Specialist windsurfing shoes, boots or booties are designed to protect your feet against the elements, but also try to recreate the ‘barefoot’ windsurfing sensation as much as possible.
Once upon a time wearing shoes was unacceptable for the ‘cool’ or ‘indy’ type. The feeling of the ocean rushing between your toes and having direct skin contact with the board was all part of being a windsurfer.
In some aspects, these windsurfing shoe cynics are absolutely right. The feeling of barefoot windsurfing is incredible and if you are able to do it, then I’d highly recommend it.
However, sometimes barefoot windsurfing just isn’t possible and not worth the pain, especially here in the UK. Windsurfing on a stone, shingle or shell filled beach will result in cut feet, or when the water temperature is below 10°c your toes will start to freeze.
Many European professional windsurfers who did not grow up practising on sunny sandy beaches have continued to wear windsurf shoes whilst competing. Along with better technology and materials, this has helped windsurfing shoes to become normalised, and these days you very rarely see barefoot windsurfers when it’s cold.
There are hundreds of wetsuit boots on the market, but not all will be great for windsurfing.
We will help you understand what makes a good windsurfing shoe and offer our top 4 choices.
Table of Contents
What are windsurfing shoes?
Windsurfing shoes are made from neoprene with a thicker rubber or latex sole.
Neoprene, which is the material wetsuits are made from, is designed to keep your feet warm. Similar to wetsuits, you can buy different thickness of neoprene for your boot, depending on how cold you think your feet will get.
The neoprene on top of the shoe also helps protect feet from footstrap rub and harmful UV rays.
The sole of the shoe gives our feet protection against sharp stones, shells or coral.
I went through a phase of not wear windsurfing shoes, and during every session, I would cut my feet on a stone or shell. At the time I didn’t feel anything and just see blood appear on my board, but soon after you come out the water the cut would sting like hell. It’s not so cool hobbling around the beach trying to de-rig and pack your equipment away. After a few sessions of this, I quickly went back to wearing shoes.
Windsurf shoes are also great for providing extra grip on the board. After a while, the nonslip on most boards wear down, and the board can feel more like an ice skating rink when trying to tack or gybe.
Me flexing my toes in the Atan summer shoe.
Why use a specialist windsurf shoe?
Well designed windsurfing shoes will have different features to a sailing boot or even surf shoe. They make it as comfortable as possible to windsurf in and help you keep maximum control over the board.
The three main features I look for in a windsurfing shoe are:
The whole windsurf shoe should feel very flexible and not try to offer support or be rigid in places. When we windsurf sometimes our toes need to curl up, especially when jumping, and our ankles need to be manoeuvrable.
An easy way to test how flexible the shoe might be is to try to roll it up in a ball. If its impossible or offering a lot of resistance, chances are the shoe is not flexible enough.
This is where we can discount almost every sailing boot. A thin sole will help increase the flexibility of the shoe and offer us the maximum barefoot feel.
We still want to feel like we are connected to the board, even when we are wearing shoes. We trim the board with our feet, but if we can’t feel what’s going on it’ll make getting planning and going fast difficult.
Windsurf shoes have thinner soles but try to compensate with materials such as reinforcing with kevlar, to try to help slow the wear.
Featureless sides and top
When I mean featureless, I look for a shoe that has very little extra rubber on the sides or on top.
A good windsurf shoe should have nothing to get in the way when getting in (or out) of the footstraps.
Surf boots can have a lot of extra material on the side or a velcro strap on top, which could prevent my foot from easily coming out of the footstrap.
Although this Gul wetsuit boot looks great and would be perfect for sailing or surfing, it has some features that makes it less than ideal for windsurfing.
Different types of windsurfing shoe
Now we know what a windsurf shoe is, next is to dive into the different styles on windsurfing shoe available on the market.
Windsurfing summer shoes
Summer shoes are mostly used to stop your feet from getting bruised or cut on stones and they will offer sun protection. This means the neoprene does not have to be too thick or have advanced materials.
The cut of a windsurfing summer shoe is different from a winter shoe. Generally, summer shoes will only come to the ankle and have a drawstring or velcro strap to stop them from falling off.
In the UK windsurfers tend to use 2mm shoes in the summer.
