So, you’ve decided to give paddle sports a try this summer? That’s great news!
I have it on good authority that paddling is incredibly beneficial – not just for your body but for the mind, as well.
Have you actually thought about the kind of paddling you’re interested in trying, though?
Kayaks and SUPs are both perfectly capable of getting you out on the water, which, I assume, is your main goal.
But does that mean that it doesn’t really matter which one you end up choosing?
I’m afraid not.
There are actually quite a few differences between them, so deciding between a SUP and a ‘yak might not be as straightforward as you think.
So, if you’re struggling to make this choice, stick around for an in-depth paddle board vs kayak comparison!
Paddleboard Vs Kayak – Key Takeaways
- What is a kayak? A kayak is a relatively small and narrow watercraft that’s propelled by a double-bladed paddle.
- What is a SUP? A SUP (short for stand-up paddle board) is a surfboard-style watercraft, typically propelled by a single-bladed paddle from a standing position.
- What are the differences between a paddleboard and a kayak? The main differences between SUPs and kayaks are reflected in their respective designs, construction, weight and size, propulsion method, ease of use, performance characteristics – namely, stability, maneuverability, and speed – onboard storage options, and prices.
- Kayak advantages: Kayaks are more efficient, faster, better suited for a wider variety of conditions and environments, boast a higher weight capacity with more onboard storage options, and offer protection from the elements.
- Paddleboard advantages: SUPs are more beginner-friendly, suitable for paddlers of all ages and fitness levels, easier to get back on from the water, more affordable than ‘yaks, and since they weigh less, they’re more portable, too.
Kayak 101 – What Is A Kayak?
Did you know that your kayak is a couple of thousand years old? Well, not YOUR kayak, per se, but the concept of a kayak:
The Inuit and Aleut tribes of Arctic North America built the boats we now refer to as kayaks – the name stems from the word “qajak” – some 5000 years ago. The meaning of the word “qajak,” as it was called in those ancient times, points at the role that these vessels had in the lives of Arctic tribes:
They primarily served as hunting boats.
In fact, kayaks weren’t viewed as recreational watercraft or used for on-the-water sports until the 19th century. Then, in 1924, the ICF was formed, and just over a decade later, in 1936, kayaking became a part of the Olympic Games.
If you’d like to know more, then check out our post about the history of kayaking.
Fast forward to today, and we now have a virtually limitless number of options.
Here are some of the most common types of kayaks available today, just to give you an idea of the level of variety we’re talking about:
- Based on construction, they’re categorized as hard-shell, inflatables, folding and modular kayaks.
- Based on the design, they can be sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks.
- Based on methods of propulsion, they are classified as paddle-powered, pedal-powered, and motorized vessels.
- Based on the number of paddlers, you’ve got single-seaters, tandems, and two-plus-one (family-friendly) kayaks.
- Based on intended uses and paddling environment, they are categorized as recreational, fishing, racing, touring, sea, surf, and whitewater kayaks.
Stand-Up Paddle Board 101 – What Is A SUP?
You’d assume that, compared to kayaks, paddleboards had to be a relatively new invention. And you are right – well, to a degree:
The modern-day SUP is a product of the 20th century – or, to be more specific, the 1940s. That’s when standing up on a surfboard, with a short paddle used as a means of propulsion, became a more commonplace practice in Hawaii.
Paddleboarding made its way to California in the early 2000s – and, well, the rest is history.
So, in that sense, yeah, SUPs are definitely younger than kayaks. But the story of paddleboards doesn’t really start in 20th-century Hawaii. In fact, there is evidence that Peruvian fishermen had used the so-called “Caballitos de Totora” that can be dated back to 3000 BC.
Today, stand-up paddleboarding is known as a fun and diverse recreational on-the-water activity – with many different uses and just as many different types of SUPs:
- All-around (recreational) SUPs
- Touring SUPs
- Whitewater SUPs
- Yoga SUPs
- Fishing SUPs
- Racing SUPs
15 Key Differences Between A Paddle Board And A Kayak
Just by looking at a kayak and a SUP side by side, you can tell that there’s a massive difference between these two types of watercraft. It’s more than obvious, really. The two look nothing alike, with the only exception here being kayak SUP hybrids.
Looks aside, though, there’s actually a lot more to discuss when it comes to the key differences between paddle boards and kayaks.
So, if you’d like to know more about what those differences are, I suggest you keep on reading.
1. Design & Appearance
Okay, this is, hands down, the most obvious difference between paddle boards and kayaks. One quick glance at the two, and I am pretty sure you could tell them apart – even if you haven’t seen a kayak or a SUP before.
