March 23, 2022 8 min read

SUP and Surfboard Differences

Assorted surfing boards

Watersport newbies may not see the difference between a stand up paddle board and a surfboard, but trust us, there are many. 

Paddle boarding has become increasingly popular throughout the years, and many paddle boarders are going the extra mile and sharing the waves with surfers worldwide. 

After finding out paddle boarders can ride the waves on their SUPs, you’re probably left thinking, well, if you can surf on a SUP, surely there isn’t much difference between the two types of boards? 

Although they share some similarities, there are many differences between the two, and we’re going to go into detail about everything from their purpose and price points, all the way to the shape of their hulls and rockers. 

So, if you’re wondering what makes a SUP and a surfboard so different, keep on reading!

What Are the Differences Between Stand Up Paddle Boards and Surfboards?

Woman sitting on a paddle board under floating cottages

What They Are Used For

The first differentiating factor is the purpose that the boards were designed for. Although they’re both meant to float, SUP boards were created to glide on the surface of the water, whereas surfboards were designed to ride with the waves.

As a surfboard was created to ride along with the wave and not glide on top of it, surfboards need easy mobility so their riders can maneuver and turn the board to hit the water at the perfect angle. 

A SUP Needs a Paddle

An add-on to their purpose is that a SUP board needs a paddle. Traditional surfers paddle out to the wave breaks lying on their boards with their hands pushing through the water in a swimming-like movement. 

Paddle boards, on the other hand, require a paddle that the rider uses to propel them through the water while standing on their board. 

In recent years as paddle boarders have taken to SUP surfing, they have taken their paddles with them and used them as a tool to gain even more momentum along the wave. 

Flotation in a SUP

Flotation in both boards is one of the most significant contrasts between the two. A paddle board is designed to hold the rider’s weight and then some without sinking. 

Foam core paddle boards have roughly 100 liters of foam throughout their core. As foam floats on the water, the increased foam level in a foam board helps them hold more weight while still remaining on the water’s surface. 

Inflatable paddle boards range in thickness, and the more air they can hold, the more buoyant they become. 

The size and length of a surfboard will determine how much foam they contain in their cores. A typical short surfboard has around 23 liters of foam, whereas a longboard has 85 liters. 

The increased length of a longboard requires them to have more foam in their cores, or else they’d be heavy and sink when the rider stands on them. 

When riding a surfboard, for the most part, the weight of the rider is evenly distributed along the board while they lay down. When catching a wave, the rider only stands for a short period of time, meaning a surfboard doesn’t require the same amount of buoyancy as that of a paddle board.

Dimensions

Man paddle boarding on a GILI meno inflatable paddle board

If you were to place a surfboard and a paddle board side by side, it would be obvious to see their dimension differences. 

Paddle boards are thicker, longer, and wider than your typical surfboard. Their increased thickness due to a higher foam volume or air volume provides more stability when paddling and keeps the board floating on the water’s surface.

Foam boards are around 4 inches thick, and inflatable boards range from 5+ inches thick. Remember, the thicker the board, the more buoyant it becomes. 

The thickness of a surfboard comes down to the size and weight of the rider it’s designed for. Small and lighter riders will require less foam in the core to keep them semi afloat, and heavier riders will require more.

On average, a paddle board is around 10-11 feet in length, and their increased length also plays a part in how much weight they can hold and how buoyant the board will be. 

However, a typical surfboard can be anywhere from 6 feet to 7.2 feet, depending on the weight of the rider, and longboards range from the 8 - 11 feet mark. 

Finally, the width of a paddle board and surfboard differ immensely. Surfboards were designed to be thinner so the rider could straddle the board and paddle with their hands on either side. 

A paddle board uses a paddle which eliminates the need for a thin deck, that’s why paddle boards were designed wider to increase stability and provide a larger surface area for the rider to paddle on. 

Hull Type

All types of boards will come under one of two hull categories, a planing hull or a displacement hull. 

A planing hull allows the board to ride on top of the water and plane. Planing only occurs when boards are going fast along the water, like when you’re riding waves, for example. 

Displacement hulls do as their name suggests and displace the water beneath you. The shape of a displacement hull is designed to efficiently cut through the water and direct water away from the hull. 

Displacement hulls are used in touring or racing fiberglass paddle boards, and all other paddle boards have planing hulls so they can ride on top of the water.

Surfboards also come under the planing hull type as the hull configuration allows them to ride waves at faster speeds.

Materials

GILI Air inflatable paddle board

Paddle boards come under one of three material categories, fiberglass, soft top boards, or inflatable boards. 

Fiberglass paddle boards are made from a foam core that is coated in fiberglass mesh and finished off with an epoxy resin cover. 

