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Should I Wear Shoes for Paddle Boarding? (SUP Shoes Guide)

Shoes for SUP - Big Blue Guide

SUP shoes are one of those accessories that divide minds in the paddling scene. Purists prefer to paddle barefoot, others swear by SUP shoes as essential equipment. Especially SUP beginners often wonder if it is better to do stand up paddling barefoot or with suitable shoes.

In fact, there are no special shoes for stand up paddling. Instead, you have to rely on shoes used for other water sports such as sailing, swimming, or surfing. Basically, the decision to wear them is a matter of personal preference, but it can largely depend on weather conditions, experience, and area of use.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about paddle boarding shoes – when you need them, where to buy them and what to consider when using them.

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Click here to check out the Best SUP shoes for 2022!

Should I Wear Shoes for Paddle Boarding?

All water sports enthusiasts including paddlers should consider wearing specialized shoes or socks to protect their feet. You don’t want to risk getting scrapes, cuts, or other injuries when getting in or out of the water. Plus, your feet can get very cold if you’re on the board for a longer period of time.

Do I Need SUP Shoes - Big Blue Guide
Source: Adobe Stock

Indeed, stand up paddling is a very low-threshold, accessible water sport that most people can jump into on a whim. Usually, SUP doesn’t require much more equipment than a bathing suit, a t-shirt, and some sunscreen.

However, the more enthusiastic you get, the more specialized equipment you’ll likely want. This is especially true for those who end up buying their own paddle board.

But even if you’re just renting a paddle board, a paddle, and a leash, you should stock up on a few other things to have a really good time out there.

Read also: How to Choose a Wetsuit for Paddle Boarding

When Do I Need SUP Shoes? 

Most paddlers spend most of their time upright on their board, so you may not think it’s important to wear SUP shoes.

SUP Shoes - Big Blue Guide
Source: Adobe Stock

However, when you walk into the water with your paddle board, shoes will help you avoid direct contact with algae, pebbles and other nasty debris.

An added bonus is that they shield your feet from sunburn. (If you prefer to paddle barefoot, apply sunscreen to your feet beforehand.)

Can you actually use an inflatable SUP in the ocean? Find out in this article. 

Pros and Cons of Shoes for SUP

As mentioned above, there are no paddle boarding shoes – instead, you can use beach or swimming shoes, which are also used for other water sports. They come in different shapes and sizes: thinner or thicker, neoprene or textile, plastic or rubber; there are barefoot shoes with five toes, solid or mesh.

Water Shoes - Big Blue Guide
Source: Vivobarefoot

Here is an overview that can help you decide whether you should buy shoes for paddle boarding:

Have you ever tried paddle boarding in the rain? Read here to learn if it's even possible!

Can I Wear Land Shoes When Paddle Boarding?

We can’t recommend wearing land shoes when paddle boarding. They tend to have hard soles that make standing or kneeling on the board a real challenge. Land shoes not only restrict your freedom of movement, but also don’t provide the optimal friction you need to safely get on and off your paddle board.

Shoes On A Paddle Board
Source: Adobe Stock

Some people opt for sandals, flip-flops or Crocs instead, but these can pose an even greater hazard. Since your feet aren’t really stable in such shoes, you might slip out of them when they’re wet.

If you really don’t want to wear water shoes on your paddle board, we recommend just going barefoot – as long as the temperatures allow it.

What to Look Out for in SUP Shoes

First, it is important to consider what the SUP shoes will primarily be worn for. In any case, it is important that they fit perfectly and protect your feet in the best possible way.

With the huge range of water shoes on the market, there are a few aspects to take into account that are specific to paddle boarding:

  • Thickness
  • Shape and material
  • Insulation properties
  • Non-slip materials
  • Waterproofing
Read also: What To Look Out For In A SUP GPS
5-Finger-Shoes
Source: Adobe Stock

Thickness

SUP shoes come in a variety of thicknesses. Thinner shoes (1-3 mm) are more lightweight and flexible, while thicker ones (5-7 mm) provide better thermal insulation and protection from injury.