One is clearly a surfboard-inspired watercraft – and the other is a small boat. You can’t really mix up the two; their respective “anatomies” are completely different.
Paddle boards are relatively simple in design – well, at least compared to kayaks. They feature a flat deck, usually with a textured foam or rubber pad for improved traction and cushioning, and a set of fins attached to the bottom of the board to improve tracking and maneuverability
That’s about it.
Kayaks, on the other hand, come in a much wider variety of designs and hull shapes. You’ve got sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks, displacement and planing hulls, and a whole range of additional features and outfitting options.
Kayaks; they’re a lot more versatile in terms of available designs.
2. Construction, Materials, & Durability
While there is a definite difference when it comes to the construction methods and the materials used, I’d say that SUP boards and kayaks actually have a lot in common in this regard.
Most kayaks are made of rotomolded polyethylene, with performance-oriented, high-end models boasting composite construction – namely, fiberglass and Carbon fiber. On the other hand, SUPs boast an EPS foam core wrapped in tougher materials; the common choice here are wooden (or PVC) veneers, fiberglass, and epoxy resin.
So, where do the similarities kick in?
Well, for starters, the materials used are more or less the same. In both cases, the go-to options seem to be polyethylene plastic, wood, and composite materials, such as fiberglass and Carbon fiber. Inflatables have even more in common – from the drop-stitch construction that adds rigidity to the high-grade PVC that ensures puncture resistance.
Plus, the end result is always the same – a durable vessel that can take a beating and serve you for years to come.
It’s a tie; both SUPs and kayaks use similar materials and construction methods.
3. Intended Uses & Paddling Environments
You could argue that SUPs are versatile in their own way:
Besides getting from point A to point B, a paddleboard also allows you to explore other activities – such as SUP yoga, touring, and, for those who consider themselves adrenaline junkies, there’s racing and whitewater paddle boarding.
But for the most part, SUPs are viewed as recreational watercraft you’d take on a calm lake or a sheltered bay for a fun afternoon with family and friends.
And on the other hand, you have kayaks:
From adrenaline-pumping whitewater and ocean waves to the tranquility of a small lake, touring, and fishing trips, there is a kayak for virtually any type of environment and intended use you can come up with – short of taking you to Mars.
Wait, should I be pitching this idea of “space kayaks” to Elon Musk?
Kayaks; you can’t beat them in terms of versatility.
4. Number Of Paddlers
Most SUPs are designed to support one paddler. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule, with some bigger, family-size SUPs suitable for more than one paddler, hence the name multi-person boards.
It’s important to note that those larger, higher-capacity boards are more of a “novelty,” commonly used on family trips and team-building events, than a serious piece of paddling equipment.
That’s not to say they’re not fun. They will definitely leave you and your “passengers” smiling ear to ear – but you won’t exactly be covering serious distances on one of those boards.
What about kayaks?
Well, they tend to come in a somewhat wider range of configurations. Obviously, you have those standard, one-person kayaks. But tandems, two-plus-one – as in, two adults plus a child or a pet – and even three-person kayaks are every bit as common.
Kayaks; they are available in a wider range of configurations.
5. Stability & Maneuverability
The design of most paddleboards – the only exception here being surf SUPs – prioritizes primary stability. That translates into a relatively wide and flat platform suitable for stand-up paddling, but it also hinders their maneuverability.
Kayaks come in a variety of designs and hull shapes – which instantly gives them an edge in the stability and performance department. Depending on whether you need a higher level of primary or secondary stability, you can opt for a flat, rounded, pontoon, or V-shaped hull.
Even if we set these design differences aside, kayaks still come out on top – simply because you are in a seated position. Your center of gravity is always lower in a kayak than on a SUP, which translates into improved stability.
And don’t even get me started on maneuverability. I have one word for you – playboats.
Kayaks; the paddler’s seated position (and, in turn, lower center of gravity) makes them more stable.
6. Weight & Load Capacity
If you’re concerned about the actual weight of your new watercraft and the logistics of carrying it to the water, then paddle boards are a much better choice:
The average SUP clocks in at around 15 to 30 pounds, which, compared to the average kayak, is more than lightweight. Some fishing kayaks can go beyond the 100-pound mark – and even in the best-case scenario, you’re still looking at a 40-pound for a lightweight recreational kayak.
That said, kayaks have an edge when it comes to weight capacity:
Hard-shell kayaks are designed to support anywhere from 250 to 600 pounds, depending on the type of ‘yak you have, with inflatable kayaks boasting an even higher capacity. Some can even support as much as 1000 pounds!
