Spring is here but UK waters are still very chilly right now, so if you’re planning to go paddleboarding – and especially if you're taking kids – wrap up warm
I take my three kids paddleboarding and wild swimming in winter, but it does take a mammoth effort to pack the right gear for during and after the water. However, once you’ve cracked it, you’re guaranteed plenty of fun and (hopefully) no cold fingers and toes.
Dressing for paddleboarding can be tricky in cooler climates. Unlike wild swimming – where you’re submerged – or sailing, where you’re (mostly) out of the water, paddleboarding involves a mixture of both. You want to be warm when you’re dry AND when you’re wet – even if you have no intention of going in the water.
Dressing for SUP surfing is different again (more like surfing), but let’s assume you’re in calm water and just going for a paddle. Here’s what I suggest you wear.
Paddleboarding gear explained
From autumn through to spring I’d recommend a winter wetsuit. Wetsuits tend to go up to 6mm thickness on the torso, with thinner neoprene for the legs, and sometimes thinner still for the arms. So, for example, a 6/5/4 would be 6mm on the body, 5mm on the legs, 4mm on the arms. Buy the thickest one you can afford.
My kids are very happy in their kids Decathlon winter wetsuits, which they’ve passed down to each other over the years. Note, Decathlon tends to be small on the sizing so it’s worth trying the age category above.
Emma Jones, of SUP Inflatables takes her son wakeboarding and paddleboarding, and says she finds O’Neill’s wetsuits particularly good for flexibility, given the range of movement required (whether on knees or standing up).
- Buy a junior winter wetsuit from Decathlon
- Buy an O’Neill men’s winter wetsuit on Amazon
- Buy an Osprey women’s winter wetsuit on Amazon
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If summer’s approaching and a wetsuit’s feeling too hot, an alternative is to wear wetsuit leggings such as these junior ones from Two Bare Feet (pictured) or adult unisex 3mm wetsuit pants from LayaTone. Team them up with a rashvest (if it’s warm) and/or a wetsuit jacket.
Ranging between 1.5-3mm, these tend to be a thinner neoprene than a winter wetsuit but if you’re in waist-deep water, and only likely to be wading in and out, it’s handy to be able to take off your top when you’re too hot.
A rashvest provides some extra warmth and comfort under a wetsuit. If you’re getting too hot with all that paddling, you can also unzip your wetsuit to the waist, and still be protected from the sun and wind-chill.
Be sure to choose one with a high neck, like this one from Two Bare Feet. You can also find reasonably priced rash vests at Decathlon and Mountain Warehouse for kids and adults, both of which we’ve tried and like.
Keeping hands and feet warm is notoriously difficult. My 3mm neoprene Olaian gloves are great for wild swimming, though I can find them a bit too hot and sweaty for paddleboarding. Gul do a junior wetsuit glove. Sizing is important, though. A tight fit’s important for optimal warmth, so if they don’t fit correctly, be prepared to send them back.
Hint: when searching online look for ‘diving gloves’.
Another option is sailing gloves. Decathlon do a range to suit all budgets. I like the full-fingered Tribord ones (pictured) for both sailing and paddleboarding.
- Buy 3mm adult wetsuit gloves from Decathlon
- Buy 1mm adult sailing gloves from Decathlon
- Buy Gul 3mm junior wetsuit gloves on Amazon
TOP TIP – Wear rubber gloves!
To make hands warmer in the water – whether for swimming, paddleboarding or sailing – you can wear a pair of rubber gloves underneath. I had to resort to this recently, being unable to get hold of any kids’ neoprene gloves during lockdown.
My kids wore Gubberloves latex gloves underneath a pair of regular ski gloves. They come in two sizes (2-5 and 6-9). My 4-year-old and 7-year-old were both comfortable in the smaller size, and having tried with and without them, the difference was quite remarkable. Not bad for £3.80 – and you can make them clean the bathroom now too!
Wetsuit boots and shoes
My Olaian surf boots have proved excellent for three seasons of dinghy sailing and swimming, but have now ripped on the heel, probably from being yanked on and off too many times with cold hands.