Anyone who has ever stepped on a sharp stone in the water knows how painful this can be. Stones, driftwood, broken glass, shells, even crown caps – there are many nasty things you could step on at the water’s entry and exit points.

For this, thicker rubber or neoprene shoes offer the best protection.

Shape and Material

We have already mentioned neoprene, but there are other materials from which water sports shoes are made. Rubber, plastic, foam, fabric, or polyurethane are some examples.

Depending on the material used, SUP shoes also come in different shapes. You have low-cut, ankle-high, or even knee-high (in the case of SUP socks, see below).

And then there are the so-called five-finger shoes. They are designed like gloves for your feet with five individual toes and feature a very sticky Vibram rubber on the entire sole.

Water Shoe from below
Source: Vibram

What’s more, some shoes are equipped with Hydrostop – an elastic strip at the top that ensures that the sock fits snugly to your leg and keeps the water out. The soft band is highly stretchy and provides a natural but firm fit during activities.

Read also: What Do You Wear Under A Wetsuit?

Insulation Properties

Stand up paddling is performed not only in summer when water temperatures are high, but also in autumn and sometimes even in winter. In those seasons, it is especially important that your feet are protected in the best possible way.

This is because they are exposed to cold wind and especially cold water for many minutes or even hours at a time.

Winter SUP Gear - Big Blue Guide
Source: Adobe Stock

Here, neoprene water shoes can act in the same way as a wetsuit for your feet. In this case, they trap a thin layer of water between the shoe and your skin, which further protects your feet from losing body heat.

Especially in winter and colder waters, warm footwear is a must and barefoot paddling is definitely not recommended. Neoprene shoes with a thickness of about 7 mm are best.

Alternatively, a drysuit with booties is also a good option.

Non-Slip Materials

Another feature you should look for in paddling shoes is their stability. Even if you have a non-slip pad on your paddle board, non-slip shoes are still a smart choice. Not only will they prevent you from slipping on your way into the water, but they will also give you a more stable footing on the board.

Especially when you switch from the standard stance to the offset surfing or racing stance, you need absolute confidence that you won’t slip and topple.

Read also: Best Wetsuits For Swimming In Cold Water (Expert Guide)
Man on a SUP
Source: Adobe Stock

Waterproofing

Last but not least, you might expect your SUP shoes to be waterproof. That’s especially helpful in colder weather, saltwater, or when you’re paddling for extended periods of time. As a result, your feet won’t freeze while you paddle, but they also won’t be soaked the entire time. That way, you won’t end up with wrinkly crinkly toes at the end of your adventure.

Ever wondered how far you could get on a SUP in a day? Read more about it here. 

It’s just as important to choose shoes that are breathable and drainable. By doing so, you’ll be able to wear them in warm weather without your feet sweating excessively.

Some models also close tightly around the ankle, so water can’t get in. Others, however, are low-cut, and in this case, spray water can enter. The water that comes in must also get out – so you need to get shoes with perforations on the bottom or an integrated drainage system. Otherwise, you’ll be steeping yourself in two small puddles of water the whole time.

SUP Shoes or SUP Socks?

Good SUP socks are waterproof, heat insulating and really soft. In direct comparison to water shoes, they offer more comfort and noticeably more sensitivity. On particularly cold days, the socks can also be combined with shoes.

different kinds of Water Shoes
Source: Adobe Stock, Amazon

There are thick, thin, long and short models. Thus, every athlete should find the right socks for every season.

The right choice here also differs depending on the season. In spring and autumn, SUP socks or thin neoprene shoes (about 3 mm) are suitable.

In winter, on the other hand, you’ll need thicker socks that also have a special waterproof membrane between the inner and outer material. This will keep your feet dry and away from the icy cold water.

