending on your hair texture.

Step 2: Prep and Dry Your Hair

There are two products I think are key to the beach wave style: a volumizing product and a heat protectant. What I love about beach waves is that they can be a little messy and even a little frizzy, so getting a little extra volume in there helps. While your hair is still wet, I like to use the Virtue Labs Volumizing Primer ($40) — you spray it along the roots at the crown of the head. A heat protectant is a must since you're using a blow dryer and a hot tool for this style. I like to spritz a generous amount of the GHD Bodyguard ($28) heat protect spray on my whole head before drying. Your drying method can really be whatever works best for your hair. I prefer a blow-dry brush — the Drybar Double Shot ($155), to be exact. This gets my hair nice and smooth, so I have a sleek canvas to work with for the curls.

Step 3: Curl Your Hair

POPSUGAR Photography | Aviel Kanter

First things first: you need a curling iron with a clip for this technique. I love the T3 SinglePass for a few reasons: the barrel and clip are so smooth that my hair glides through it without pulling, the barrel is on the long side (meaning I've never gotten any hair stuck and pulled out in the clip), and I'm able to pick from a number of heat settings to avoid excess damage. I've also found that a one-inch barrel is the ideal size for this wave style. For the technique, follow these guiding steps:

  • Always curl away from your face
  • Add a section of hair into the clip about three inches down from the root, and curl back up
  • Then, without unclipping, pull the tool down and toward your face
  • Slide the tool an inch down, and curl back up
  • Repeat until you're at the bottom of the hair

It sounds complicated, but once you get the hang of the pull-down-and-around move, it starts to feel like second nature. That said, the side of your head that gets curled with your nondominant hand can be tricky. My advice: use two hands. For the right side of my face, I use my right hand (which is my dominant hand) to angle the tool away from my face, and then use my left hand to help guide the movement on the way down. Again, keep in mind that you don't need to be perfect — I've "messed up" the wrapping technique a ton of times, but the messiness is what defines the style.

Step 4: Style Your Hair

POPSUGAR Photography | Aviel Kanter

When you finish curling, your hair should look like a bunch of tight ringlets. This is a great time to add in a salt spray like R+Co Rockaway Salt Spray ($32) for some texture. Spritz it on before you start to zhuzh your hair to help keep the curls intact. If you want a bit more hold or texture, I like to use a dollop of the Leonor Greyl Éclat Naturel Styling Cream ($46). Then it's time to shake the curls out. I like to do this with just my hands since this keeps the volume and grit in my hair, but you could also use a wide-tooth comb. Once you've shaken all the curls out, you could go through and define some of the pieces with your styling cream.

And voilà! Yes, I need a haircut and the LA lighting is making my blond look a bit yellow, but the waves are on point. Like I said, the best part of this style is its tousled nature — perfection isn't the goal here. Don't be afraid of a little frizz or a windy day — embrace the mess.

Aviel Kanter is the director of branded content for Vox Media and oversees lifestyle content across the portfolio of brands. She manages a team of editors who write articles in the wellness, fitness, beauty, fashion, health, entertaining, pets, and finance categories. She is also a beauty enthusiast and contributes many articles to the POPSUGAR Beauty editorial site.