Which is more than enough for a multi-person, multi-day outing complete with camping gear, food and water. Or, for a full day on the water kayak fishing with all the necessary equipment and accessories
Speaking of load capacity, another important difference between kayaks and SUPs would be the onboard storage options they offer – but I’ll get to that later.
For now, the verdict is in…
Kayaks (in terms of load capacity); paddle boards (in terms of weight).
7. Paddle Design & Technique
When it comes to the paddle design, all it takes is one look to see the difference between a SUP and a kayak:
The former uses a single-bladed paddle, which, by design, requires you to constantly switch hands on the paddle shaft and to move from one side to the other, to keep the paddleboard going in a straight line. As you can imagine, this movement uses up a lot more of your energy with each stroke.
The latter uses double-bladed paddles. The kayak paddle’s symmetry, coupled with the proper technique, allows for a continuous motion, where you alternate sides by dipping opposite blades of the paddle into the water.
Kayaks; the double-bladed design of a kayak paddle is more efficient.
8. Propulsion Methods
Besides the standard method of propulsion – paddling – many kayaks can also accommodate an electric trolling motor. Another popular alternative is the pedal drive, which is an excellent choice for anyone who desperately needs a break from paddling or wants a hands-free experience.
You can find some great pedal-propelled kayaks in this round-up.
Now, you could argue that there are electric motors and pedal drive systems available for SUPs, too, but I wouldn’t exactly consider them the “norm.” You may see one or two on the water every once in a while, but they’re nowhere near as common as pedal-propelled and motorized kayaks.
Plus, compared to the kayak-oriented models, the products are nowhere near as developed and refined.
Kayaks; they can be fitted with alternative methods of propulsion, including motors and pedal drive systems.
When deciding between a paddle board and a SUP, you are essentially deciding between sitting and standing up. And while comfort is generally a matter of personal opinions and preferences, I would like you to keep the following in mind:
Standing up on a board gives you an advantage visibility-wise, and you have a lot more freedom of movement. Then again, while the seated position in a kayak doesn’t exactly leave much room for moving around – let alone walking – overall, it makes for a more comfortable ride.
This difference becomes even more apparent on long-distance trips and rough water conditions:
Even a die-hard paddleboarding enthusiast would prefer an enclosed cockpit and a padded seat of a kayak over a SUP when the waters get rough, and protection from the elements becomes a must.
If you are having a hard time choosing one or the other, then a SUP kayak hybrid will be right up your alley.
Kayaks; sitting down is more comfortable on long-distance trips, and kayaks offer some much-needed protection from the elements.
10. Speed: Which Is Faster?
When it comes to on-the-water performance – and more specifically, straight-line speed – kayaks are at a definite advantage.
In fact, the average kayak may develop a speed of around 5.5 miles per hour. Compared to that, a SUP can typically reach a speed of around 4 miles per hour.
It might not seem like that big of a difference, but it’s there – and it becomes evident when you’re trying to cover longer distances in a shorter time frame.
You could argue that speed depends on the paddler’s skills, the type of kayak or SUP used, and the weather and water conditions – and that’s true.
But all other things being equal, a SUP could never keep up with most recreational kayaks.
Strong wind, waves, and currents will have an impact on virtually every type of vessel. However, in my experience, the effects tend to be more noticeable on a SUP due to the paddler’s standing position.
Another thing that contributes to this difference in speed is the fact that you rely on a one-bladed paddle. You’ll have to move the entire paddle from one side of your board to the other, which not only requires more effort but slows you down, too.
Kayaks; all other things being equal, they can achieve a higher average speed.
11. Ease Of Use: The Learning Curve
Practically anyone, regardless of their age and fitness level, can get the hang of paddleboarding in a matter of a few hours. As long as you have good balance, you’re good to go. Plus, you don’t really need any advanced skills, either.
In short, SUPs are easier to use and more beginner-friendly overall.
While kayaking is, for the most part, every bit as beginner-friendly and easy to get the hang of, it does require technical skills.
Here’s an example:
If you fall off a SUP, all you really need to do is get back on your board; there’s nothing technical about it. For kayakers, on the other hand, capsizing involves some rather technical maneuvers – including performing a wet exit, followed by a self-rescue.
And let’s not forget that kayaking also requires some serious strength and stamina.
So, even if you do master the basics in one afternoon, you still need to work on your endurance, and that’s something that takes time.
SUPs; paddleboarding is easier to get the hang of and doesn’t require technical skills.
