Hopefully Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear will never show up at my house with a camera. I guess being a freelancer means the only “coworker” who could turn me in is my dog, and she likes to go naked, anyway, so what does she know about clothes? I don’t care what I’m wearing unless it is going to interfere with what I’m doing. Enter the conversation about paddleboarding clothes.

The Leisure Paddler’s Outfit and the Racer Outfit

During the summer, super fast awesome race men wear nothing but their 24 packs of abs and some baggies (that means “swim trunks”). Maybe a hat from a sponsor. Women wear bikinis and their 24 packs of abs and cool sunglasses. Both wear compression gear sometimes to help circulation.Visors are common. So are Camelbacks for water. PFD belts (personal floatation device) where required.

My buddy Karen in her summer paddling gear: board shorts and moisture wicking tank. And a visor!

I wear a one piece swimsuit that sucks me in, men’s swim trunks or board shorts, a rash guard (a uv-blocking water shirt), a visor, my Camelbak, PFD, whistle, and sunglasses with croakies.

My friend Marissa (front) paddling in Wilmington, NC on New Year’s Day wearing running tights and a long sleeved rash guard. I’m in the back wearing my surf booties, t-shirt, swim suit and swim trunks. The water was cold but the air was warm!

If you’re a new paddler, getting your outfit right is important, primarily so that you’ll be comfortable and you won’t overheat. If you’re my friend Patty, you always look adorable in your coordinating top and board shorts. I’m pretty sure her visor usually matches, too. I aspire to dress like Patty. In the meantime, after seeing 20 pictures of me in my ill-fitting men’s swim trunks in the local paper after the Carolina Cup, I’ve made some tweaks to my outfit.

What NOT to Wear

  • A wetsuit. Wetsuits are for surfers during the winter (southeast) and year-round (northeast and west). The only time I wear a wetsuit to paddle is when I have to scrape snow off my car to paddle. (Yes, I’ve done that. But only because Kristin Lewis made me.) If you wear a full wetsuit you will overheat. Think of standup paddleboarding and surfing as cross country skiing is to downhill skiing. You get HOT while paddling, even when it is cold outside. Layers are key. In the summer, a swimsuit and board shorts are plenty. In the winter, we like kayak wetsuit bottoms and layers of long-sleeved rash guards, short-sleeved rash guards, and/or a neoprene vest that you can zip off. Surf or kayak booties are a must to help keep your feet warmish.

Me in the Surf to Sound Rec Race around November 18 or so. I’m rocking my bodacious butt paddle pants, a long-sleeved paddle jersey and a t-shirt. All the cool kids in Wilmington have Paddle Pants. They’re basically wetsuit bottoms. Wear these ONLY when it is cold out!

  • Shoes. Shoes are for running. Before I started paddleboarding, I read the book The Wave by Susan Casey, which features lots of interviews with Laird Hamilton. That is where I first learned about the idea that standup paddleboarding involves your feet muscles. Some people I know wear shoes, but I find myself using my feet so much, making minute adjustments while paddling, that I can’t imagine staying upright if I had shoes on. If you’re paddling around oysters, you might think about some water shoes or the 5-fingers. However, even if you have shoes on, you’re not 100% protected from oysters. I had shoes during my great oyster debacle, but they kept getting sucked down into the mud. If you fall off your board, straight onto oysters, you’ll get scraped–shoes or not.
  • Enormous shorts. My new board shorts are still a little enormous. I need to put some elastic or a drawstring in them. The reason to avoid enormous shorts is that if you fall off, and then your pants fall off, it’s hard to get back on the board. They’ll also rub and you’ll get a rash. I’m not advocating that you paddle in nothing but a red Speedo. (I’M TALKING TO YOU COREY CURTIS.) Look around and find shorts that fit. If you are a lady that needs bigger shorts, MiracleSuit makes women’s swim shorts in plus sizes. I love mine. They’re also made for women’s hips, rather th
    an men’s. If you’re google searching for larger women’s board shorts, search for “plus size women’s board sh
  • Cotton anything. Feeling rather cocky on my new board last November, I elected not to wash my stinky paddle pants and instead wore my sweatpants. That was a dumb idea, because of course I fell in. Once cotton gets wet it is cold and it basically doesn’t dry off until you throw it in the dryer. Look for schmancy fabrics made for water for your tops and bottoms.

What TO Wear

  • PFD. In some places a PFD or lifejacket is required (Wrightsville Beach). In others it isn’t. You can get PFDs that are basically like fanny packs. They stay mostly out of the way.
  • Camelbak. In your camelbak, you can put your keys and a snack. And some money, a cell phone in a dry case, and your ID. I’m paranoid about becoming incoherent and not being able to tell someone who I am. I never paddle without water because I sweat a lot. If you’re new at something and you get dehydrated, you’re not going to have fun, so at least duct tape a water bottle to your board!
  • Whistle. Again, in some places a whistle is required by the Coast Guard. It will also help you signal for help if you get stuck.
  • Sun protection. A visor, sunscreen, and sunglasses will keep you from getting totally fried.

It’s Better to Freeze than to Fry

Because you’re not going to be spending most of your time in the water, but rather on top of the water exerting yourself, it is better to underdress than overdress. More people run into problems overheating while paddleboarding (particularly for flatwater distance) than by getting cold. If you’re moving, you’re sweating. Wear layers. And if you need help with your winter outfit, go to a sporting goods store and ask them to clothe you for a winter run. It’s the closest we’ve got right now.



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