Veteran paddleboarder Duncan Slater recommends some essential accessories to buy when considering what to wear paddle boarding
What to wear paddle boarding? It might sound like a silly question – but the answer isn’t necessarily as straightforward as you might expect. From those with no watersports experience, right up to people with long histories in aquatic environments, it’s easy to assume wrongly.
If you’ve identified the best paddle board for you and made that big purchase, and bought all the stand up paddle board accessories that you might need, then the next thing you will want to consider is what to wear paddle boarding to maximise your enjoyment. Choices can be a little confusing, should you go for a paddle board wetsuit or would it be better to start with some less technical clothing?
Thing is, unless you’re intending or expecting to fall in a lot – in surf, for example – paddle boarding on flat water isn’t usually that immersive an experience. Although of course, no matter how good you get there’s always an outside chance that you might end up in the water. Therefore in many situations, much like running or cycling, it’s about layering up or down to suit the weather and conditions.
If the water’s cold though, then you really must dress appropriately – and that means neoprene. You will need enough neoprene that you’re safe in case you fall in, which is always a possibility, yet not so much that you’ll overheat when paddling.
The ‘problem’ with neoprene is that it’s not breathable, and wetsuits are really designed to be used wet. Hence most flat water stand-up paddlers tend to minimise the amount of neoprene they’re wearing.
So in most SUP situations a full wetsuit maybe isn’t the ideal clothing to wear paddle boarding. But what is? Here we look at a range of suitable SUP clothing – the essentials to cover you for various weathers and situations.
What to wear paddle boarding
Ion Plasma Boots
Reasons to buy: Good foot feel due to thin material | Keep your feet warm
Reasons to avoid: Not necessary for many in warmer months
Truth be told, when possible most experienced paddle boarders tend to prefer paddling barefoot. But when the water’s cold, a priority for comfort is keeping your feet – and specifically toes – warm.
Especially on flat water you’ll find that as you’re not moving your feet around so much they can get very cold very quickly. So over winter and into spring, a good thick pair of neoprene boots is a must-have.
These Ion Plasmas are primarily designed for kitesurfing, but they cross-over perfectly into paddle boarding when you also want to ‘feel’ your board underfoot.
At 6mm thick they’re as warm as you’re going to need for most cold-water conditions. Yet a segmented sole with strategic cuts in just the right places enhance flexibility for that bare-foot feeling.
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O’Neill Hyperfreak 4/3mm Wetsuit
Reasons to buy: Thin neoprene enables good movement | Warm and comfortable
Reasons to avoid: Only really suitable for cold weather
Certainly in the surf, and in some other situations when you’re expecting to fall in regularly, if the water’s cold a full wetsuit is definitely appropriate.
Of the various different styles of wetsuit – specifically designed for disciplines from swimming to windsurfing to diving etc – a surfing suit is undoubtedly best for paddle boarding.
And what better brand to represent the genre than O’Neill – eponymous to Jack O’Neill who’s widely cited as inventor of the world’s first wetsuit in 1952.
Today, O’Neill’s Hyperfreak wetsuits are constructed in super-light, super-stretchy ‘TechnoButter’ neoprene.
This makes them lightweight, well sealed, easy to get into and out of, but above all warm and comfortable. Hence a 4/3mm wetsuit as featured here is ample for most paddling situations.
Palm Quantum Longjohns
Reasons to buy: Lack of arms makes for easy paddling | Comfortable once on
Reasons to avoid: Can be difficult to put on
Unless you’re out in waves, or expecting to be in the water a lot for some other reason, even in winter a full wetsuit is often too much for paddleboarding.
Sleeveless long-johns such as these Quantums from Palm are ideal though, as with your arms and shoulders free you won’t overheat when paddling.
Yet 3mm of neoprene will keep your legs and core more than warm enough, even if you do take the occasional dip.
The Quantum are Palm’s ‘budget’ long-john range, but should be ample for most SUP purposes. Featuring reinforced knees, flatlocked seams and a stretchy lumbar back panel, they’re available in both men’s and women’s cuts.
These Palms are ideal for spring and autumn – and suitably layered, they could see a proficient flat-water paddler right through winter too…
ItiWit Paddleboarding Trousers
Reasons to buy: Designed specifically for paddling | Protects your legs but leaves your torso free
Reasons to avoid: Not needed in summer
Some flat-water paddlers find even long-john’s are too much – particularly in autumn, springtime or on a fine winter’s day.
When you’re really not expecting to fall in but there’s still a chill to the water, neoprene leggings are a good call.
Enough to protect your legs if wading into the water, these leave your upper body free from neoprene so less likely to over-heat.
These ItiWit neoprene leggings from Decathlon are specifically designed for paddlesports. In cold weather, 2mm of stitched neoprene provides warmth and you can layer up with breathable fabrics on your torso.
With an anatomic design in both men’s and women’s styles, a drawstring waist, plus knee reinforcements to provide abrasion resistance, these ItiWit trousers are very good value.
Quiksilver Waterman Paddler Boardshorts
Reasons to buy: Great quality board shorts | Length allows movement in the legs | Environmentally sound
Reasons to avoid: Offer little warmth
Every self-respecting stand-up paddle surfer should have a decent pair of boardshorts.
In summer – and surprisingly deep into autumn – they’re often all you need to wear on your bottom half. When the water and air temperatures are warm enough, there’s no need for more.
