“What should I wear”? was a common question I heard when I operated a stand-up paddle boarding school. While it was simple to tell my students what to wear, there is no easy answer to this question in a general article. It depends on where you live, your experience level, and the weather conditions on your paddle day.
Instead of recommending any single outfit for paddle boarding, I suggest you consider the following recommendations when planning your outing.
Dress for Your Experience Level
Novice paddlers tend to fall into the water more often than experienced riders. Just because you are going for a paddle with an experienced friend, it doesn’t mean you should be dressing like her. She may anticipate having an easy paddle and may dress accordingly because she is confident she won’t be falling. You on the other hand, should plan on falling, and getting wet. Dress appropriately.
Dress to Get Wet
Can you paddle in jeans and a sweatshirt? Sure can, but if you have ever tried swimming in wet heavy clothing, you know it’s not fun. Wear synthetic fabrics that are thin and drain the water quickly. These fabric types are light, dry quickly and keep you from getting cold. Bathing suits, board shorts, athletic apparel all work well in the water.
Dress for the Environment
The physical environment really dictates what you should be wearing. If you live in North America or Europe, board shorts, swimsuits and rash guards will be all you need in the summer months. In the spring or fall, shorts and a kayak jacket will work. Also consider wearing booties in the spring and fall months once the water gets cold again. Maybe it’s just me, but when cold water is constantly splashing on my feet in April or May, my tootsies get a little uncomfortable.
When it’s warm and sunny, a rash guard is a must. It keeps the sun off your back, and if you get hot, just jump in the water and your wet rash guard will keep you cool for the next 30 minutes of hard paddling.
Dress for Cold Water
Paddling in colder months when the water temperature is in the 40’s -60’s Fahrenheit should only be done with a wet suit. According to a University of Minnesota study a person loses body heat 25% faster in cold water (40°-60°F). Without protection, you could lose consciousness in as little as 30 minutes if you became stranded in the water.
Don’t Wear Constrictive Tops
Paddling requires your upper body to twist, bend and extend. Don’t wear clothes that are constricting or bind in the armpits. I have had several students over the years complain that they wore the wrong top and were uncomfortable.
Don’t Wear Anything You’re Not Prepared to Lose
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. It doesn’t matter how good of a paddler you are, at some point you will have an unexpected fall. If you are not prepared to have your sunglasses, hat or phone sink to the bottom of the ocean, DON’T WEAR THEM PADDLE BOARDING. You might not lose them today or tomorrow, but you will lose them eventually.
Be Comfortable with Your Body
The most important thing is to be comfortable when your paddle boarding. If you would never wear a bathing suit, but are comfortable going into the water wearing a T Shirt and shorts. Do it! The simple fact is that you have enough to concentrate about just staying up and paddling. You don’t need to worry about being self conscious by the way you look.
I’ve developed these tips during my years of teaching. I’ve had students who were young and old, skinny and fat. I’ve learned that as long as people follow the tips I’ve listed above, they have had a good paddle boarding experience. If you keep what I wrote in mind, I’m sure you will have a great time too.
The Wappa Blog
Written by Wappa's founder Layne Pennell, the blog's aim is to educate and share his love of stand up paddle boarding with anyone interested in SUP.
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