May 30, 2020 16 min read

1. Introduction

Trying to decide whether to get a standup paddle board or a kayak? You’re in the right place, friend. While SUPs are relatively new to the mainstream outdoorsy set, they’re growing in popularity at a mindblowing pace. Meanwhile, kayaks remain perennially popular at lakes and waterfronts around the world.

Before we get started, let’s clarify what these two hobbies actually are - and aren’t.

Kayaking is frequently confused with canoeing. Kayakers use double-bladed paddles and sit in a low seat with their legs stretched forward. Canoers use single-bladed paddles and either kneel on the boat or sit on an elevated seat. A Standup Paddle Board (SUP), on the other hand, involves standing on a board and using a longer, single-bladed paddle to move.

Paddle Board vs Kayak

2. Is it Easier to Kayak or Paddle Board?

Both SUP and kayaking can be learned quickly. You can pick up the basic skills for each within a day. To learn to kayak effectively, you’ll need lots of practice to increase your upper body stamina. Since you are stuck in the same position for the entire time inside a kayak, there is the risk of picking up repetitive strain injuries (RSI). And if you happen to fall into the water while kayaking, you need special instructions to learn how to get back into it.

SUPs by contrast are super intuitive and highly variable. The biggest challenge is usually balancing on the board, which takes some coordination and core strength. Once the basic balance is under control, then learning how to paddle board is relatively simple. And since you can move around freely on the SUP to change your paddling stroke, there is a much lower chance of picking up a RSI. 

3. Can a SUP keep up with a Kayak?

When it comes to straight-line speed the kayak is faster than a SUP in most cases. Both kayaks and SUPs have a variety of shapes that are designed for specific purposes. So while kayaks are generally faster in the water than SUPs, that’s not always the case. For example, a downwind or race SUP (pictured below) is faster than a recreational or whitewater kayak.

Paddle Board vs Kayak - racing

Just like SUPs, there are a wide variety of kayaks. Some are designed to let you sit on top of the vessel (sit-on-top) while others are meant for the paddler to inside (sit-in). Sit-in kayaks are for more casual days and are relatively slower than their sit-in counterparts that are designed with open water voyages in mind. Due to the wide variety of shapes and functions of kayaks and SUPs, it’s hard to say which one is faster.

If we take into account the time it takes to get in and out of the water, then SUPs are hands-down faster thanks to their convenient storage and handling. This is especially true for inflatable SUPs! Even if you can’t keep up with your friend in the kayak, you’ll likely have a big head start paddling if you arrive at the beach at the same time.

4. Reasons SUP Is Better Than Kayaking

We’ll stop beating around the bush and just say it: SUP is better than kayaking. Both activities are fun and refreshing, but SUP beats out the latter by leaps and bounds. SUP is accessible, adaptable, and portable. Still not sure? Let us explain.

SUP Is A Better Workout

SUP offers a fantastic full body workout. In fact, it’s such great exercise that it first rose to popularity because surfers were using it as a cross-training method. Balancing on a SUP requires engaging your core, so every moment you spend on the board is a moment spent getting stronger. Of course, SUP also works your arms and legs, so you’re utilizing a whole host of muscles at any given time while paddling. Your abs, triceps, biceps, quads, and back muscles (among others) will benefit from every SUP session. Kayaking, on the other hand, neglects your leg muscles altogether. You can certainly get an excellent arm and shoulder workout and will be utilizing your core, but it’s not a full body fitness exercise.

SUP Is Easy For Beginners

If you want to feel comfortable on a SUP, all you need are a few hours and some patience. SUP basics are simple and adaptable, so that just about any interested paddler can pick up the skills quickly. Your paddleboard skills evolve as you gain more experience, and you only need basic standing and balancing skills to enjoy a day out on your board.

Kayaking requires a level of strength and stamina that people don’t always have on their first try. You can learn the basics within a day, but get ready for some serious arm and shoulder aches. Your body will need some time to adapt to all the shoulder strength it requires. Beginners often find themselves exhausted at the end of their first few sessions. A little healthy tiredness after a great workout is fine, but nobody wants to risk injuring themselves with bad technique or RSIs!

