Winter Paddle Boarding Tips

Winter is an amazing time to paddle. In colder climates, winter means less boating traffic, quiet and solitude with few on the water.  In some places it means epic downwind conditions and more regular or bigger wave conditions. In warmer climates, it means putting on a neoprene top to handle slightly cooler water temps. In this post, I’ll be focusing on winter paddle boarding tips in cold winter temps.

During the last two November weekends, I had SUP surfing classes on the Washington coast. Air temps were in the low 40’s (Fahrenheit) with windchill in the 30’s.  Water temp was 47F.

Paddling on Puget Sound in Seattle in winter, air temps are normally in the 40-50’s but can get in the 20’s or less with windchill. I’ve done a few downwinders, even when snowing, with windchill in the teens.

Also due to being on a blood thinner, I tend to get colder others. Sounds gnarly?  With the right gear, and given that paddling is exercise, I stay warm.

Here’s the gear I use to stay toasty for winter paddling..

Wetsuit vs Drysuit

I’m a wetsuit fan, after years of wearing dry suits in my kayaking days. The higher end wetsuits these days are as dry as dry suits and toasty warm. Unlike a dry suit, when my wetsuit gets a hole, the rest of the suit isn’t compromised.  And there’s no gasket maintenance and repairs. But it’s a personal thing for me, as some friends love their dry suits.

I use the Ripcurl Flashbomb 5/4mm and 4/3mm. These suits are totally dry and are lined with RipCurl’s fleece like material called Flashbomb. This stuff dries super quick and is warm like fleece. A hooded suit, they are lined with Flashbomb entirely, including the hood.

The suits are top entry, which gets easier to enter after a few tries. I recommend wearing a thin rash guard, polypro or SmartWool shirt under to boost heat and help in sliding the suit off you after your paddling session.

The 5/4mm suit feels heavy when holding it, but you don’t notice the weight when wearing or in the water. The neoprene is super flexible, no shoulder issues for paddling and swimming.

If you need super warm for Arctic or Michigan surfing temps, check out their 6/4mm Flash Bomb Heat Seeker suit. Or the (32-38F) neoprene-free Patagonia R5® Yulex® Front-Zip Hooded Full Suit with 85% Yulex natural rubber/15% synthetic rubber by polymer content. Downside is the largest size is XL. The Patagonia R4 Yulex suit has a XXL.

Dry Suits

Dry suits keep you mostly dry and the insulation is based upon what you chose to wear underneath. Most folks wear fleece tops and bottoms. You can get a full fleece liner suit and socks. A friend wears her work clothes under for quick paddles after work.  Dry suits tend to run $600 and higher and do require neck and wrist gasket maintenance.

Are dry suits warmer than wetsuits? That’s a personal choice given where and how you paddle as well as if you tend to run cold or warmer. I do run cold but still like my Flashbomb suits.

If you are into dry suits, I like the Stohlquist Shift suit which doesn’t look as baggy as dry suits. Kokatat is another reliable popular brand. This GoreTex SwitchZip suit has a top and bottom that can separate which is a nice option.

Epic Winter Bootie Solution

Over the years of trying different options for booties and experimenting here and there, I found that keeping my feet dry in super cold temps is one step to staying warm. The next step of course is effective insulation.

I’ve tried to add SmartWool and fleece socks inside by booties but if the socks get wet they get squishy and slosh around in the boot, and my feet end up getting cold.

The Winning Winter Toasty Solution. So I found NRS’s Desperado and Freestyle Wet Shoes which are both fleece lined and dry as my exterior layer.  I believe they’re phasing out the Desperado Wet Shoe which is too bad as the extra thick super traction sole was epic on rocks and barnacles.

Both have thick soles with great traction, especially on frozen puddles and wet boat ramps. And both are easy to slip on given the fleece interior. And the fleece material dries quickly.

Bootie Thickness. Many ask me how thick the NRS wets shoes are. Given the fleece lining, they tend to thinner than a non fleece lined thicker neoprene surfing bootie.

The surf brand booties up to 7mm are so thick they can be difficult to get on and off. Prior to discovering the NRS products, my surf booties would rip where the pull-tab is.

Inside the Wet Shoes, I wear NRS’s HydroSkin 1.5mm Wet Socks. These are waterproof and insulated. Their phased out Expedition Sock was a great option too.

Bootie Sizing Tip: NRS booties tend to run true to size, but check their sizing chart just in case. Buy one bootie size larger if you’re going to wear a wet sock underneath.

Winter Gloves

Like the booties, I double up my winter paddling / surfing gloves.

Outer Glove Layer:

Super Cold Days. Glacier Pre-Curve fleece lined gloves with their velcro wrist strap that keeps the gloves securely on and properly fitted (no sliding).  And the newish NRS Maxim Gloves.  Some like the NRS Veno Mitts but I like to have finger control for getting in my PFD.

Mildly Cold Days. For non Arctic cold days, just mildly cold, I use the NRS Maverick gloves. These are flexible but not fleece lined. Also dry and durable. They snap together at the wrist for easy storage (I always lose my left hand gloves).

Inner Glove Layer:

XCEL’s Anti Wetsuit Gloves have won me over for adding a dry insulating layer under my outer grippier gloves.  The gloves are super thin thus don’t interfere with finger flexibility, providing the exterior glove isn’t too tight.  And they’re small enough that if they get too hot, I can stuff them in my suit.

How to Dry your Gloves and Booties

Check out my post on drying paddling and surfing booties and gloves. I love the DryGuy ski boot dryer.

More Winter Paddle Boarding Tips

  • Add a GoreTex or nylon paddling jacket or top over your wetsuit to help cut windchill.
  • Wear hi-vis colors to be seen by boaters and offshore in big conditions.
  • Paddling helmets can make you warmer by keeping heat in and protecting your head from windchill.  I like Gath Gedi Helmets as they’re lighter, slightly flexible thus more comfortable and have good ear protection.

Check out My Other Posts on Winter Paddling

Winter River Surfing Tips

30 Tips for Cold Weather Paddling – SUP Magazine


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.







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