There is no need to wear shoes when paddle boarding. Paddle boards are equipped with a rubber grip that prevents feet from slipping on non-porous, non-waterproof material. Most paddle boarders also find that they have more balance without shoes, as they can feel the water and the board better with bare feet.
The main problem with wearing shoes whilst paddle boarding is that shoes can be a massive hindrance. Sure, some people might feel more comfortable wearing shoes, but shoes that aren’t made for water (such as trainers) can easily fill up and become heavy.
When you come off a paddle board, or when you accidentally fall in, the shoes are likely to weigh you down and will be uncomfortable to wear.
If you’re someone who would feel more comfortable wearing footwear when paddle boarding, you should consider water shoes. Whilst these can still be a hindrance to some people, water shoes are designed to absorb and release water so they won’t weigh you down.
The biggest benefit of water shoes is that they will protect your feet when you touch the floor of the water, which can often be filled with sharp and uneven stones, slippery algae, and debris. To protect the soles of your feet in shallow water, water shoes are great.
If you’re paddle boarding in somewhat deep water (where you don’t rely on the floor to push yourself onto the board), you aren’t likely to need water shoes. However, if the temperatures are cold, shoes can offer a layer of warmth.
Should you feel more comfortable wearing shoes when paddle boarding, you need to find a pair of shoes that are lightweight, breathable, flexible, and can release water easily. You should avoid land shoes such as running trainers and sneakers, which are designed purely for land purposes.
In short, you don’t have to wear shoes when paddle boarding. The only times you can wear shoes are for comfort, to protect your feet against sharp objects, cold water, or if you’re a beginner. You should only wear water shoes and shoes that are flexible, breathable, drainable, and lightweight.
Why do my feet hurt when paddle boarding?
Beginners are prone to foot pain when paddle boarding because of the way they tend to stand.
Whilst paddle boards offer a rubber grip that prevents your feet from slipping, beginners will naturally tense up their feet and try to grip the surface of the board with their toes. After keeping your feet in this position, you are likely to feel pain and discomfort.
This tension is similar to when you try to walk on snow or ice with improper shoes. You will naturally tense up your feet and toes to try and remain balanced and upright, which tenses up your muscles uncomfortably. Not only this, but this tension will restrict the blood from flowing to your toes.
This usually results in cramping, and over time it might cause pain in your lower legs as you tense your entire body.
It can take some time for beginners to learn how to balance on a paddle board without tensing up their feet. Nobody wants to accidentally fall into the water, especially if the water is shallow and there is a risk of landing on uneven ground.
The only way to simulate the feeling of a tense foot is to curl your hand into a fist for some time. After a while, your hand will ache and it might cramp up. The same concept goes for your feet - except your entire body weight relies on your cramped feet.
It is important to relax when paddle boarding and to avoid tension because not only is cramping uncomfortable, but it can affect your balance. If you fall in the water with a cramped foot, it can be difficult and painful to get back on the board.
There are ways to prevent painful feet. This includes relaxing (easier said than done!), wiggling your toes to get the blood flowing, shifting your weight, moving around, swapping between kneeling and standing, and stretching properly before and after paddle boarding.
It might also be worth walking around bare-footed around your house and yard. This will stretch out your feet and might encourage them to trust the ground without the security of shoes.
Do you need water shoes for paddle boarding?
Whilst shoes aren’t a necessary piece of equipment for paddle boarding, water shoes are often preferred by some paddle boarders.
It isn’t generally recommended to wear shoes whilst paddle boarding, because they tend to cause more of a hindrance than help. Shoes like running trainers are only designed for land use, and will therefore be too heavy when used in water. There’s also nothing quite as uncomfortable as wearing wet trainers.
Water shoes, however, can be useful. Beginners who don’t have enough trust to balance on the board without shoes often prefer water shoes, as they help to provide traction and grip.
Some advanced paddle boarders will even wear water shoes - especially if the water is cold or if they know there is debris and sharp rocks underneath the water.
Water shoes are lightweight, flexible, breathable, drainable, and designed to work in wet conditions. They can protect your feet from scratches from sharp and uneven rocks, which is handy for paddle boarding in shallow water where you rely on the floor to lift yourself onto the board.
They can also provide an extra layer of warmth for when the water is cold.
The short answer is that you can wear water shoes if you want to, but you don’t necessarily have to. Whether you’re wearing water shoes or going completely barefoot, both options are significantly better and safer than wearing running shoes or trainers.
Water shoes can provide excellent traction to your board, and they provide a great layer of protection against cold water conditions and sharp rocks or debris from the ground below the water.
Some people also find that water shoes prevent their feet from cramping, as they have more faith in the traction from the shoes so they don’t automatically tense their feet to balance.
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I’m an Colorado native, who learned to surf in the Pacific Northwest, and SW Canada. I live inland near the mountains now, and love to get out on my SUP. It’s weird, but I love windy, choppy days as no-one is out and I like the challenge.