Fishing from a Paddle Board is Better

There’s little competition when it comes to kayak versus paddle board fishing. When fishing from a SUP, you get a more expansive range of sight and movement, so you can cast your line far and wide. Sitting down while fishing isn’t exactly the epitome of high intensity fitness, so when you choose to fish from a SUP, you create an a dynamic alternative to all that sitting. You can work those muscles by standing up to fish on your SUP, and by paddling your way to your fishing spot.

Paddle Board vs Kayak - fishing

You Can SUP With Friends & Pets

One of our personal favorite perks of SUP is that it’s a group activity. Solo SUP is fun, but if you start to feel lonely, it takes zero effort to bring a friend along. Your best friend, boyfriend, daughter, or puppy can hop on your board at a moment's notice. No extra board or planning needed! Just make sure your SUP’s maximum weight capacity is enough for both of you! Find out the right size paddle board for you through your weight and intended use.

With a kayak, the situation is more rigid. You either have a two-person kayak with two seats, or you don’t. If you’re a solo kayaker who decides you now want the option to bring friends, you’ll need to buy another boat with two seats. There’s no winging it here.

Because SUPs don’t have specified seats or designated standing areas, you can simply add extra pals as you see fit (or subtract them, if you’re feeling ruthless).

Let’s Be Real, SUP Looks Way Cooler

Guys, let’s just be honest with ourselves: no kayak can compete with SUP’s cool factor. When someone glides up to you onboard a SUP, sunglasses on and hair looking fly in the breeze, you want to know more about that person. You want to be that person. The vibe is undeniable.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw a kayak picture on your social media feed draw as much awe, aspiration, and wonder as a SUP shot?

Forget the club: the cool kids these days can be found on the water paddling a SUP.

And SUP Is So Much Fun!

The best thing about SUP’s cool factor, though, is that it actually lives up to the hype. As cool as you look on your board, you’ll feel even more awesome. That’s because SUP is actually as fun as it seems, and not just for a select few - it’s enjoyable and adaptable for just about anyone. No matter your age, fitness level, or experience, you can hop on a stand up paddle board and have a memorable afternoon. You can bring along anyone - your kids, your grandparents, your college buddies, or just yourself - and have the time of your life.

Paddle Board vs Kayak - fun

5. The Versatility Of SUP

On a kayak, you travel from Point A to Point B. Yes, there are some kayak racers, but more often than not, you’ll be using your boat to simply go back and forth. On a stand up paddle board, however, your possibilities are endless. You can use your board for basic transportation, sure, but you can also use it to explore all kinds of activities. If you’re into boutique fitness or mindfulness, you can try SUP yoga or SUP pilates. If you’re an adrenaline junkie at heart, there’s whitewater SUP and SUP racing. And of course, SUP touring is an excellent way to explore your surroundings with a group.

6. Can you use a Paddle Board as a Kayak?

Yep, you can! If the mood strikes you, you can have the best of both worlds by adding a kayak seat to your paddleboard. Then, you can convert your SUP paddle to a kayak paddle with the help of a blade kit. Now you’ve got yourself a kayak experience! And you can switch back to your trusty SUP anytime you feel like it. There’s a lot to know about the wide world of SUP kayak hybrids, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

SUP Kayak Hybrids 101

Paddle Board vs Kayak: Kayak Hybrid

SUP kayak hybrid concepts are increasingly popular - and some options are more ideal than others. You’ll find two main types of SUP kayak hybrids. The first, sometimes called SUPYaks, are sold as 2-in-1 products, and are essentially SUPs that can be paddled like boats. They have their shortcomings, like weaker attachments, decreased storage, and decreased water protection. (Basically, instead of the best of both worlds, you’re missing out on some of the perks of each type of watercraft.)

The best option is to simply add one of those aforementioned chairs to your paddleboard. This method is far more functional - both on the SUP side and the kayak side - and is a more enjoyable experience.

