What to wear on your feet whilst paddle boarding is very much a personal preference but having options can help you make the right decision for you.
Paddling barefoot can be a really nice sensation and can feel like you’re at one with the board especially in the warmer weather. This comes with risks though. If you had to abandon ship, could you do so safely? How deep is the water, and how likely are you to get cut if you fall off the board? By asking yourself a few questions like this we can quickly work out that paddling barefoot on the sea or on moving water might not be the best idea.
Before paddling barefoot it is important to be aware of where you’re paddling and the access. If you are paddling on a river or moving water with a chance of falling off into shallow water you may want to consider wearing shoes to protect your feet. Likewise if access requires walking over potentially sharp or uneven ground. One option could be to wear shoes until you get to the water and leave them on the side or attach them to your board for the journey. Old trainers or shoes that don’t matter if they get wet are ideal but be aware of the grip you have on wet rocks – some are lots better than others and dedicated watershoes pay dividends in the grip department. Shoes on longer trips are super useful as they gives you the option to stop off at the side of the water and explore or have lunch without worrying about where you’re treading. They also allow you to change the plan quickly in an emergency (a hike-out after an impromptu storm, or injury, perhaps).
When deciding on shoes, try to find a pair with little or no drop (difference in height between the heel and toe of the shoe) as this can help with balance (check out the Astral Loyak for a great example of a low profile, quick draining watershoe).
If you are just looking to keep your feet warm on a budget a pair of wetsuit booties is the warmest option. Look for thick neoprene and snug, cosy lining (such as the Palm Paw or Palm Descender shoes). It won’t matter if you get slightly wet feet – any water will warm up inside and keep your toes fairly warm, if a little wrinkly by the end of a long session. Don’t forget to clean them regularly as wetsuit boots can get fairly pongy if left to their own devices!
If you can guarantee keeping your feet dry a pair of hiking socks and trainers will also be warm. Get them wet though and you’ll feel it so you’ll need calm conditions and a nice stable high volume board for this option.
A nice compromise might be something like Sealskinz socks to keep your feet dry. If you like the barefoot feel but want warmth, you could wear wetsuit socks or Sealskinz socks on their own. Some pairs of wetsuit socks have reinforced and grippy soles to prevent them wearing through too quickly and to avoid slipping all over the deckpad of the board.
Here’s what we’d suggest for several different environments:
Flat water, warm weather, deep water = barefoot, watershoe, thin wetsuit boot (3mm)
Flat water, warm weather, shallow or rocky water = watershoe, wetsuit boot (3mm)
Flat water, cold weather = thick wetsuit boot (5mm)
Coastal/river, Cold weather = watershoe
In conclusion, a pair of watershoes really is worth it, even if you aren’t going to wear them all the time. Look for low profile, small drop and quick drainage, as well as durability. Check out specialist brands such as Palm Equipment and Astral as their kit is built to last in and out of the water.
See you on the water!