Even with the best surf footwear, nothing beats good old bare feet when surfing. The response is immediate, and we feel more connected to the elements and our boards. It’s a love and hate affair, mainly depending on what side of the world you live in. Most surfers on the East Coast of Australia, for example, have never worn booties simply because they never really needed them. But for some of us who don’t have the luxury of surfing in warm water conditions all year long, surfing equipment such as wetsuits, gloves, and booties are lifesavers.
Water shoes for surfing
There are basically two types of footwear for surfing. The first is surf shoes or water activity shoes used for surfing, kayaking, boat activities, or stand-up paddle boarding. These can be described as a crossbreed between sandals and sneakers. Water shoes are quick drying, offer extra traction, and protect the feet against sharp rocks and reefs.
Wetsuit booties for surfing
The second type of surf footwear are booties; dedicated, high-performance footwear for cold water surfing. The major difference between the two is how these are constructed. Surf booties are more robust and provide excellent protection and insulation.
A good indication of when a surf boot becomes necessary is once the water starts to become too cold for comfort. Cold temperatures have a direct effect on our bodies. We begin losing flexibility in our feet, thus affecting mobility.
According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, this is what happens when we swim in cold water unprotected:
The main reason why surf boots were created is to protect our feet from the elements. Just like wetsuits, these keep body heat trapped, ensuring maximum mobility and blood circulation in our feet. And when buying surf booties, water temperature determines the amount of thickness the boot should have. The level of insulation they provide depends on the thickness of the materials used.
Temperature and recommended boot thickness:
30-40o F 7 to 8mm
40-45o F 6 to 7mm
45-50 o F 5 to 6mm
50-60o F 3mm
Purpose – Reef walkers and winter surf boots
Surf boots are not only used for keeping our toes and feet warm, but they also serve to protect our feet from sharp rocks and coral. This is why it is not unusual to see some surfers wearing surf footwear during the summer.
Reef walkers are low cut and constructed using thin neoprene (0.5 to 1mm). These are lightweight, low-cut, and quick drying. Not to be confused with thongs or sandals, these can be used when surfing.
Winter surf boots, as the name implies, offer physical protection for the feet while keeping you warm.
Split toe versus round toe
Each design offers a distinct advantage over the other. Split toes have two compartments that separate the big toe from the rest. It gives a more natural feel and is more responsive. On the other hand, Round toes help your feet stay warmer by keeping your toes close together. The choice boils down to what feels more comfortable.
This refers to how the boots are made and what they are made of. Surf boots are constructed using similar materials (neoprene) used in wetsuits, and the principles of manufacturing them are generally the same. The material should be lightweight, flexible, and have excellent insulating properties.
Most of today’s surf boots are made from double-lined neoprene. These use a layer of neoprene lined with thin layers of fabric on the side. However, recent surf boots have seen latex-dipped neoprene, which is significantly lighter and offers better flexibility.
Another essential thing to check is the seams and stitching. It prevents water from coming into the boot and determines how well the boot is put together. Straps are another excellent idea. These don’t only help you tighten the boots but also prevent water from rushing in.
Grip and traction
One of the reasons why surfers try to put off wearing surfing shoes is because they don’t provide the same level of traction or feedback compared to bare feet, or do they? Today’s surfing shoes have taken this into consideration and offer better traction and grip. Good traction helps you keep control of your surfboard; without it, you would be slipping and sliding all over the board.
Soft soles versus Hard soles
Soft soles are flexible but don’t provide the same amount of protection against sharp and rocky surfaces. However, there’s no mistaking that these are more comfortable and give you better feedback. Hard sole boots are rigid and thicker. These are built for maximum protection and for harsh surfing conditions.
Surf boots are essential to cold water surfing. It is to the feet, as wetsuits are to the body, and gloves are to the hands. Surf boots are necessary for optimum surfing performance in cold water conditions. And the better fitting they are, the better the response and execution. Essential qualities of a good surf boot include warmth, flexibility, lightweight, traction, and feel.
Slipping your foot into the surf boot is not as simple as it seems. Surf boots are designed to be watertight and must stick as closely to your skin to do this. And this is also what makes them a bit of a challenge to put on. To make the process easier, we can always use a pair of wetsuit socks to help our foot glide easier.
Tip: When buying surf boots, select a size that is one size down from your standard shoe size. Because these are made from neoprene and designed to stretch, a slightly smaller size gives you that perfect snug fit. The lesser the space for your feet to wriggle in, the less likelihood of water flooding in.
Crocs Swiftwater Mesh
Extremely lightweight and designed for use in water activities, the Crocs Swiftwater Mesh has a minimalist design that lets you move in and out of the water swiftly. These water sandals have siped outsoles that efficiently channel water away. The sandals are constructed using Crocs’ Croslite material for superb flexibility. Mesh uppers and an adjustable strap keep the water sandals in place even for the most demanding water activities.
Vans Surf Boots 2mm Surf Boot Mid
Brings you the best in performance and comfort when surfing in warm water conditions. The Vans Surf Boots comes with super-sticky Vans grip which gives you superior control and response. With a fit that can only be described as second skin, it offers unfiltered boardfeel at any contact point.
Rip Curl E-Bomb Split Toe Cold Water Surfing Bootie
Built with super light E5 Neoprene, these booties feature super soft soles for maximum board feel and a back strap for easy entry/exit.
XCEL 7mm Round Toe Drylock
Designed to be worn in the coldest waters. The XCEL 7mm Round Toe Drylock offers exceptional cold-water protection and performance. The surf boots come with Celliant Black TDC smart fabric, an extremely lightweight material. Drylock ankle seals and a strap helps keep water out.
However, it is not just your feet that require attention while surfing. Equipping yourself with proper surf earplugs is also important as it helps to shield your ears from discomfort caused by water and cold air.