Even if you haven’t decided between a standup paddle board and a kayak yet, you’ve probably looked at a few models – and if you did, you might’ve noticed something strange:
It turns out that two seemingly identical vessels can actually have drastically different price tags, with one costing no more than $500 and the other costing at least $1,000.
So, what’s the deal here?
Well, there are actually several factors that influence the price tag of your ‘yak or SUP, including the type, materials used, weight capacity, and additional features.
When it comes to kayak prices, you can expect to cash out around $500 for an entry-level kayak. In fact, most recreational yaks cost between $300 and $1000. That said, specialized and performance-oriented kayaks, like the ones designed for fishing and touring, can easily go up to $2000.
With SUPs, it’s more or less the same – from $300 to almost $2000.
It might not necessarily make sense for you to spend a small fortune right now – especially if you are still not sure whether you’d actually enjoy kayaking or paddleboarding. So, may I suggest an alternative that essentially gives you the best of both worlds – a SUP kayak hybrid?
It’s a tie; if you can’t decide, go with a hybrid SUP and get the best of both worlds.
13. Transport & Portability
When it comes to transporting your kayak from point A to point B, you have quite a few options – from kayak trailers to roof racks. That’s great because the one thing you need to be prepared for if you’re getting a hard-shell kayak is the hassle of hauling and storing one.
I don’t mean to scare you, but these things can measure 12 feet in length and weigh 40 pounds – and I’m talking about your average recreational ‘yak here. Compared to that, SUPs are a piece of cake, especially if you play it smart and get an iSUP.
It’s not just about hauling your kayak – or SUP – to the water, though.
What if you encounter an obstacle that is simply too dangerous to navigate around, and you end up having to carry your vessel on foot? Trailers and roof racks don’t mean much when you have to portage a kayak.
So, ensure that you’re comfortable with the vessel’s size and weight and capable of managing it with your own two hands. Or just save yourself the trouble and get an inflatable SUP instead.
Inflatable paddle boards; they’re lightweight and, in turn, easier to transport and store.
14. Onboard Storage
Stand-up paddle boards feature a flat, open deck, which does contribute to their spaciousness – but they could never come close to kayaks when it comes to actual onboard storage space.
Remember what I said earlier:
Kayaks are definite winners when it comes to weight capacity. But that’s not all. They also boast a wider range of storage solutions. I mean, you will have a hard time finding a SUP that features a tank well – let alone a waterproof storage hatch.
Sure, your board might feature some bungee rigging and a couple of D-ring tie-downs, but that’s about it. And, to make matters worse, whatever you tie down is bound to get wet unless you use a waterproof dry bag – but that means you’ll have limited access to your gear while on the water.
I’d say it’s pretty obvious who wins in the onboard storage department, huh?
Kayaks; they offer a wide range of onboard storage solutions, including bungee rigging, tank wells, and dry storage hatches.
15. Fun Factor (Coolness Scale)
Okay, this last bit might be as important as safety or handling characteristics, but I still think that the so-called “fun factor” is worth mentioning here.
If there is one thing I can promise you, it’s that whether you ultimately choose a SUP or a kayak, you’ll have the time of your life either way. And how could you not? These bad boys pretty much guarantee an unforgettable adventure and a sense of excitement.
Now, you can call me biased all you want, but:
Kayaks are all about limitless possibilities for exploring nature. And I’m sure you’ll agree with me that nothing comes close to the rush of navigating whitewater rapids in a kayak.
If there was ever a definition of the word “cool” among paddling enthusiasts, this has to be it:
That said, paddle boards have a certain je ne sais quoi. You’ll earn some cool points if you show up on the beach with a SUP board in hand. Besides, SUPs are all about having fun, enjoying your time on the water, and, like I said already, looking cool doing it.
It’s a tie; both kayaks and paddle boards are cool in their own way.
Winner: It’s a tie; both kayaks and paddle boards are cool in their own way.
Kayak Vs. Paddleboard: Pros & Cons Of Each
What better way to wrap up this paddle boarding vs. kayaking debate than to take a moment to sum up their strengths and weaknesses?
- Kayaks are faster and more efficient than SUPs – which is even more noticeable when it comes to covering longer distances.
- They are suitable for a wider range of conditions and paddling environments – from calm lakes and slow-moving rivers to whitewater rapids and open seas.
- Kayaks have a higher weight capacity – 250 to 600 pounds, on average – and offer better onboard storage solutions, including tank wells, bungee rigging, and storage hatches.
- Kayak paddling is an excellent upper-body workout. Each swing of your paddle engages all the major muscles in the upper body – from your back and shoulder muscles to the arms and chest. It’s arms day every day when you’re in a kayak.
