Healthy Paddling: Dress for Success

Sun protection is an essential element of paddling safety. 

Sun protection is an essential element of paddling safety. 

While looking good on the water is sure to turn heads, wearing the right clothing for the weather will ensure a safe paddling experience. An EMT will not notice how stylish you are if they have to treat you for hypothermia or heatstroke. Here are a few tips for dressing for success on the water.

Warm weather, a frequent luxury in Southwest Florida, requires some preparation. It is imperative that paddlers minimize sun exposure to avoid sunburn. A wide brimmed hat – the wider the better – will keep the sun off of your face and neck. A UV protective shirt or rash guard will reduce skin exposure. All clothing should be made of lightweight, cooling materials. The most important component of paddling in warm weather is not related to the outside of the body, but the inside. Remaining hydrated at all times provides insurance against dehydration and heatstroke. Always bring your reusable water bottle. Insulated models designed to keep your water cold are ideal.

A common misconception about Southwest Florida is that it is always warm. As recent weeks have shown us, this is not always the case and the wrong assumptions can lead to dangerous consequences. When dressing for colder weather, a shorty wetsuit is a good balance between comfort and warmth. Adding a waterproof rain shell to this will keep you dry and minimize the effects of the wind. Being aware of your personal cold tolerance is also important. If you are prone to feeling chilled, you may need a full wetsuit. Remember, fleece and wool will keep you warm even when soaked, whereas wet cotton or down will only make you colder. And don’t forget, you can get a sunburn even when it is cold outside – so cover up!  

Always check the weather before you paddle. When you are paddling, dress according to what the meteorologist says, not the fashion designer. Happy paddling! 

Walter Cheatham is an experienced paddler and ACA-Certified Paddling Instructor. Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club founded by Sanibel Sea School to help the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit or follow us on Facebook to learn more.