Ready, Set, Paddle! Essential Gear to Jumpstart Your Paddleboarding Journey

If you are new to paddleboarding, you might not know what gear you need. 

I’ll be sharing the gear that Robert and I have, why we selected it, and why we recommend it. We will also share the gear that we purchased, thinking we needed it, only to realize that it was a mistake.

I’ve been paddleboarding since 2022. In that time, I’ve been able to really put some wear and tear on our gear and replace a few things. A lot of the gear selection was made with the help of our friend, paddleboard expert, and outdoors outfitter Ella Ran, co-owner of Outsiders USA.

Keep reading to learn more about the paddleboarding gear you need to get started.

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Table of Contents

Our Paddleboards

Of course, before you can paddle, you gotta have a paddleboard! Folks are often unsure what kind (hard or inflatable) and what brand to get. 

Everyone has an opinion, and there are really no wrong answers, but I would advise against going for the most expensive brands out there. You can always upgrade later once you know you are going to keep paddling. 

Paddling King’s Landing on our boards

What we Have

I have an Evolve Good Buddy hardboard (10’4″ x 30″), and Robert (my hubby) has a Movement Simple Cruiser (10’6″ x 32″).

We purchased them used from Outsiders USA. We wanted good boards but didn’t necessarily want to spend too much buying new ones. They are good starter boards for just touring—being out and having a day paddling and lounging on the water. The fact that we knew Ella and Renee from Outsiders played a part in our purchase. 

I recommend purchasing from someone you trust and doing your research. If you buy from a large company or directly from the manufacturer, make sure you have done your homework. If you can, rent the boards or go out on a tour with those boards before making any final decisions. We had used these boards before when we went on our paddle tour, so we kind of knew what they were like.

In 2023, we purchased a BOTE WULF Aero iSUP. It’s a 10′4″ × 34″ inflatable board.

After doing some research and hearing great things about inflatables, we decided to buy one. We also saw them being rented out at King’s Landing (a popular paddling spot in central Florida) and thought they have to be pretty hardy if they are being used for rentals. We bought it new but during a 50%-off sale. 

If you need help finding the right paddleboard, click here for the 9 best boards!

A collage featuring hard and inflatable paddleboards at launch points at Spruce Creek and King's Landing.

Paddles

Of course you have to have a paddle to be able to paddleboard. And there are many out there. 

Some paddleboards, especially inflatable ones, are sold as kits that include paddles. This makes it easy to try out a paddle and then choose to upgrade later. 

Make sure that whatever you choose, you get the kind that comes in two or three pieces and is made for paddleboarding. 

Cheaper paddles tend to be heavier and less pretty. There are some amazing lightweight paddles, but the cost really starts to rise. 

When we purchased our hard boards, we also purchased paddles, and we chose cheap used ones. We still have them and use them.

The inflatable board came with a paddle, and we still use it. 

For beginners, I recommend getting the cheap, ugly, heavy one. If you end up loving paddleboarding, upgrade. There’s no sense in sinking tons of money into something that you may decide you can’t or don’t want to do. 

Evolve Good Buddy and Movement Simple Cruiser paddleboards upside on grass with their fins. leashes, and paddles visible at Divito Park in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Great view of the underside of our paddleboards while setting up to paddle Spruce Creek in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Where to get paddle recommendations

If you want to start out with a better paddle or are ready to upgrade, I recommend talking to a knowledgeable paddleboarder. You might find a paddleboard rental company that could help like Outsiders USA. Another place to find information is in Facebook groups like:

Water Shoes

I think water shoes are great to have. They will keep your regular shoes safe from the wet-dry cycle that happens when you paddle. Your regular shoes get wet at the launch point and then dry off for the rest of the time, only to get wet again at the end of your paddle. Water shoes are made to go between wet and dry. 

Water shoes can also protect your feet in places with cement launch areas, oyster beds, or sharp rocks, among other things. 

My well-worn turquoise and white water shoes with stretchy laces and grippy bottom.
You can tell that I wear my water shoes a lot. They used to be a lot whiter.