Soft top boards are made from fiberglass, epoxy resin, styrofoam, and layered with a soft mat on top. Soft top boards are similar to a fiberglass board, but their squishy mat makes them less likely to ding and suitable for new and inexperienced riders. 

Lastly, inflatable paddle boards use drop-stitching technology along with PVC materials to give the board its shape and durability. 

Surfboards are closely related to fiberglass paddle boards as they’re made from the same foam cores, fiberglass cloths, and epoxy resin covers. This material combination makes surfboards and fiberglass paddle boards lightweight and easy to maneuver.

Rockers

A rocker is the curvature from the nose to the tail end of the board. Each board will have a different rocker based on the intended purpose of the board and the curvature of the specific waves the board will be riding. The rocker essentially affects how fast you can go on the board and how fast you can turn your board while catching a wave. 

Boards have rockers at the front and tail end of the board, the front is called a nose rocker, and the back is a tail rocker.

Surfboards require rockers that fit the curve of the wave, meaning if the rocker isn’t bent enough, the board will nose dive, and the river will catapult into the water. If the rocker is bent too high, the board’s speed will slow, which isn’t ideal when trying to ride a wave. 

Paddle board rockers are typically long and flat to aid in tracking and gliding. Their flat rockers are why paddle boards perform better on flat water, as they don’t need to adhere to the curvature of waves. 

Versatility

Woman surfing on waves on a pink surfboard

Surfboards and paddle boards also differ in their versatility and the activities you can use them for. Surfboards were designed for one thing, and one thing only, surfing. 

Paddle boards, however, can be used not only for paddle boarding but also for other activities like SUP yoga, SUP fishing, SUP surfing, and you can even transform your SUP into a kayak with a handy kayak conversion kit

Price

Surfboard prices vary, and their purpose and length influence their price points. Specialized boards for advanced riders are often more expensive than typical surfboards, which will cost you anywhere from $150 to $300. 

Paddle boards also vary in price, and their materials and purpose contribute to how much they will set you back. A high-quality inflatable board is around the $500 to $700 mark, with boards designed for touring and racing slightly higher. 

Soft top boards tend to be less expensive than fiberglass boards which can start from $900 upwards.

For more information on paddle board pricing, check out our article How Much Do Paddle Boards Cost?

Can You Use a Surfboard as a Paddle Board?

Surfboards tend to lack the buoyancy and stability that a SUP offers, thus making it extremely difficult to stay afloat while standing on the board. 

However, children or experienced riders may be able to stand up paddle on a surfboard for short periods of time. As small children weigh considerably less than an adult, they would require less volume for floating and would find it easy to remain on the board without sinking.

Can You Use a Paddle Board as a Surfboard?

It is possible to ride waves on a paddle board; however, the size of a paddle board reduces your speed and turning capabilities, making it more challenging to build up enough momentum to catch waves effectively. 

It is also more difficult to perfect surfing maneuvers on a SUP, but with that being said, most boards and riders will be able to ride small waves without any trouble. 

FAQ’S

🏆 What Is the main difference between a SUP and a Surfboard?

The main differences between a SUP and a surfboard are the purpose they were designed and built for and their dimensions. 

Surfboards were created to be agile, lightweight, and thin so surfers can propel themselves through the water at speeds fast enough to effectively ride the waves.

Paddle boards are longer, wider, and have an increased volume to keep them afloat on the water, even with a high amount of additional weight on top. 


👍 Can a Surfboard be used as a SUP?

Fully grown adults would find it extremely difficult to use a surfboard as a SUP as surfboards weren’t created with high amounts of volume. 

When a surfer paddles on a board, their weight is evenly distributed along the entire length of the board, only focusing in one place for a short amount of time when they stand up. If the board doesn’t have a large volume, it will sink from the concentrated weight. 


🏝️ Can a SUP be used as a Surfboard?

It is possible to use a SUP as a surfboard, and many paddlers enjoy the added challenge of remaining stable on their board while catching a wave. 

Paddle boards, however, are more challenging to maneuver than a traditional surfboard, and you may find it more difficult to catch the wave due to a lack of initial speed. 


❓ Which is better: a SUP or a Surfboard?

The debate of which is better solely comes down to your lifestyle and personal preferences. Most people can jump on a SUP and progress from a kneeling position to a standing position relatively quickly. 

Paddle boarding is a more versatile activity that can be practiced in most bodies of water and provides a calm or challenging experience depending on the water conditions. 

Surfing, on the other hand, provides an exciting and thrilling experience that many people find enticing. Standing up on a surfboard and catching a wave is considerably harder than standing on a SUP, so the sport of surfing may not be for everyone.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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