Looking to have some fun on the water? Paddle boarding is an exciting water activity which is surprisingly inexpensive and easy to learn.
Are you just getting into paddle boarding? Many paddle board newbies have no problem quickly picking up the basic techniques. But new boarders often struggle to find info about the best paddle boarding gear and clothing.
Don’t worry – I’m here to help. My complete guide has everything you need to know including what to wear paddle boarding, what gear you need and even what shoes to wear. Here’s how to make your paddle boarding adventures fun, safe and comfortable:
- Different Types of Paddle Boarding
- The Most Important Article of Clothing
- Paddle Board Attire for Warm, Sunny Days
- Paddle Board Attire for Colder Temps
- Dressing for Comfort and Warmth in Cold Weather
- The Importance of Rash Guards for Comfort and Protection
- Should You Wear Shoes When Using a SUP?
- When is Going Barefoot the Best Option?
- Shoe Types for SUP
- The Three-Step Guide to SUP Attire
Different Types of Paddle Boarding
When you picture paddle boarding, do you picture someone boarding in clear waters during a sunny day? While those are certainly popular conditions for paddle boarding, the activity is actually far more versatile than many people realize.
Stand-up paddle boards are great for drifting along a lazy lake or river on a hot day. But they’re sturdy enough for fast, choppy water, too. Many people even take their paddle boards into frigid waters for wintertime fishing. As long as you’re experienced enough to control the board well, there’s very little risk of falling in the water.
(Of course, you should never paddleboard in water which is so cold that accidentally falling in would be a risk to your life.)
Because there are so many different ways to use a paddleboard, there’s no standard set of clothing and gear. Instead, you’ll need to prepare based on the conditions and weather. Fortunately, you can easily (and cheaply) assemble a general wardrobe.
The Most Important Article of Clothing
However, there’s one article of clothing you’ll always, always, always need when paddle boarding. That’s a personal flotation device. Even if the weather is warm and the water is mild, you need to take proper safety precautions.
Aside from being just a good practice, carrying a personal flotation device is also the law. The United States Coast Guard recognizes paddle boards as vessels. Under the law, all vessels must carry both a personal flotation device and a whistle when outside surf and swim zones.
Paddle Board Attire for Warm, Sunny Days
Got your personal flotation device on hand? Then let’s get started with the types of clothing you’ll likely use most often. Specifically, here’s what to wear when paddle boarding on a warm, sunny day.
Swim Suit / Swim Trunks
If you’re comfortable wearing it to swim, you can probably wear it paddle boarding. On nice, warm days many paddle boarders simply wear swim trunks or a swimsuit. This way you can quickly jump into the water for a quick swim whenever you like.
Board shorts are the longer type of shorts preferred by many surfers. They’re comfortable, quick drying and often fashionable. Board shorts often have a UV protection materials in the fabric to help protect you from sunburn.
Keep the sun off your face and out of your eyes with a hat. Many people simply wear a baseball cap. But the problem is if your hat falls into the water, it’s likely gone forever.
You can help save your hat with a hat clip leash. This is a simple fabric contraption with a thin tie you slip in front of your neck. If your hat falls off your heat the leash keeps it from blowing into the water.
Wet caps are another option. They look like regular ball caps but are made from quick dry materials such as neoprene. Wet caps often have headbands and adjustable straps for a more secure fit. Popular among surfers, they work great for SUPs, too.
However, a wet cap isn’t always the best idea. If you’re using a SUP in rapids, roaring rivers or other rough waters, you’ll need more protection than a wet cap. Instead, you’ll need to protect your head with a river rafting helmet.
Paddle Board Attire for Colder Temps
Don’t let the change of the seasons keep you from having fun on the lake. Paddle boarding is perfectly possible even during when the winter months when the sky is overcast and the water is cool. With the right clothing, you can remain warm and comfortable.
However, never paddle board in conditions where the water is cold enough to be dangerous. Even experienced paddle boarders occasionally fall off their boards. Make sure the water is warm enough to not cause physical harm if you’re accidentally submerged.