Costs

Water shoes range from $10 to $200. Mine were pretty inexpensive, but I’m thinking of upgrading. The ones that I have never really dry. This means that at the end of my paddle I’m still putting on wet shoes. I recommend selecting water shoes that can drain. Not only will they thoroughly dry, but they will also be easier to clean. 

What to Wear While Paddleboarding

You can paddleboard year-round as long as the water isn’t frozen. That means clothing can range from your favorite bathing suit to a dry suit. 

Whatever you choose to wear, make sure that it is appropriate for where you are paddling, the weather forecast, and your budget. 

If you are just getting started, choose good weather paddles on comfortably warm days to keep your clothing simple; you probably won’t have to buy anything. 

Always remember that you can wear layers and remove them as you warm up or do the opposite if the paddle starts off warm and cools off as you go. 

Side-by-side photos showing Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, dressed for cold-weather paddle at Silver Springs State Park.
All the layers we wore for our December paddle at Silver Springs State Park.

What I Wear

When it’s warm, I typically wear my bathing suit under workout clothes. Even if it’s a place where you can swim, I like to start out covered up at the launch point and then lose the layers as I go. 

During the winter, I wear quick-dry leggings, long sleeves, a beanie, and a zip-up hoodie. If it’s extra cold, I’ll use hot hands to help keep me warm. That’s what I did when we paddled Silver Springs on a cold December day.  

Life Jacket or Personal Flotation Device

First off, life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) are not the same thing. 

  • Life Jacket – keeps an unconscious person on their back with their face out of the water
  • PFD – flotation device that will keep a person floating; comfortable to wear all day

No matter where you paddle, you must wear or have a life jacket or PFD on your board. Your paddleboard is considered a non-motorized boat by the Coast Guard

Search for your state’s specific rules about life jackets and PFDs. Click here for the Florida Fish and Conservation Commission laws regarding paddleboards.  

Everyone should wear their life jacket or PFD as much as possible, and of course, per the law. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, paddleboarding The Lagoon at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida wearing her PFD, sunglasses, and hat.
I’m really glad that I chose this PFD. I love it.

What I Do

I typically don’t wear a PFD when paddling in shallow waters unless the weather is cold. When it’s cold, I wear my PFD the entire paddle because a shock can occur when you hit the cold water, and you might not respond as you normally would when the water is warmer. 

If I’m not wearing my PFD, it is tucked under my bungee cords at the end of my board. It’s always handy, and I can put it back on whenever I feel like I need it. 

Pricing

Like most of the other items on this list, pricing varies widely. Usually, the more comfortable and stylish life jackets and PFDs are more expensive. 

My PFD is made for paddling, super cute, very comfortable, made for women, and costs around $80. Way more than I wanted to spend, but I also wanted to buy one that I would actually wear. 

Whistle

Keep a whistle on you for safety reasons. Like a life jacket or PFD, whistles are required by the Florida Fish and Conservation Commission. Whistles are lightweight and can even attach to your PFD. 

A whistle is a great way to get attention if you have an emergency on the water. Just blow it and you will be heard and hopefully can get help and quickly get to safety. 

Whistles are inexpensive, so getting one shouldn’t be a burden. Here’s one for $2.

I keep my whistle attached to my PFD. That way, I always know where it is. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, smiling while wearing a PFD and hat sits on her Evolve paddleboard at Spruce Creek in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Wearing my whistle on my PFD while hanging out at Spruce Creek.

Leash

A leash is a cord (which can be coiled) that connects you to your board. It’s stretchy and long enough to let you move around your board as needed.

They are good to have so that you are still attached if you fall off your board,  and they can keep you and your board together so that you don’t have to swim after your board as it moves away from you. 

You are not legally required to use one in Florida (I’m not sure about other states—please do your research). If you are on a lake, you might not need to use one. 

They can also be used if you are out with others and you or those you are with are struggling to paddle their own board. You can use the leash to tether the boards together

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, smiles, holding her paddle and wearing a hat, while sitting on her paddleboard at Spruce Creek in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
There I am, attached to my paddleboard with my orange-coiled leash.

Pricing

Leash prices vary. You can buy some for cheap, depends on what you decide to get. A basic one works just fine.