So if you’re going to spend much time on a SUP, it’s worth getting a quality pair of boardshorts. These mid-length Quiksilver Waterman Paddlers are a fine example.
Made from a traceable recycled 4-way stretch fabric they’re ethically sound. They’re technical too, quick-drying with a water-repellent hydrophobic coating.
Equally at home on the water or chilling out afterwards they offer a blend of durability, flexibility, strength and comfort.
Roxy Wave Boardshorts
Reasons to buy: Great quality board shorts | Length allows movement in the legs | more coverage than a swimsuit
Reasons to avoid: Offer little warmth | Length may be on the short-side for some
For women, you might imagine a bikini or swimsuit is the best option in hot weather. And for some it is – although most paddlers appreciate something a little less revealing.
After all, stand-up paddling can and does include a fair degree of squatting and bending, so boardshorts are a more popular option.
These Roxy Love Boardshorts are also made from a traceable, 4-way stretch fabric produced from recycled plastic bottles. With a fully elasticated waist and relaxed cut they’re comfortable as well as stylish.
A minimal short-length design means they won’t mess with your tan-lines too much. Plus a back pocket on the right leg even provides an element of practicality.
Red Paddle Performance Top
Reasons to buy: Good technical top | Breathable to help wick away sweat
Reasons to avoid: Even with breathability may offer too much coverage in warmest weather
So, we’ve established that layering’s key for most recreational paddle boarding. But the question is what to wear when the water’s not too cold yet there’s a chill in the air?
Red Paddle’s Performance Top is a great technical mid-layer – ideal for regulating body temperature in colder weather. The super-soft fabric is breathable, moisture-wicking, quick-drying and even odour resistant.
Red Original have fast gained a reputation for super-high quality clothing and accessories, not least thanks to this great garment.
You’ll really appreciate the attention to detail too: the zipped pockets are big enough for your phone, wallet and keys. The long neck zip makes donning and doffing super-easy.
Plus thumb-holes in the sleeves are great for keeping your hands warm. Available in men’s or women’s cuts.
HH LIFA Stripe Long-Sleeve Crew Base Layer
Reasons to buy: Super lightweight makes it very comfy | Excellent moisture wicking | Useful year-round
Reasons to avoid: None
A high quality base layer is an extremely versatile garment that should be in every paddle boarder’s wardrobe.
Weighing in at just 90g, this Helly Hansen is super-lightweight, but constructed in hydrophobic LIFA fabric it provides light insulation and wicks moisture away from the skin.
Hence in summer it can be worn alone to help regulate your temperature. It’ll keep you warm enough if the sun’s not out, or can protect from UV if it is.
In spring and autumn it’s a great base layer beneath a breathable mid and/or top-layer.
And even in winter if you’ve opted for a full wetsuit but aren’t expecting to fall in, it’s good to have something to save your suit from getting too sweaty. Available in men’s or women’s cuts.
Dakine Loose Fit Short Sleeve Surf Shirt
Reasons to buy: Good sun protection | Keeps shape when wet
Reasons to avoid: Short-sleeves limit the sun-protection qualities
In summertime when the air and water are warm enough, a t-shirt’s often as much as you need to wear up top.
These Dakine Loose Fit Surf Shirts are technical tees that look just like ’normal’ casual shirts.
Although the material looks just like cotton, Dakine’s synthetic blend fabric amazingly keeps its shape when wet rather than clinging to your skin.
Soft, quick-drying and offering full UPF 50+ sun protection, flatlock seams make paddling really comfortable with minimal rubbing.
Great looking tops that can transition seamlessly from the beach to the bar! Similar styles are available in different cuts for each gender: Dakine call their men’s surf shirt ‘Heavy Duty’ and the women’s ‘Dauntless’…
Vaikobi VDRY Lightweight Vest
Reasons to buy: Plenty of warmth but allows arm movement | Vents allow some breathability
Reasons to avoid: Would only really want to wear it in very poor weather
To fully encapsulate your layering, a breathable waterproof outer shell is a useful bit of kit for poor weather.
The danger with too heavy a top layer is that you can soon overheat when paddling. After all, you are exercising your arms, shoulders and core which will soon warm up!
Antipodean paddle outfitter Vaikobi offer this fully waterproof, breathable Lightweight Vest with water repellent function.
The high collar is fleece lined to protect your neck from chilly winds while a soft mesh lining allows the vest to move with your body as you paddle.
A scooped back provides extra protection from the elements, vented for added breathability and body temperature regulation.
An adjustable waist cord keeps it in place while a half front zip allows scope for extra aeration. Constructed in reflective silver for optimum winter visibility.
Musto Evolution FD Technical Cap
Reasons to buy: Keeps sun out of your eyes (without the worry of losing sunglasses) | Integrated clip to prevent loss
Reasons to avoid: Very personal decision if caps are your thing when paddling, not for everyone
Topping everything off, a good cap is another multi-functional garment that’s indispensable for many paddle boarders.
Of course you can wear shades if it’s sunny, but you do risk losing them if you fall in. Whereas a cap – particularly this Musto with its elasticated back strap and retaining clip – will shield your eyes from the sun without any worries about losing it to the deep.
Equally, in inclement weather, keeping the rain off your head and face can make an enormous psychological difference. Quick-drying fabric on the peak and across the top of the hat will keep you comfy, while open mesh side panels provide ventilation.
In winter even a lightweight cap like this can retain enough heat to stay that bit warmer. Reflective detail on the peak helps keep you visible in low light too.
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