According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, any water below 70 degrees should be treated with caution. Unless you’re an experienced boarder, you should also completely avoid any water under 50 degrees.
But as long as the water is a safe temperature, you can go boarding year round. Here are some clothing options for what to wear when paddle boarding in cold weather:
Wetsuits are a popular solution for many cold water sports such as diving, surfing and, of course, paddle boarding.
Wetsuits have a special design which traps a thin layer of water between your skin and the inside of the suit. Your body heat warms this thin layer of water, which then prevents cold water from reaching your skin.
When using a SUP in cold temps, you’ll probably want a full-body suit. They cover not just your body but also your legs and feet. Shorter suits are available for warmer conditions.
The fit of the suit is very important. If the suit is too loose, the warm water barrier will be broken. Instead, cold water will fill the suit. However, a properly fitted wetsuit provides cold water protection without impairing your movements.
The thickness of the suit determines the level of warmth provided. Generally, a winter wetsuit should be between three to six mm thick. However, increased thickness does decrease mobility. If you don’t like the restricted feeling of a thicker wetsuit, then you might prefer a dry suit.
A dry suit is another type of diving suit. As the name implies, these suits do not trap a layer of water. Instead, a dry suit uses double-walled material to create an insulated layer of air.
Dry suits are usually the warmest option. On the downside, the suits aren’t known for their comfort. The fit of the suit needs to be pretty tight in order to keep water away from your skin.
Dressing for Comfort and Warmth in Cold Weather
The secret is layers. First, start with a rash guard to provide a warm, water-resistant base. Then add a lightweight, fleece hoodie. If you start to warm up when paddling, you can easily tie the hoodie around your waist.
You’ll also want to protect your head and hands. Hoods, hats and gloves are all good options. You can find items made from waterproof materials.
The Importance of Rash Guards for Comfort and Protection
Chafing, rashes and other skin irritations are going to be one of the biggest potential problems from regular SUP use. The combination of wind, saltwater and the texture of the board can chafe your nipples, armpits, thighs, neck and more.
Rash guards are worn underneath your wet or dry suits. You can also wear them either as a top or bottom. Rash guards don’t just protect your skin against irritation, but also against sun damage.
Many guards contain built-in SPF protection. Did you know that the sun isn’t the only source of harmful UV rays? Water reflects UV rays directly onto you when you’re boarding. So sun protection on the water becomes even more important than on the land.
Rash guards need to fit snugly. The less the material rubs against your skin, the less chafing will occur. However, not everyone is eager to wear a skin-tight outfit. If you’re a bit self-conscious, you can buy a looser rash guard (or simply wear one under your swim clothes.)
When shopping for a rash guard, check out the stitching. You want flat-lock stitching with a six-panel construction. This provides the most protection against chafing and rashes.
Rash guards have variable sleeves lengths. Tanks and short sleeves will help keep you cool during hot days and warm temps. Long sleeves provide an additional layer of insulation when the weather is colder. Remember to cover any exposed skin with plenty of sunscreen.
Rash Guard Materials
Rash guards are made from synthetic fibers such as Lycra, neoprene, nylon-spandex or polyester. Here’s a quick rundown of the pluses and minuses of each:
- Lycra: Breathable with the most stretch.
- Neoprene: Stretchable with additional insulation. Great for cooler waters and colder days.
- Polyester: While not the most stretchable option, they are the most breathable.
- Nylon-Spandex: Breathable, stretchable and quick drying. A popular choice among boarders.
Should You Wear Shoes When Using a SUP?
You want to feel solid and stable when using your stand-up paddleboard. This feeling starts at your feet. What’s the best way to create a sturdy base?
Serious surfers and riders often swear by the barefoot approach. Feeling “at one with the board” is often a common reason why bare feet are preferred. However, other paddlers prefer wearing water sport shoes due to the grip and protection. So, should you wear water sport shoes or go barefoot?
When are Water Sport Shoes the Best Option?