Here’s one that attaches to your ankle that’s $14. I have a similar one. 

Dry Bags

Dry bags will keep your items dry in a water environment and briefly when submerged, depending on how well they’re sealed.

I really think dry bags are a must-have. Even if you stay on your board the whole time, there is water everywhere. Even on my driest paddles, the bungee area of my board always gets wet, and that’s really the only place to stow anything. 

Our large dry bag holds our towels and post-paddle clothes. We’ve also used it to keep our layers dry when we peel them off as we warm up during a cold paddle. 

Two empty dry bags, a Geckobrands 30 L yellow bag and a Chums 4 L grey bag, used by Walk and Paddle for paddleboarding.
These are our empty dry bags.

My husband, Robert, and I each have small dry bags that act as our wallets. Soggy wallets are no bueno. Ours can also be worn as fanny packs or slung across our chests so we can carry them on our bodies and still stay hands-free. 

Of course, when we are wearing our PFDs we can’t wear our small dry bags, but we can secure them to the bungee cords on our boards. 

Good dry bags can be expensive, so look for good sales. If you decide to go with a less expensive version, make sure you pay close attention to the reviews. 

Sunblock/Sunscreen

Sunblock and sunscreen are a must whenever you are outside, especially on sunny days. 

If you didn’t know, sunblock and sunscreen are not the same thing. The most obvious difference is that sunscreen goes onto the skin and blends in, whereas sunblock sits on the skin and is visible. There are other differences, too, and you can read about them here on Forbes Health

We use sunscreen. 

Why Protect Your Skin While Paddling?

Some paddles are shady, but we have found ourselves completely exposed before. 

Sunlight reflects off the water back towards you, making it super easy to get sunburned while paddleboarding.

Movement Simple Cruiser paddleboard floating in shallow clear water at Disappearing Island near Ponce Inlet in Florida.
This is why sunscreen and sunblock are so important. This is at Disappearing Island in Ponce Inlet, Florida.

Application Tips

Even if you are wearing layers, apply sunscreen. You might get hot during your paddle and remove those layers, leaving your skin unprotected.

Remember to reapply. Sweat and water will wash away the product after a certain amount of time. There is nothing worse than thinking you are protecting your skin and ending up with a sunburn. 

Pricing and Recommendations

Like most things, you can get low-cost ones. I recommend reef-safe sunscreen for those of you in the Intracoastal, bays, and the ocean. It’s not the cheapest ($15 for 2.9 oz), but it’s water resistant, made for water activities, and safe for our waterways. 

Lip Balm with SPF

So often, we forget about our lips! The skin there is sensitive and requires SPF that is safe to use around this area. Lip balm with SPF will protect your lips and keep them nice and healthy all year long, including keeping them crack-free for those cold days. It is a product to use even when you are off the water! 

Badger makes a reef-friendly, water-resistant lip balm, and it comes in a 4-pack! If you want to make a statement with your lip balm, consider buying this one.  

Box showing ingredients, product description, and other details for Bitchstix Classic Coconut SPF 30 Lip Balm.
This is my favorite lip balm.

Hat

You probably already have a hat you can use on your paddles. The best hats are wide-brimmed with a strap or baseball caps (my favorite!). 

Regardless of what hat you choose, make sure it protects you from the overhead sun and stays secure on your head as you paddle or if you fall off your board. That way, you don’t have to chase down your hat, or worse, completely lose it! 

Not only will you get sun protection, but you will also be able to keep the brightness from hurting your eyes. I wear a hat for nearly all my paddles. 

Two photo collage of Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle,, with her husband while they both wear hats.
Left – me hanging out at Rose Bay in Port Orange, Florida. Right – Robert and I paddling Blue Spring Run at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.

Sunglasses

Like a hat, sunglasses really help keep your eyes safe from the sun. Polarized sunglasses can also help with glare on the water. When you are on the water, sunlight comes at you from above and below. 

I’ve really loved being able to see into the water with my polarized lenses. And no more squinting for me! 

I recommend purchasing a strap (aka eyewear retainer) to keep your sunglasses within easy reach and so that they don’t get lost. They are inexpensive too! 