Windsurfing winter boots
Winter windsurfing boots need to keep your feet warm!
The neoprene used for these shoes will be thicker than summer boots and have features such as thermal inner linings and liquid taped seams. This extra technology will cost more and you can expect to pay almost double for winter windsurfing boots.
I use 3mm boots for winter windsurfing in the UK, but many use 5mm. 7mm winter boots will be too thick and you may not be able to get your feet in the straps at all.
Split toe boots
Another style for windsurfing boots is having a split toe option.
The idea behind splitting your big toe is to help with balance. According to research, it is estimated the big toe contributes to 80% of foot control. We know how important balance and trimming the board is, so it makes sense to build a windsurfing shoe that frees up our big toe.
I really like split-toe windsurfing shoes, but they are more expensive than standard shoes.
What size should I buy?
Like every pair of shoes, the fit is really important and makes the difference to how comfortable you’ll find your windsurfing boot.
The safest size to try first will be your normal shoe size. You don’t want any room in the shoe and they want to be as tight as possible. However, if your big toe is almost poking through the shoe, you’ve probably gone too small.
Windsurfing boots review
Now we know the makeup of a great windsurfing shoe, here are some superb examples available on the market right now.
1. Atan Boots
Atan summer – £39.99 – 3mm
Atan winter – £49.99 – 3mm
Most flexible windsurfing shoe
Split toe options
Sole tends to wear down quickly
I think Atan make the best windsurfing shoe on the market by some distance.
They build the sole of the shoe differently from anyone else and you really notice it. Their natural latex dipping process creates a sole that is incredibly flexible and delivers a great barefoot feeling.
Their winter boots are 3mm thick but have a ‘plush titanium’ inner lining that will keep your feet warm enough even on the coldest UK days.
The sole is thin which helps with the barefoot sensation, but that does mean you will wear these shoes out pretty quickly, compared to any other shoe.
2. Ion Ballistic Sock
Ion Ballistic split-toe sock – £79.95 – 3mm
Thin and flexible sole
No decent summer option
I still use my Ion Ballistic shoes for winter windsurfing that I bought in 2014.
These windsurfing shoes have lastest so well, compared to my Atan’s, because of Ion’s Aramid sole. Aramid is a synthetic fibre used for ballistic rated body armour, so you know this material is tough!
These shoes are very flexible and comfortable. Make sure you buy the ‘Sock’ version of the Ballistic, which has no velcro strap or rubber on the side of the shoe. The sock version will ensure your feet slide easily in and out of the footstraps.
3. Mystic Majestic
Mystic Majestic split-toe – £62.95 – 3mm
Mystic Majestic split-toe – £64.95 – 5mm
Warm & comfortable neoprene
Heel loop helps get the shoe on and off quickly
2x spring/ winter thickness options
The reinforced heel may feel too rigid for some
No decent summer option
Mystic has ticked all the boxes with creating a high-quality windsurfing shoe at a fair price.
With their cool-looking Knitflex super stretch neoprene on top, Flaremesh on the inside to keep you warm and liquid and taped seams, these windsurf shoes pack in a lot of technology.
When it’s cold enough to wear winter boots, my hands often lose all feeling which can make getting changed difficult. I really like the addition of the heel loop, which helps pull the shoe on and can help with taking it off.
The internal split toe will help stop the shoe from rolling over but does not offer the freedom of the Atan boots.
4. Solite Boots
Solite custom moulded shoe – £65.98 – 3mm – View on Surfdome
Mouldable custom fit
Sole less flexible than other shoes
Solite is a new player in the watersports boots game. The reason why they got my attention for windsurfing was the simple design and mouldable custom fit feature.
The custom moulding is done at home. After pouring boiling water in the shoe to soften the rubber, remove the water and place your foot in the shoe. The rubber slowly hardens back up but stays the shape of your foot.
The custom moulding worked well and the boot appeared to fit my feet better than before. However, after the rubber sole hardened it didn’t seem all too flexible, especially when compared to the Atan, Ion or Mystic.
There is no doubt this boot is warm enough for winter windsurfing, but there may be better, more comfortable alternatives. This shoe is probably better suited to an all-rounder who wants to do a bit of surfing, paddleboarding, windsurfing and more but doesn’t want to buy a new shoe for each discipline.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.