You’ll probably want shoes if you’re boarding in a shallow area where your feet will touch the ground. Rivers, bays and shallow parts of the ocean all have floors which may contain rocks, oyster shells or other sharp materials.
Also, water sport shoes, like surf booties, are the best option if you’re using a SUP in cold water. They provide an additional layer of warmth and insulation.
Finally, there’s certainly no rule or requirement that you have to go barefoot. If you feel more comfortable wearing sport shoes, go right ahead. Shoes can provide a comfortable, reassuring grip which makes balancing easier – especially for beginners.
When is Going Barefoot the Best Option?
Just like some people are comfortable wearing shoes, others feel more natural using a SUP while barefoot. You might feel more of a connection to the board and the water underneath.
Plus, many people are more comfortable swimming while barefoot. If you’re the type of boarder who likes to jump off the SUP and go for a quick dip every once in a while, you might be prefer leaving the shoes at home.
Bare feet are also often preferred among boarders who move around a lot on the board. You might want to skip the shoes if you’re mainly interested in yoga, tricks or similar balance-heavy use.
Shoe Types for SUP
If you decide to wear shoes when paddle boarding, you have several options available. No matter what type you choose, here’s what to look for when choosing a pair:
Size-wise, you’re looking for the “Goldilocks shoe.” That’s a shoe which fits just right. A snug fit helps minimize rubbing and skin irritation. But you don’t want the fit to be so small that your feet and toes feel cramped.
Shoes should also be designed for water use. Tennis shoes and other land shoes will weight your feet down when wet. Plus, they’ll provide almost no grip on the slick conditions.
Water sport shoes will be designed for total submersion. They’ll drain quickly, so water doesn’t pool around your foot. Plus, they’ll be suitably ventilated to allow for lightweight use.
Finally, you’ll want a shoe with a flexible sole. Paddleboarding sometimes requires quick shifting of your feet. A flexible sole will help you keep your balance.
Available in a variety of weights and styles, neoprene shoes are both durable and flexible. Low profile shoes are best for warm weather while the above-the-ankle style provides additional insulation against cold water.
If you find your feet are plagued with blisters, you might want to try neoprene booties. They often include heel reinforcement which helps protect against blisters.
These are the type of shoes you’d normally wear on a boat or dock. Generally, deck shoes are low profile with no ankle support. The soles are ventilated with a no-slip grip. The upper part of the shoe is usually made from a lightweight mesh.
Deck shoes work best in areas where your feet will get wet but won’t be totally submerged. They’re quick to dry and won’t hold water. Deck shoes are a good choice for more experienced paddlers who expect to spend most of their time on the board instead of swimming in the water.
Water sandals and flip-flops are a workable option. Just make sure they’re flexible, sturdy and have a good grip both on the deck pad and the bottom. Sandals typically have a looser fit than the other water shoes, so they work best when boarding in calm waters.
Aqua socks are another option. Also called slip-on water shoes, they fit very snugly over your foot. Be sure and avoid any loose-fitting aqua socks as they can seriously impair your balance.
Glove-Like Water Sport Shoes
Finally, you can use glove-like water sport shoes. These wrap around each toe individually. They provide great grip with very little movement restrictions. However, they can also be expensive.
The Three-Step Guide to SUP Attire
Figuring out what to wear paddle boarding is a simple three-step process.
Your first concern should always be safety. Always carry a personal flotation device even if the water is calm and shallow. If you’re boarding in rough water, you’ll want a river rafting helmet, too.
Also, be sure and protect yourself from the sun. UV rays will bounce off the water and can burn your skin. Aside from sunscreen, also wear a hat and sunglasses.
Next, you’ll want to protect against chafing with a rash guard. For additional protection, consider aqua shoes. Foot protection is especially important in shallow waters where your feet may touch the bottom.
Finally, add extra clothing depending on the weather. If you’re boarding in cold weather, you’ll probably want a wetsuit or a dry suit. Both provide insulation to protect you from frigid waters.
Paddle boarding is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. The proper clothing and gear will keep you comfortable, safe and having fun all year round.