Read also: SUP Paddles (All You Need To Know)

What Are the Best Water Shoes for Paddle Boarding?

1. Kararao Quick-Dry Aqua Beach Shoes

Main Features

  • breathable and quick-dry Lycra material
  • lightweight and stretchy
  • adjustable fit thanks to the elastic drawstring
  • non-slip rubber sole with drainage holes
  • can also be worn as a daily barefoot shoe

2. MAYZERO Unisex Water Sneakers

Main Features

  • high-friction rubber sole
  • reinforced toe tips for extra protection
  • quick-dry thanks to drain holes on the bottom
  • multifunctional for trail running, hiking, beach volleyball, yoga, sailing, windsurfing, fishing and much more
  • available in 40+ different colors and designs

3. SIMARI Unisex Adult Water Socks

Main Features

  • extremely soft and flexible diving material
  • 92% polyester with an ultrathin thermoplastic sole
  • super easy to slip on and off your foot
  • breathable and quick-drying
  • a wide variety of styles, prints, and colors
  • very affordable

4. Racqua Quick Dry Barefoot Beach Shoes

Main Features

  • breathable and quick-dry Lycra material
  • lightweight and stretchy
  • adjustable fit thanks to the elastic drawstring
  • non-slip rubber sole with drainage holes
  • can also be worn as a daily barefoot shoe

5. Vibram Five Finger Water Shoe

Main Features

  • the pioneer of barefoot shoes and water shoes
  • five-toe design for optimal foot freedom
  • breathable mix of textile and synthetic
  • patented Vibram EVA sole for superior all-weather grip
  • lightweight, drainable, and durable
  • easy slip-on with the back loop, velcro closing strap

6. Body Glove Men’s 3T Barefoot Cinch Water Shoe

Main Features

  • minimalist barefoot feeling with zero heel lift
  • ultra-grip rubber sole for maximum traction on wet surfaces
  • innovative 3T design with three toe pockets – for a better, more natural foot movement
  • elastic shocklace at the back for an adjustable fit

7. Body Glove Women’s Sidewinder Water Shoe

Main Features

  • upper made from neoprene and mesh
  • integrated drainage system
  • adjustable quickset locking laces
  • seamless 3D-printed sole design
  • very low cut at the ankle for comfortable kneeling or sitting

8. yonsub Neoprene Wetsuit Booties

Main Features

  • thin and lightweight sole with excellent grip
  • insert sole for added puncture protection
  • good heat insulation due to thermic upper material
  • waterproof thanks to glued and blind stitched seams
  • side zipper for easy on and off

Which SUP Shoes for Yoga and Fishing?

Stand up paddling is a nice pastime in itself, but many people go even further: SUP yoga and SUP fishing have become very trendy lately. Of course, yoga and fishing are two activities with very different premises – so you should consider different water shoes.

SUP Yoga - SUP Fishing
Source: Women’s Health Magazine; Pinterest

SUP Shoes for Yoga

Most people practice paddle board yoga barefoot – because it increases sensitivity and freedom of movement. Plus, balancing on the wet paddle board on bare feet adds an extra challenge and exercises the foot muscles.

To achieve a similar effect, opt for thin SUP socks or five-finger shoes. This way, you can benefit more from the movement while protecting your feet from the cold or abrasion.

Read also: What Size Paddle Board Should I Get For My Height?

SUP Shoes for Fishing

For fishing, on the other hand, you need warmer and cozier SUP shoes that you can wear for a long time without getting cold or numb.

Depending on the size of the fish you want to catch, you should look for shoes with extra grippy soles. Then, when you need to make a bigger haul standing on the wet board, you will have more traction and stability.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the decision of whether to do stand up paddling with shoes is purely a matter of opinion. The safety aspect, especially when first getting on, is not to be underestimated.

Afterwards, you can take off your shoes and stow them under the luggage net once you are on the board and prefer to paddle barefoot.

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