Wetsuit boots for kids are almost as expensive as the adult versions, and when their feet seem to grow at a ridiculous rate it can feel like you’re spending a fortune.
That said, nothing beats a good pair of snug-fitting 3- 5mm neoprene boots that go all the way up your shins. My oldest son has a pair of 3mm TWF Aqua boots.
They’ve been a reasonable investment, and worth it for the price at £12.99 though the zip can be a bit tricky to get up, especially if you’re on a beach and they’ve got a bit sandy.
Only slightly more expensive is Gul’s Power Boot, which is pull-on design with a reinforced heel and toe. This is 5mm neoprene, too, so we’ll be giving this a try this season.
However, if all you have is a pair of wet shoes (and these retail from around £7 is most beach shops), wear them with a pair of hiking socks underneath and they’ll still be much warmer than going barefoot (my kids lasted around half an hour in the February water wearing these).
My kids are happing kicking around in their TWF or Lakeland wet shoes. We also tried Decathlon’s aqua shoes, which are more of a summer shoe really (my son wears them for dinghy sailing). These are a great fit, and snug once on – you’re not going to lose them in the sea – but tricky to pull on and off with cold hands.
Hat / swimming cap
Don’t underestimate the value of a hat – even on what feels like a baking hot day, you can soon get cold on the water.
If you or your kids are only expecting to be waist deep, a woolly hat will be fine. However, bear in mind that kids are often kneeling on SUPs, and when they fall in they do it with gusto, ie. head and shoulders under the water.
In the photo above my daughter is wearing her £2.99 mesh swim cap from Decathlon, which isn’t as warm as silicone, but much comfier and there are no tears getting it on and off.
Personal flotation device
I recently saw a mum out paddleboarding with her kid and dog. Whilst the poodle was perfectly content in his high-spec lifejacket, the young girl shivering on the back was wearing nothing but a swimsuit.
Whilst I can see why adults might not want to wear a buoyancy aid, for kids, it’s as common-sense to me as wearing a seatbelt or a bike helmet.
Buying advice from the RNLI
Plus, even confident swimmers are susceptible to cold water shock, which can happen in water 15 degrees and below. A buoyancy aid will keep you afloat while your body adjusts – which could take 3-5 minutes. There is some excellent advice on choosing a buoyancy aid in this booklet from the RNLI.
For my three (aged 9, 7 and 4) a lifejacket (which supports the head and keeps them upwards in the water) or, at least, a buoyancy aid (which simply helps them keep afloat) is non-negotiable.
I can see her point, given that it’s less bulky, and she’s kneeling down most of the time and wants to look around. However, I’d never let her wear it without supervision as it doesn’t have a crotch strap and she can be dunked or tipped face-forward in the slightest swell. It’s merely an ‘aid’ to her swimming.
- Buy a junior lifejacket from Decathlon
- Buy a Helly Hansen Kids Safe lifejacket on Amazon
- Buy an adult buoyancy aid from Decathlon
SUP personal flotation device
There are many choices of SUP buoyancy aids on Amazon. You can also get lifejackets with a gas cannister – as you might wear for yachting – which are designed for touring/adventure paddleboarding.
SUP personal flotation devices aren’t suitable for children, as they’re self-activated, but they are very light and compact. Red Paddle Co’s Airbelt Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is no bigger than a bumbag.
Dog buoyancy aid
A dog buoyancy aid is super-helpful if paddling with your dog. My cousin’s spaniel Tilly almost always jumps in when we go paddleboarding with her (usually sending her owner Lindsey in after her).
Tilly recently tried out Red Original’s dog buoyancy aid. Though initially suspicious she soon got used to it, and Lindsey found the handle really helpful when pulling Tilly back onboard. You can read all about it here.
Splashvest/anorak and trousers
Even on warm days a sea breeze can quickly cool you down so it’s a good idea to wear a splashvest or even just an anorak for extra warmth. You can always pop it in your drybag if you get too hot.
If it’s particularly cold a woolly jumper or fleece can be worn between your wetsuit and splashvest/anorak.
