Surf booties are one of those you don’t know you need them until you wear them kind of things. I am pretty sure that most people come across them during the cold winter months as a part of full suit regalia, but they are also practical in the warm water months as well.
The Texas gulf coast has miles of beach break which on its own is not too difficult of footing to a bare surfer foot. Yet, the warm and in the summer tropically hot water make our shoreline home to many a sea creature. I grew up on the Texas coast and my family fished the bays, so I was no stranger to Texas beaches. Unfortunately I was also no stranger to getting my feet cut up on shells. One memorable occasion this resulted in a bright red line traveling up my leg. My mother, a veteran to living with a barefoot kid like me knew the telltale sign of blood poisoning and I had to have my foot plastered with antibiotics and wrapped with a warm washcloth 24/7 until the infection was under control. After that I wore an old pair of tennis shoes when wade fishing or cavorting in the gulf.
My family moved away from the gulf for several years and when I finally came back to it and started surfing I found I had a healthy apprehension about putting my bare feet into cloudy surf. There are indeed many things to avoid in our gulf water. We have sharp shells, crabs, hard-head catfish, jelly-fish, assorted rip-rap, fish hooks and the ever present danger of stingrays. Just this last July there were over a dozen reported stingray injuries in the Corpus Christi area alone. Yes, we all should shuffle our feet when walking out to the lineup, but what about when we hop off our boards in shallower water. I know a barb can come at you above the line of the surf booty, but many of them end up in someones foot. I would much rather have at least a booties chance of avoiding one of those dreadfully painful stings – and any associated potential bacterial infections. Our gulf waters are also unfortunately home to vibrio bacteria which can turn any cut into a life threatening ordeal. Those high water temperatures during our summer months are ideal for this bacteria so it is better to avoid even the slightest scrape if you are going to be dipping yourself in hot summer gulf waters.
My summer version of surfing booties is lower cut than my winter full-suit version. Don’t get this confused with the reef shoes which are just a glorified version of my old tennis shoe. They are fine if what you want to do is walk around in the shore-break and are looking for a shoe that can get wet without rotting. They are not designed to stay on your feet when you are being thrashed about by a wave. A surf booty is styled to stay on your foot no matter what. There are a couple of different styles out there with the main difference being whether they have a split toe or a solid toe. The idea of a split toe version is that you can move and flex your big toe better and this increases your mobility. You can also in certain wipe out situations have that split toe line up with your board leash and create a comical (to those who are watching) and frustrating (to those who are experiencing it) moment. My current model is an in between version where the toe is split on top but the bottom is solid. That way I still have the ninja benefits of the split toe but no longer will I be a contestant on Youtube fail video. At least not for that reason.
Here is my current model of surf booty. The Xcel Infinity is a 1mm booty that is both lightweight and tough. It has two adjustable features, one an ankle strap that helps you fit the boot to your arch and the other is a pull cord that snugs the booty to your ankle.
This higher cut ankle is an added protection and also helps keep the booty securely on your foot. The bottom of this booty shows that the split toe design does not go completely through the boot which will keep your toes mobile but avoid the dreaded leash between the toes mishap. The sole has excellent traction.
These O’Neill Superfreak are the type of booty I first used with a fully split toe. These are a little warmer than the Xcel as a 2mm neoprene. They also have the strap to help you fit to your arch and also the drawstring closure to keep them snug. These are nice and they look great. If you are looking for something very similar to being bare-foot then the split toe design will likely help you maintain all the flexibility you are used to.
If toe flexibility is not an issue and in fact you really don’t want the whole ‘toe socks’ surf shoe idea then you will probably prefer these O’Neill Superfreak tropical booty with a rounded toe. These have all the details of the above split toe version but with a simple rounded toe.
Again, don’t get these confused with the many different styles of reef shoes. They may have some of the same details as these, but in almost all cases they are lower cut coming right below the ankle on the sides. Not only does this leave your ankles exposed to the horrors of a stingray strike, they are also much more likely to slip off in a wipe-out.
Now you may ask do these booties make it more difficult to get to your feet? No, you will get used to them about your third wave and from then on not even know that you are wearing them – that is except that you will feel gloriously impervious to all those horrors underfoot. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a pair of these tropical surf booties.