- The enclosed cockpit of a sit-in ‘yak provides much-needed protection from the elements – including heat, waves, low temperatures, and wind – which cannot be said about SUPs.
- Unless you get a stand-up fishing kayak, the chances are you’ll spend most of your time on the water in a seated position – which, unfortunately, translates to limited visibility and restricts your view of the surrounding waters and potential obstacles.
- While it doesn’t take much to get the hang of the basics, kayaking has a steeper learning curve and involves some complex, technical maneuvers. Beginners – patience is key!
- Kayaks – especially hard-shells – tend to be bulky and heavy, which makes transportation and storage a lot more challenging.
- You’re bound to get wet in a kayak – especially if it’s a sit-on-top – due to all the splashing from your paddle.
- While kayaking burns more calories and engages muscles in the lower body, as well, the focus is primarily on the upper-body muscles, so it’s not as versatile fitness-wise.
- Compared to SUPs, kayaks (and all the accompanying gear) come with a hefty price tag attached to them.
- You can cancel your gym membership and hop on a paddleboard instead. It’s a full-body workout that will engage all the major muscle groups in your body – down to the muscles in your feet!
- SUPs are more beginner-friendly. You will master the basics in a jiff. Plus, there’s nothing technical about stand-up paddle boarding.
- Paddleboards are lighter and, in turn, easier to transport. If you’re worried about storage, you should look into iSUPs. There’s a reason why 80% of SUP owners opt for inflatables – they weigh close to nothing and can be packed up in a bag.
- If you are on a budget, paddleboarding will be the perfect recreational on-the-water sport for you. SUPs are relatively cheap compared to kayaks.
- Stand-up paddle boarding is incredibly inclusive. Feel free to give it a try – no matter your age or fitness level.
- Good balance and stability are a MUST-HAVE for paddle boarding, which could make it a bit challenging for beginners and those with a not-so-strong core.
- SUPs are not meant for speed; don’t expect to travel far or get there fast.
- Paddle boards are spacious thanks to the open deck – but they don’t match up to kayaks in terms of actual onboard storage solutions.
- Watch out for windy weather; it will be your #1 enemy on a SUP.
- The one-bladed paddle makes SUPs less efficient and requires more effort on your part.
SUP Vs Kayak: FAQs
Is it easier to paddle board or kayak?
Paddleboarding is definitely easier than kayaking. SUPs are more beginner-friendly; they do not require the same level of technical skills and advanced maneuvers you’d need as a kayaker. On the other hand, although kayaking is still relatively easy to learn, it requires time and dedication to truly master it.
What burns more calories, kayaking or paddle boarding?
Kayaking burns more calories than stand-up paddleboarding, with some estimates showing that, on average, you may burn up to 550 calories per hour recreational paddling. Compared to that, paddle boarding burns around 460 calories per hour. That said, the amount of calories burned depends on your gender, age, weight, and the intensity and duration of the paddling session
Are paddle boards safer than kayaks?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that one is safer than the other. Besides, the answer depends on your definition of “safe.” If you are concerned about how easy it is to recover from a capsize, then yes – a SUP is safer than a ‘yak. But if you’re talking about protection from the elements and stability in windy conditions and rougher waters, then kayaks have an advantage over paddle boards
Are kayaks more stable than paddleboards?
Generally speaking, yes, kayaks are more stable. You’ll spend most of the time sitting down – as opposed to standing on a board, which means your center of gravity will be lower, and you’ll feel more stable, even as the weather and water conditions take a turn for the worse. SUPs prioritize primary stability and won’t feel as stable in choppy waters.
Can you use a paddle board as a kayak?
Yes, you can modify your paddle board and use it as a kayak. Just install a kayak seat and get a double-bladed paddle or buy a kayak conversion kit; it’s as simple as that. If you’re not interested in any modifications, though, a SUP kayak hybrid could be the perfect “middle-ground” solution for you.
Summary: Which Is Better – A Paddle Board Or A Kayak?
Obviously, the choice between a stand up paddleboard and a kayak is ultimately yours, and it depends on many different factors, from your experience to your preferences and intended uses. To help you out, here’s a quick summary of the whole “paddle board vs kayak” debate:
- SUPs are a better choice for those new to paddle sports. They are more geared towards beginners and recreational outings – and, besides good balance, don’t require any actual technical skills.
- Kayaks are much more versatile when it comes to the available hull shapes and designs, performance characteristics, and intended uses. Plus, they handle rough conditions a lot better, provide protection from the elements, and are more suitable for longer outings.