Also, remember that kids, who are usually sitting or kneeling on the board, will be a lot closer to the water than you, making them more prone to getting splashed.
In the photo above, my eldest son (at the back) is wearing Decathlon’s sailing windproof smock, which has been great, and at £9.99, good value. The younger two are just in packable lightweight jackets from Mountain Warehouse.
- Shark Touring SUP 11’8, £575
- Gladiator Elite 12’6, £680
- Gladiator Pro 10’6, £485
- Red Compact 9’6 SUP board, £1,299
- Red Paddle Co Snapper Kids’ SUP board, £799
I can’t write a piece on watersports gear without mentioning my favourite invention of recent years – the changing robe! Increasingly I’m seeing folk just wearing these for beach walks, but for me, their real benefit is in warming up (and getting changed) after wild swimming, sailing or paddleboarding.
My Red Long Sleeved Pro Change robe is the first thing I reach for when I get out of the water. The super soft, snug shin-length coat is roomy enough for me to get changed in whilst also keeping the wind off. My kids share a Kids Pro Change Robe, and though it’s really only (just) the right size for my 9-year-old, the two younger ones sit underneath it like it’s a blanket.
The jacket has a waterproof breathable shell and wickable fur lining, so you can wear it over your day clothes for a blustery walk on the beach, or over a wetsuit, or – where I love it the most – over raw, bare skin after a bracing, winter sea-swim! It’s available in grey, navy and Hawaiian blue.
I also own a short-sleeved dryrobe which I’ve had for a few years and love this too. I particularly like the big zip pockets, which are ideal for keeping phones and car keys in. It now also comes in a funky camouflage colour.
My husband, who doesn’t get so cold, and prefers to dry-off quickly, gets changed in his Red Original Luxury Towelling Robe, which he loves.
- Buy a Kids Short Sleeve Pro Change Robe from Red Original
- Buy an Adult Long Sleeved Pro Change Robe from Red Original
- Buy an adult short-sleeved dryrobe on Amazon
Keep your valuables safe
If, like me, you’re constantly taking photos, it’s handy to have a quick-access place for your phone that’s not locked away in a drybag.
Useful not just for paddleboards, but dinghies and boat cockpits, Red’s Waterproof Pouch is stiff, buoyant, leak-proof (even when submerged) and easy to attach to SUP webbing, jackstays or a belt. Inside it has removable padded pockets to protect valuables, and comes with a ‘lip-salve’ type stick to keep the zip running freely.
A few extras for the drybag
Even if you’re just going a short distance up the river or around the harbour, it’s fun to pull up ashore for a snack, play and a picnic. It turns what can be an ordinary outing into a Swallows and Amazons type adventure. Food and drink are key! Hotdogs fresh from a food flask are a winner with kids (don’t forget the ketchup!), along with a frisbee or beach ball.
I must admit, I have a cupboard full of drybags. For paddleboarding, I find 20-30 litres is a good size, and I’ve had a lot of use from my 20L Aquafree and 30L OverBoard bags. I also keep a huge Musto 65l bag in the car for transporting five soggy wetsuits home afterwards.
Red Original has some good ideas to throw in your dry-bag. Their stainless steel marine-grade bottle takes a decent 750ml (that’s 3 cups of hot chocolate or deliciously cool water… or a WHOLE BOTTLE of wine!) and comes with a canteen and sports top.
A large towel for drying dogs, kids, or even just sitting on, always comes in handy. I’m impressed by how compact and yet absorbent Red’s quick-dry mircrofibre towel is. It’s lighter than any I’ve previously owned, and has a hanging loop and a neat little snap-fastener to keep it rolled up. Despite its small size, it’s big enough to wrap around you (80cm x 150cm).
The Paddleboard Bible
Finally, whether you’re planning your first family paddleboard, or are a seasoned SUP-er looking to widen your adventures, you can’t go far wrong with a copy of the Paddleboard Bible by Dave Price.
This lovely book is accessible, friendly and has tons of handy info on standup paddleboarding, including techniques, equipment, planning tours (including night paddling and wildlife). I particularly like the section on fun board games and challenges for kids.
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