Paddle year round on surfskis in the NE (CT, NY, RI, etc.). I wouldn’t use anything but a drysuit. If we can crack through the ice, we’re out there. My Kokatat GFER was jut returned for yet another neck gasket replacement, but having tried higher quality wetsuits, I prefer the maneuverability the drysuit affords. It also acts as a wind shell, important once you’re wet. The heavier wetsuits just seemed too bulky and restricting to me, and really not very warm once soaked. To each his/her own; that’s what makes a horse race.
Yes, I do sweat, profusely when pushing hard, but it’s essential you call the layering right. On hard days, the sweat actually pools in the booties-you make your own gravy. I usually go with a wicking layer close, followed by a Hydrosilk/Hydroskin, and for days below 16 degrees, a Kokatat breathable fleece on top of that. Usually, it’s the extremities to worry about. Wool socks, with neoprene oversocks, the integrated booties of the drysuit itself, and neoprene NRS booties do the trick on the bottom end. On the hands, I’ve not needed anything more than the NRS Toaster Mitts. Level Six made a good glove, but the new versions are slippery. Some folks like pogies, but I’ve never liked them for the compromise of having to pull your hands out to remount. Most mittens will be far warmer than gloves.
Dry suit for me
I’m a racer in Atlanta and train in a dry suit during the winter to avoid hypothermia. It’s a pain because I can’t go as long or get my heart rate up as high, my guess is because I overheat. But when racing season gets here in the spring I feel like I can fly without the drysuit. I figure if I capsize during a race there are usually safety boats around to keep me out of trouble. It’s kind of like struggling through the heat all summer, then when the temps drop 20 degrees in the fall I feel like I can fly. I like the dry suit, I really think it makes me a better racer. Good luck!