No matter what discipline of SUP you’re into, if conditions are good for paddling they’re also likely to be tough on your body. Sunny days come with burns, the wind and salt can chap and chafe, and cold weather presents its own set of potential issues — hypothermia not the least among them. Most often, board shorts and bikinis alone won’t cut the elements for any length of time, so to ensure you’re safe and comfy on the water, here’s our list of essential protective paddle wear.

Sonni Hönscheid championed the Women’s division in back-to-back races on the Maliko wearing hydrophobic shirts, winning the 2017 OluKai Ho’olaule’a earlier this month before claiming victory at the Paddle Imua. Photo: Frankiebees

Hydrophobic Tops

A word to the wise: if the sun is out and you’re paddling for more than 20 minutes, barebacking is not a smart thing to do. While certain sunscreens (see below) are great for the face, a thick shirt is far better at blocking the UV’s amid sweat and splashing water. But cotton tees only go so far with sun protection (you can still get badly burned beneath them), and also tend to cling and sag when wet.

With the ability to wick water, dry quickly and remain light on the body, a quality hydrophobic shirt is by far the best option for those brilliant sunny days. For the best hydrophobic gear on the market, check out the Maui-born, pro-tested, hydrophobic line by Bluesmiths. 

A Tahitian charger rising to the occasion in compression pants for the Ironmana SUP race. He also swam nearly seven miles in them. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Compression Pants

Disclaimer: We weren’t always a fan of compression pants. They’re touted by retailers as a product to improve blood flow and performance on the water, but they look an awful lot like yoga pants—somewhat of a fashion faux pax among traditional male athletes. Luckily for us, with a strong contingent of pro paddlers now dawning compression gear in race events, the style standard has changed and so has our opinion.

Besides performance, they provide a lot more sun protection than board shorts and bikinis. For top-of-the-line compression clothing that works as well in the water as it does on land, check out 2XU.

In conditions as frigid as Alaska’s, a wetsuit just isn’t enough to keep you warm and safe.

Drysuits

There are some cases where even the thickest wetsuit won’t cut the cold. And even if it does, once you take a plunge it will leave you soggy, shivering and chafing by the end of your outing. Instead of suffering through that shiver-fest, invest in a quality drysuit.

These fit more like a snow suit than a wetsuit, and are usually warn over fleece undergarments that help trap body heat inside. Most feature neoprene gaskets around the neck, wrists and ankles, and some even come with built-in booties. When you’re fighting the nip of subzero temperatures, you’ll want all the protection you can get. Drysuits provide. For some of the best-crafted womens’ drysuits in the biz, check out the tried and true Crux by NRS.

Don’t forget the sunscreen! Photo: Jonathan Kemnitz

Natural Zinc Oxide

Not all sunscreen is good for your skin, and even worse, most are very damaging to the marine ecosystem. The list of ingredients in mainstream sunblock lines includes nasty chemicals that burn your eyes, damage reefs and taint the water. When it comes to sunscreen ingredients more is usually less, and really the only necessary ingredient to protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays is Zinc Oxide.

Check the packaging next time you go to purchase a tube and look for a product with lots of zinc and minimal, natural components. Keep an eye out specifically to avoid oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunblock and a synthetic estrogen that penetrates skin and can disrupt your hormone system. Some of the best products will feature coconut oil, cocoa and other organic parts to help with smell and rub-ability. A quick Google search for “natural sunscreen” should do the trick. SUP Mag staff is currently loving the all-natural Zinc by Surf Yogis.

Protective gear like this waterproof, floating hat is important on the water. In the heat of the battle, a little shade can go a long way. Photo: M2O

Waterproof Hats

Even with zinc protection as thick as the man’s above, a good sun hat can make all the difference when going the distance on the water. The shade it provides is invincible to sweat and water wear, and perhaps more importantly, it keeps the sun out of your eyes. Pair this with a stout pair of polarized sunglasses to keep your eyes safe and your skin free of a glasses tan. But be wary of cotton and other water absorbing fabrics as they can be cumbersome and uncomfortable upon getting wet.

The best options are waterproof, and many even float. A quality floppy hat is really the best way to go for sun protection. But if you’re not a fan of the floppy look, there are plenty of other options on the market that will both look and work well for you. For an option as fashionable as it is functional, check out the waterproof floating snapback by Everyday California.

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