I live in Santa Cruz where the average sea temperature is usually around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but the air temperatures can range from 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes dressing for SUP paddling tricky. If you fall in – you are gonna be cold. If you don’t – you are gonna sweat. How to dress for both?
FIRST TIME SUP-PER?
If you are heading out for your first SUP adventure I recommend a shorty wetsuit. If you fall in, you will be thankful to have the wetsuit. If you don’t fall in, you can always unzip or pull the top of the wetsuit down to cool off.
Most shops you rent your SUP board from will offer you a wetsuit, so don’t feel pressured to buy something before you go. Just wear a swimsuit underneath.
Another really good option is wetsuit capris and a rash guard. This is what I typically wear, but most shops won’t have this option. So we’ll focus on wetsuits first.
How do I pick a wetsuit?
Wetsuits are classified by 2 things:
1) The amount of skin they cover, and
2) Their thickness
Let’s start with number one.
Wetsuits vary from booty shorts to full head to toe coverage. Some common types include:
Shorty/Spring suit: These can vary, but they are typically a one-piece suit that incorporates shorts and short sleeves, or long sleeves and booty shorts. Some examples are this suit or this spring suit.
Full coverage: A one-piece suit that incorporates long pants and long sleeves.
Farmer Jane/John: A one-piece suit that incorporates long pants and a tank top. (like this Farmer Jane)
Thickness is measured in millimeters (mm). For example, a thin/lightweight wetsuit might be a 2/3 mm (this means that parts of the wetsuit are 2 mm thick, and other parts are 3 mm thick). A thick wetsuit could be a 4 mm or even 7 mm (but that’s for things like scuba diving.)
To save you some embarrassment, most wetsuits zip in the back.
In winter or cold weather, I recommend thin wetsuit capris and a rash guard.
Rash guards: Rashguards come in tank top, short sleeve or long sleeve varieties. They don’t chafe and stay a bit warmer when wet. Added bonus, they protect you from UVA on sunny days. I especially like the ones that zip up the front (like this one from Carve) because you can regulate your temperature by unzipping it, should you get a little warm.
If you are really considering going long distance or offshore – a thin neoprene top or a heavier Neoprene SUP Jacket can be helpful. But I’ve found that in most weather anything beyond a few mm thick is too warm for Central California.
Another option is a neoprene vest. Vests keep your core warm, but you still have mobility in the shoulders for paddling.
If its warm out I tend to wear board shorts with either a rash guard or a tank top. The important thing is that the fabric is rash guard material so that if you get wet you won’t be cold or chaffed.
On very hot days, especially if I am in the harbor (protected and nearshore), I will wear a bikini.
Just be prepared. Remember that no one ever expects to fall in, but if they do, they are glad to have the extra layer.