A common question we get asked before taking people out for their first paddle is “Do I need watershoes?” The short answer is “no”. While not strictly necessary, footwear for paddleboarding can be a good option.
The two biggest reasons to wear footwear to paddle are
1) For protection
2) For warmth
It can be as basic as you have sensitive feet and walking to the water barefoot is hard for you.
Or it can be a little less obvious…sometimes you don’t know the area where you are paddling. Even if you do know the area, there always exists a chance that you could fall or step off of your board and land in an oyster bed, on a rock, on a broken bottle, or some other object that could cause harm to your feet.
We have been known to make the occasional unexpected stop on a beach covered in broken shells. We have even come across an island that I now call “goose poop island” for obvious reasons. No one would want to walk in that with bare feet- ick.
It’s not always necessary, but a little extra protection between your feet and the ground can be a good thing. And there is a huge range of options available to you should you go that route.
You can wear something simple as a pair or Sockwa minimal shoes which are thin neoprene with a thinner 1.2 mm plastic sole that is tough enough to walk on concrete, but thin enough that you still have good board feel.
There are also many shoes available that look more like actual shoes and provide varying amounts of protection. Many of these feature relatively quick drying materials, and drain holes or mesh to allow water to flow out. You can even wear something lug soled like Keen sandals that will eliminate any chance of feeling your board ,but will give you some support, and could help with foot fatigue since you are not trying to grip the board with your feet.
The above options don’t offer much in the way of insulation to your feet. When the water (and air) starts to cool off, you will need warm footwear to keep the feeling in your feet. With water constantly washing over the board and your feet, cold water and air will make quick work of numbing your feet. In this case you will likely want some neoprene to keep your feet warm.
Surf booties serve this purpose really well. The thickness you will need depends on how cold the water is you will be paddling in. In the northeast the water gets pretty darn cold, and it takes a while to warm up in the spring, so we usually recommend 7mm booties if you only want to have one pair. They will be warm and should get you through the winter if you so choose, especially if you add a pair of wool socks.
If you choose 3 or 5 mm, they might get you through all of the cold water you want to deal with. Thinner booties are easier to get on an off, and will reduce overheating feet when it’s not so cold. But the window of when they will work in our part of the world is pretty small. Usually even if you are warm in 7 mm booties, you can dangle your feet in the water for a couple of minutes to cool them right off.
Surf booties typically have rubber soles that will also provide protection for your feet while remaining flexible enough that you can still feel your board.
You might be wondering why board feel is important. If you are paddling on flatwater, it’s not as important to be able to feel everything through your feet, you probably aren’t moving around a whole lot, and you aren’t having to make adjustments with your feet. But when you are in rougher conditions, or in the surf, it’s nice to be able to get extra feedback through your feet so you can make those adjustments as necessary.
The advantages to paddling barefoot…board feel, comfort, and one less thing to deal with. That’s really about it. Some people just don’t like to wear shoes on or off the water. If you are launching from a sandy beach and the water under you is more nice sand, you probably don’t need footwear. If you are traipsing through glass on your way to the water, or paddling in areas with any of the aforementioned hazards, you might want to think twice.
If you decide that paddling shoes are for you, talk to your friends and your local shop to see what’s working well for everyone else.
Tags: paddleboard safely, cold weather paddleboarding, paddleboard safety, cold weather paddle boarding, safety tips paddleboarding, paddleboarding shoes, sockwa, water shoes for paddleboarding, footwear for paddleboarding