How to SUP in Modest Swimwear

When she’s shooting a sporting event, professional photographer Yasmeen Green definitely stands out from the guys. In her hijab and trendy sunglasses this sporty 22 year old doesn’t compromise her belief system or her lifestyle and is an expert in balancing both. One of her favourite pastimes is stand up paddle boarding, an activity that at first glance might not seem compatible with religious dress.

We recently spoke about how more women can enjoy SUP through the use of modest swimwear and a little research. The bottom line is that regardless of wardrobe requirements there is usually an appropriate way that you can paddle board too.

To give you some background, Yasmeen is originally from London and comes from a family that is equal parts devout and athletic. When she began wearing a hijab she had to find a way to keep doing the water-based activities she had enjoyed as a child. Spending a year in Portugal gave her time and space to experiment with swimwear and find what worked for her.

Yasmeen acknowledges that not every family has the same views on women in sport. She also makes the valid point that no matter what you wear or believe, getting on a SUP comes down to 3 things:

  1. Your Mindset
  2. Your Community & Support System
  3. Your Wardrobe

Muslim women’s Mindset when approaching sports:

“At the end of the day a lot of people aren’t ready to compromise certain things and that’s their own personal journey. For me with sports and my work I can’t wear black dress and walk up a hill or get in the water. There are still ways of being modest. Some people may disagree with how I dress and it can definitely be a very sensitive topic. The individual person has to ask why they are doing whatever it is and decide what is right for them.”

Whether you’re putting on lipstick or cruising around on a paddleboard, everything you do begins with a thought. Try to approach SUP with an open mindset. Begin by examining why you want to do it and get familiar with your own motives. Then start considering whether and how you might make it possible rather than listing the reasons it’s definitely impossible. You might be surprised how this thought process changes things. For Yasmeen it’s essential to honour both her beliefs and her goals without compromising either one.

“There are certain rules I know I want to follow. If doing a sport means I have to compromise more or dress in a way I don’t feel comfortable then to me it’s not worth it. The challenge is questioning why you can’t and whether there is a way you can.”

Your community and Support System both at home and outside

Every family has their own unique culture and therefore their reaction to water-sports will differ. Sometimes gaining acceptance from your family unit comes down to awareness and information. Paddle boarding might seem pretty exotic, possibly even unsafe to someone who has never done it before. In Yasmeen’s case, her family is not only tolerant of sports, they do them together. Even if this isn’t the case for your family, take the time to do some research before starting the conversation. That way when you are ready to try something like paddle boarding, you’ll have all the information you need to answer questions.

Common concerns for paddleboarding beginners, conservative & not:

  • Worried it’s unsafe?
    If you are able to swim and you have access to calm water, you can SUP safely. Swimming pools, lakes, reservoirs and calm days at the beach are all manageable conditions for beginners. The clothing you wear will have a great impact on your ability to swim so we’ll cover that more below.
  • You can’t SUP fully clothed
    Modest swimwear is a huge industry with more and more women wanting to dive in but stay covered. This isn’t a concern restricted to Muslim women, conservative christian sects are also boosting the demand. If you need more coverage than a Burkini or wetsuit and Sports Hijab, you can find it. Yasmeen recommends consulting your local seamstress and seeking out light weight fabrics that allow you to move freely without weighing you down when wet. Just be sure to avoid rough seas and undertow if you plan to SUP in more voluminous swimwear.

“Its when you go into rougher areas you need to be more cautious. In Dubai i wore a burkini and the tide was really strong. I’m quite a good swimmer but I still found it hard to swim because what I was wearing dragged me back.”

  • You don’t want to get wet
    If you don’t want to get wet, choose a calm day on the water or better yet a swimming pool. It’s not uncommon to see people SUP in street clothes so there is no reason you can’t do the same when conditions and your ability allow. Make sure you have the strength and balance to stay upright and choose easy, relaxed routes.

“You can stand on a SUP fully clothed and still have fun.”

  • You prefer to SUP in private or with other women
    In her travels, Yasmeen has enjoyed SUP on all female beaches.  Of course your access to these depends on where in the world you are located. In the event you don’t have any near you, a little research will help you find low traffic areas where you won’t bump into many if any people. Just be sure to go with a partner and let people know where you are.

Yasmeen and I also discussed what kind of sporting support is available outside your direct community and whether there were any challenges accessing it. In her own experience, people have been extremely receptive and encouraging to Yasmeen joining in on various sporting events including SUP. She says she has never felt awkward or out of place in scenarios where she is the only person with a head covering.

For people whose beliefs dictate the need for socialising by gender, don’t worry. There are quite a few women’s only paddle board groups on Facebook and the web. If you reach out, you may be surprised by the warmth and encouragement you meet. Even if you can only link up with other SUP ladies online, this might be just the confidence boost you need to get started on your own.

“I find people are so respectful and open. When you hear people being receptive you see you shouldn’t be scared of joining in. Be confident in what you’re doing and believe it’s going to be good and it will be.”

Your wardrobe: modest swimwear that doesn’t break the bank

Yasmeen’s theory on dressing for watersports comes down to two main components: safety and modesty. Conveniently these can be tailored to whatever your wardrobe needs may be. Safety is a particularly important consideration for conservative Muslim women coming into SUP. Heavy layers of cloth will weigh you down in the event you need to swim so finding a balance between proper coverage and freedom of movement is key.

“With tight leggings and loose shorts over top I had that extra layer that made me feel safe and I felt covered with the extra volume.”

1: How to wear a sports hijab or swim turban (and look good)

For head coverage that’s a little more fashionable than a swim cap, a sports hijab with a gauzy cotton scarf over top works well. Day to day Yasmeen might use a pin and a nice scarf with more volume, but this look is neither safe or practical on the water. Instead, she loosely ties the cotton scarf over the hijab in such a way that she can pull it off quickly with a finger.

This is important in the event it slips and hinders her from seeing or swimming because Yasmeen often paddles in rough seas. Even if she did need to remove the headscarf, her sports hijab would stay in place keeping her hair covered.

2. Covering your body and staying mobile

  • Full coverage, light layering
    For Yasmeen’s personal recipe start with a bikini as a base. Then layer over top with surf leggings and a long-sleeved surf top. This material is thin and stretchy, perfect for paddle boarding and swimming in warm water. If you’ll SUP when the weather is cold enough a wetsuit is the best option. You can buy a one piece or separate tops and bottoms.

    Next layer board shorts over your leggings for a little extra volume. At this point the only thing exposed would be your hands and feet but neoprene booties and gloves would remedy this.

  • Full coverage, medium layering
    If you’d like to obscure your figure a little more you can layer a second, looser top with short sleeves. This should be the same material as mentioned above because the same concerns for the weight of the wet garment apply.
  • Full coverage, max layering
    Start with Yasmeen’s base of bikini, surf leggings, long-sleeved surf top and sports hijab. Visit a local seamstress and explore their fabric stock. Look for light, gauzy options that will not add excessive or unsafe weight in the event they get wet.

“Don’t compromise your safety or your belief system.”

Hopefully Yasmeen’s first hand experience and tips will help you make your way to a stand up paddleboard of your own. Not only is it insanely fun, pretty well anyone can SUP. It all comes down to research, experimentation and finding what makes you feel comfortable. You don’t need to spend a ton of cash on an expensive burkini in order to swim or paddle modestly.

Yasmeen’s wardrobe solution is smart because you can mix and match pieces as you find ones that work for you while saving money to invest in your first paddleboard.  If you have had experience breaking into watersports like SUP while balancing your belief system, we’d love to hear your story in the comments.

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