The fall and winter in the northwest offer some of the best paddling conditions of the year. Smooth, glassy water, gorgeous fall colors and crisp air can make for memorable and exhilarating SUP sessions. And, paddling on the Columbia River in the midst of a lightly falling snow is flat out awe inspiring. The trick is being warm enough without overheating.
The past three winters, Big Winds SUP Manager, TJ, and I paddled a ton, and experimented with a variety of wetsuit and clothing options for paddling in chilly to frigid temps.
Think of paddling as the aquatic equivalent of skate skiing or Nordic skiing. You’re going to warm up really fast. The more clothes you have on, the more clothes you’re going to end up putting in your backpack. The same thing is true with Stand Up Paddleboarding. The trick is to not overdress.
Many people have the feeling that they’re going to be falling in the water and getting wet, so they wear a bulky wetsuit. That’s really not the case unless you are going out in rough water or riding waves in the ocean. If you are paddling on flat water in relatively calm conditions, you’re not likely to fall in. And if you do, you’re going to get right back up on your board. You don’t need to wear a bulky wetsuit because you’re not going to be in the water for long.
What TJ and I like to wear in cold conditions is an inexpensive, simple, farmer-john style wetsuit: the O’Neill 2mm Superlite John. When the temps dip into the 30’s, I wear a very thin capilene zip turtle neck underneath the Superlite (the same base layer I would wear skiing) and a fleece over the Superlite that I can easily peel off once I get going. The Superlite John has a front and ankle zips, making it super easy to get in and out of. (Remember it’s front zip. You might try to put it on backwards like I did at first!)
The Superlite is inexpensive at under a hundred bucks, and it works great! O’Neill’s ladies version is called the Bahia Jane.
Your feet will get wet and cold if not adequately covered. I recommend the O’Neill Mutant 6/5/4 Boots. These boots are super warm and comfortable. With the internal split toe, your foot will stay well positioned in the boot.
If you’re going on a downwinder, or SUP surfing on the Oregon Coast, by all means, wear a thicker suit that’s appropriate for the conditions. But if you’re paddling in relatively flat, calm water, you probably won’t get wet. So don’t overdress and you’ll be a happy camper!
See you on the water!