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The Only Thing You Have to Fear Paddling in the Florida Keys

The Only Thing You Have to Fear Paddling in the Florida Keys

It’s not unusual for people to express anxiety about going paddleboarding or kayaking in the Florida Keys — whether it’s the wildlife, the wind or rain or waves, or the fear of falling off the paddleboard. We get asked about these things a lot, and we are quick to explain that the fear is all in your head. Our sharks are too small to attack you. The weather will more than likely blow over in a few minutes. And if you fall off, well, you get wet, and then you climb back on.

But there’s one thing that people really should be afraid of when they go out paddling around here, and we almost never get asked about it. And that is…


This is Florida, of course. The sunshine state. You probably came here because of the sun, so it’s easy to forget that it’s a great big ball of fire that’s actually quite dangerous to us humans. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and more than 90% of all skin cancers are caused by overexposure to sunlight.

And while it’s unlikely that you’ll get skin cancer from just this vacation, overexposure can cause damage to your skin beyond that awful period of burning and peeling. The sun’s rays of ultraviolet (UV) light break down the skin’s elastic fibers, causing wrinkles, discoloration, and aging. It causes dead skin to clog your pores. It can damage your eyesight. It dries out your hair and can cause breakage. Its ill effects are particuarly harmful for children. And on, and on.

And in the short term, it can completely ruin the rest of your vacation. Dehydration, heat exaustion, and sunburn will limit what you can do for the rest of the trip and are simply no fun.

But the good news is that you can still enjoy an awesome day of paddling in the sun without any of these nasty side effects. It all comes down to being prepared.

Rule #1, 2, and 3 is wear sunscreen, reapply, and reapply. Even if it’s overcast. Even if you’re not fair skinned. All skin tones can burn, though darker ones have a higher threshold and can use a lower SPF. Make sure you follow the directions on the bottle with respect to whether it’s waterproof, and for how long.

While any SPF over 30 is only a little more effective than that baseline, every percentage matters. As one doctor told Women’s Mag, “You get 99 percent sunburn protection with SPF 90, versus 96 percent with SPF 30.” Over the course of a lifetime, those percentage points amount to a lot less sun exposure. Make sure you’re covered for both UVA and UVB rays.

Wear a rash guard. These lightweight materials are made for life on and in the water. They dry quickly and protect against the wind as well as the sun, with many now providing built in SPF protection. And they come in all patterns and colors imagineable. PADDLE! the Florida Keys carries a large selection of high performance rash guards and other apparel for men and women.

Protect your most vulnerable areas, like lips and eyes. Many chapsticks, lip glosses, and even lipsticks now have SPF protection. Certain sunglasses are rated for blocking harmful rays.

Wear a hat. Not only will it provide shade for you to be able to spot wildlife easier, it protects your scalp. The top of your head is especially exposed while paddling, because the sun beats down right on it.

Bring water. Paddling for a while, even leisurely, can be a workout. Heat and exercise can equal dehydration, so drink early and often. Start while you’re still on land, and bring a bottle with you on the water.

Spend less time worrying about getting wet and more time thinking about how to keep from getting too dry. If you take the sun seriously and prepare a little, you’ll save your skin and be able to enjoy the water again tomorrow.

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