My sunglasses fell off at King’s Landing, and I was devastated. They had sentimental value, and I contributed to pollution. Now I don’t go anywhere without my sunglasses strap!

Selfie of Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, out on Blue Spring Run at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City Florida while wearing a hat, PFD, and sunglasses hanging around her neck.
I chose a fluorescent orange strap so I would always find it.

Insect Repellant

Insect repellant is optional, but I love having it here in Florida. Mosquitos and no-see-ums bite and can be found on the water. The last thing you want is to have a great paddle ruined by bug bites!

You can choose whatever works well for your needs and your skin sensitivities, but I really love NSBeachy MOSKEET-NO Natural Insect Repellent Spray. The best thing, it actually works and doesn’t smell bad!!

Collage of NSBeachy MOSKEET-NO Natural Insect Repellent Spray white bottle with green cap.

Headlamp, Flashlight, or Lantern

Headlamp

A headlamp is a good thing to have, especially if you will be paddleboarding early in the morning or later in the evening. It will provide you with plenty of light even if the sun isn’t out. You don’t want to be out on the water without any light. 

Flashlight or Lantern

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “If you are operating in limited visibility or at night, you will also need a flashlight or lantern that produces a white light. It should be displayed to approaching vessels in enough time to prevent a collision. The light should not be continually displayed.”

It’s about Safety

These are safety items, and hey, if you are a hiker or camper, you can use them during those activities, too. 

You can find these for pretty cheap, so they are definitely good items to have, just in case. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, with her husband Robert at the Blue Spring State Park launch point on the St. Johns River in Orange City Florida.
Robert and I narrowly avoiding sunset on the St. Johns River at Blue Spring State Park.

Cooler

If you are paddling, you are going to get hungry, and there’s nothing better than snacking out on the water and enjoying yourself. Of course, you can bring your favorite drink with you and keep it nice and cold. 

Coolers come in hard and soft-sided versions. We have both, but we take the soft-sided cooler more often so that if we fall, we won’t fall on a hard plastic cooler. Ouch.

I recommend starting with whatever cooler you have and upgrading later if you need to. 

A Note on Pricing

There are all kinds of coolers out there. Like so many things in life, they can vary in pricing. Yeti coolers are often in the $200 range, whereas a 6-can Playmate cooler is less than $20. 

Robert and Jessica Meinhofer paddleboarding through mangroves at Thousand Islands in Cocoa Beach Banana River Lagoon in Florida.
Paddling through mangroves. The white and black bag is our soft-sided cooler.

Waterproof Phone Case

I have known about these for years. Even before I paddled, I saw folks using them at the beach. 

Here’s the thing: they do keep your phone dry and usable, but it can get steamy in the pouch when your phone is in there. And, if you try to take photos with your phone inside the pouch, they come out really crappy. 

They are nice for knowing where your phone is, but now I just keep mine in my waterproof fanny pack and bring it out whenever I need it. 

Pricing

You can get waterproof phone cases for about $10, but they can be more than double that. Some have flotation, and those are usually the pricier ones, but if they fall off your board, they will at least float. 

Blue waterproof phone case/bag in aqua with a clear panel and black strap with Aqua Case written in blue.
One of our many waterproof phone cases/bags

A Note About Paddling with Mobility Needs

For those of you paddling with mobility needs, there are a few things that you might need to add to this gear list. 

If you expect to spend the bulk of your time sitting, I recommend adding a seat to your paddleboard. This can simply be a folding chair without legs (more of a cushion with a back) or a paddleboard chair with an adjustable backrest and legs

Specialized paddles, boards, and other gear are also available. For great suggestions, check out the Challenged Athletes Foundation website

That’s All You Need

Hopefully I gave you a good solid list of gear you need for paddleboarding. It seems like a lot, but it’s not. There are many more items that you can get, like cupholders, LED lights, seats, and specialized clothing, and some people even outfit their boards with fishing equipment.

Always start out small and simple and scale up if and when you need to.

Happy paddling, my friends!

Pinnable image of a couple paddleboarding thorugh mangroves and a man prepping paddleboards for launch at Spruce Creek.
Don’t forget to pin me!

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