Ask April! 3 Winter Weather Paddling Tips You won’t Find Anywhere Else!

24th February 2021

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Today I would like to share with you my top three winter paddling tips. In doing so, I’m assuming you paddle in the winter already. You are capable of checking the weather before you head out, planning your paddle accordingly, and dressing appropriately to prevent hypothermia if you were to fall in. These tips are not for someone newer to paddling that is looking for ways to safely get on the water, rather these are tips about small changes that can make winter weather paddling much more enjoyable.

You Already Know the Basics of Cold Weather Paddling …

It’s February, and if you’re starting to look at a few early-season races, you may be feeling a crunch to get on the water to train. Most paddlers have already completed a healthy dose of cross training like maximum strength in the gym or land-based aerobic cardio and can’t stand being off the water for another week. You don’t want to stifle this motivation to train, but you also don’t like being incredibly cold or miserable while paddling. If you hop on the inter-webs to look for a few methods to make winter paddling more enjoyable, you’ll find the internet is crowded with the same or similar tips, tricks, and advice for cold-weather paddling. Some of it is well intended but obviously written by SEO experts… not paddling experts. A few of the sites even make recommendations that I would consider unsafe for someone training at a high level.

Three Practical Winter Paddling Tips for Experienced Paddlers

My goal today is to share with you, the seasoned paddler, three subtle modifications to your winter paddling routine that could make your time on the frosty waters much more enjoyable… and if you’re ramping up your training intensity – potentially safer.

1. Protect Your Exposed Skin from Wind Chap

I like to use shae butter on my face to help prevent chapping when exposed to the cold, winter wind. It doesn’t clog pores, and you’re likely to wash it off anyway when the paddle is done. I’ve used petroleum jelly for extreme weather conditions in the past, but for daily use, I prefer shae butter. (Bonus: it keeps your skin looking young and adds extra protection with an SPF of ~4)

2. Dry Feet are Warm Feet

I also like to tape over the scuppers in the cockpit or standing area of any paddle craft I’m using during the coldest part of winter. Even though I wear extremely warm, comfortable 7mm neoprene booties with wool socks underneath, my feet still stay warmer if they are dry. To do this, I tape over the drain holes with aluminum tape. If anything were to happen and my craft filled with water, it is very easy to poke through to allow it to drain – of course, at this point your feet would be wet until you got back to your start point. No biggie.

3. Avoid Single Suits unless Immersion is Likely

Unless you’re surfing, down winding, or paddling in conditions where it is very likely you’ll fall in – I recommend using separates. (In all conditions, I recommend wearing multiple layers!) By layering under separates, it’s possible to safely remove outer layers if you get too warm – or put them back on if you start to feel chilled during your cool-down. Single-piece suits are a little restrictive to shoulder movement needed for comfortable paddling and difficult to peel back or put back on quickly. Separates also oftentimes come with a zipper top, which allows for greater “climate control” of your upper body. I personally use alpaca and wool base layers under NRS neoprene hydropants and/or hyprotex dry gear – but there are a lot of fantastic brands out there to choose from! Depending on your local weather and personal preferences, you may think differently, but whether you like a single suit or separates, you should always dress as if it were about 15 degrees warmer if you are doing something intense like an interval workout or a race. Keep an additional warm clothing layer, or a wind/rain breaker in your pack or on your boat/board for emergencies if needed.

What Serves You When Paddling in the Winter?

These are just 3 tips that have made winter paddling easier for me as an individual. And, we all know, that individuals are unique. I hope these tips that work for me will contribute to your enjoyment on the water this winter, but as with anything in life, you must assess your unique situation to see which ones work for you and which ones don’t serve you. What are some things you do in the winter to make getting on the water less daunting when it’s cold, wet, windy, or all three? I’d love to hear if you have any unique tips yourself!!

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About the Author

April Zilg

April Zilg is a gold medalist in the Pan American Surfing Games, Gorge Downwind OC1 Champion and APP World Tour Vice World Champion. After training and competing for the better part of the last decade, all of her hard work learning how to train and properly fuel finally paid off and now she wishes to share all she's learned on her route to success as co-founder of Paddle Ninja. Follow her on Instagram.com/AprilZilg for weekly Paddle Tip Tuesdays and on YouTube.com/AprilZilg for behind the scenes videos on paddle competition, training, and life.

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