View from the Back: Cold Weather Paddle Gear

Distance Paddle Gear
SUP Surfing Gear

Winter 2012-2013 marks my third winter of stand up paddling. I think I'm finally getting the hang of my gear. Granted, the longer paddling is around, the more stuff people come up with for us to use. I'm kind of a gearhead, too. Not so much because I want to have the latest and greatest stuff, but because I want to be comfortable while paddling, and I want to have my stuff with me. 

You're looking at a person who had a briefcase when she was six. (I couldn't go anywhere without my VERY IMPORTANT PAPERS!) That's how I ended up with my SUP Thing net.  It helps me carry all of my crap if we're going on long-haul paddles with picnics. (I'm the one to bring along if you want good food when you stop for lunch. FYI.) I've used it in the ocean and it holds as long as I'm not going through pounding waves. I even took it to Hawaii with me.
This year I'm "training" for the Carolina Cup Graveyard Race. That is going to involve a lot of long paddles on cold days with cold water lapping at my feet, or occasionally lapping at my ears. I have to practice in the ocean and in the inlets. I have to learn how to get out through big surf with my race board--just in case. And while I wouldn't say that I just hate to be cold, I don't really enjoy it. Nor do I want to simultaneously fry and freeze, which is what would happen if I just wore a wetsuit. 
Wetsuits keep you warm if you are in the water. Period. They're not meant for paddling above water for long periods of time. If you do that, you'll sweat in the wetsuit, and then you can actually get cold. I don't know how it all works. Anyone care to weigh in?

So what do you wear if you don't wear wetsuits? Well, here's what I wear. (And I got none of it free. I bought it all, so if I mention it, it's because I LIKE it.)

SUP Surfing in Winter

To say that I surf would probably be an overstatement. I paddle in the surf--both standup and prone. I can catch waves (prone) and paddle over waves (standing up). Very rarely does the magic of catching wave + riding wave standing up ever happen for me. But I'll get there. During a recent surf outing while Lexy surfed I swam around a lot with my board. In anticipation of surfing I wore the following: (bottom picture)
  • One piece swimsuit (my go-to base layer for every paddle condition)
  • Long John wetsuit by Xcel
  • Body Glove ½ mil top (under the wetsuit)
  • RipCurl hidden split toe surf booties. 
How did that work? Well, I didn't get cold. I did end up with about seven gallons of water in my wetsuit which made me look like the Michelin Man. I had to exit the water and empty the suit. While the water came gushing out around my ankles, a lady on the beach said "Can I take your picture?" Well, sure. Snot gushing out of my nose, I smiled. I said "The only reason I'm here on the beach is that I can't get out past the break." I guess she didn't care. 
Lexy also got water in her wetsuit. We decided we just need to get better so that we spend less time swimming and more time paddling. 

Distance Paddling in Winter

The name of the game with distance paddling during the winter is that you don't want to get in the water. That makes your layers different. To do a ten mile paddle on a calm day when the air temps were around 55 degrees, I wore the following: (top picture)
Everything but my feet were perfect. 
For the Surf to Sound race I wore the shoe thingys with smartwool socks, and those kept my feet marginally warmer. I don't like distance paddling in my surf booties. My toes get numb much earlier than I'd like.
When someone invents whatever will keep our feet warm in the cold water while still preserving our ability to actually walk around on our boards, please call me. I'll invest in your company. 

Allow Me to Wax Poetic about my Outfit

I love that Body Glove Jacket. I don't know if I've ever loved a piece of clothing more.

Technology is amazing. I also love the SeasonFive vest. Both pieces keep you warm, but let the sweat out. They aren't bulky. They're water repellant. If I could squeeze my butt into a pair of Season Five pants, I'd do it. I've had the HydroSkins since I started paddling, and they're great, but they're kind of warm for 50 degree days. I think the SeasonFive pants would be cooler. Whenever I take off the HydroSkins, they're always soaked with sweat on the inside. 

Odds and Ends

A: Not that I've found. Anyone else have a secret?
It doesn't matter whether you wash them and leave them out to dry, they'll still smell. If you leave them in your car, your car will smell like feet. 


A: I hate wearing gloves, and will avoid it until I have no other choice. I bought some paddle gloves from Triangle Glides at the Surf to Sound race. I have yet to try them. Once in my whole paddle life I paddled in my big rubber surf gloves. It was 33 degrees that day and I had to scrape snow off my car. I used to paddle in some thin synthetic gloves from Eddie Bauer that had little grippy snowflakes on them. That worked OK until they got wet. 


A: I'm about to have to do some of this in order to practice in the inlets. Probably what I'll do is wear my Farmer Jane Xcel wetsuit with my SeasonFive vest under it. I will keep the top part of the wetsuit off and just zip my paddle jacket over it for the three mile or so paddle to the inlet/surf. Then I'll zip up the wetsuit, put the jacket over it, and hope for the best. 
While standing on one foot. 


What are your winter gear tips?
What do you wear for winter paddling? It depends on what you're doing.

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