SUPYaks

  • Sold as a 2-in-1 product
  • No installation
  • Misses some of the perks of each craft
  • Not always the best quality
  • More portable than regular kayaks

SUP Kayak Chairs

  • Sold as an add-on to a regular SUP
  • Very easy to install - simply clip into the D-Rings on your SUP
  • More functional
  • Higher quality
  • More portable than kayaks and SUPyaks

Pros of Paddling A SUP/Kayak Hybrid

Let's take a closer look at some of the pros of paddling a SUPyak.

  • Offers some benefits of both a SUP and kayak
  • Buy one vessel instead of two
  • Good for sharing with family and friends

Cons of Paddling A SUP/Kayak Hybrid

We should also consider the cons of paddling a SUPyak.

  • Activities require differnet skill sets (core strength and balance vs. upper body strength
  • Kayak seats on SUPs limit the space available to stand
  • Less onboard storage space

7. How to Convert Your SUP Into a Kayak

A simple kayak kit transforms your paddleboard into a kayak in minutes. (And here you thought magic didn’t exist!) The main two things you need are a paddle conversion kit and a kayak seat.

Paddle Board to Kayak Conversion Kit

Setting Up Your Kayak Paddle

To get started, you need to transform your SUP paddle into a kayak paddle. Some people prefer to purchase a separate kayak paddle, but you can just as easily make the switch with a blade kit. The kit helps will allow remove your SUP paddle’s T-handle and swap it with the kayak blade.

Installing A SUP Kayak Seat

There are two popular types of kayak seats for your paddleboard. The more sparse option is a lower back band. This provides some basic back support, and that’s about it - it’s not a full chair.

Your more comfortable option is a full kayak seat. This offers more complete back support and more padding. You can set it up by clipping the seat’s attachments to the D-rings on your board. GILI boards come with extra D-rings, so you won’t have to bother installing extra ones to make the seat fit!

To find out which section of the board your seat should be positioned in, experiment a bit. Don’t assume the seat belongs in the board’s direct center. Instead, take a seat on the board while it’s in the water, and ask a pal to watch the board’s movement. Try sitting close to the center first, and ask your friend to tell you whether the SUP is flat in the water or if it’s tilting. Adjust your spot on the board until the SUP is level with a slightly raised nose. That’s the ideal spot for your seat!

And poof. In a matter of minutes, your SUP has transformed into a kayak! and adventures await! Make sure you take along all the necessary items you need for your journey by adding key SUP accessories to your toolkit.

8. What Burns More Calories: Kayaking or Paddle Boarding?

Paddle Board vs Kayak - sup yoga

Kayaking can burn up to 500 calories per hour. As with any water activity, the number of calories burned depends on weather conditions, pace, and water currents.

On average, you’ll burn 330 to 460 calories per hour while recreational paddle boarding. And that’s just for a leisurely paddle! There are a wide variety of activities you can perform on your SUP and they burn even more calories such as SUP surfing, yoga, fishing, touring, and racing. For SUP racing, you can burn up to an incredible 1130 calories per hour! For a full breakdown, check out our article on how many calories you burn while paddle boarding.

9. SUP Fishing vs. Kayak Fishing: What To Know

SUP fishing and kayak fishing each have their merits, but SUP fishing offers a wide range of perks you won’t find on a sit-down vessel. For starters, you’ll be working with a more effective vantage point while standing on a SUP than you would hunkered into a kayak seat. You can choose the perfect spot to cast your line with that view, and you’ll be able to actually reach it, because when you’re standing you’ve got a 360-degree range of motion. Try craning your neck to reach a spot behind you when you’re fishing from a boat - trust us, it’s not a whole lot of fun.

There’s also the undeniable fact that SUP fishing is an improved workout. Sitting still all day isn’t the best calorie burner, but if you’re standing on your paddleboard as you fish, you’re still activating your muscles. You also get a great full body exercise when you paddle out to your fishing spot before casting the line.

SUPs offer a whole host of bungees, D-rings, and add-on storage capabilities for holding your tackle box, drinks, snacks, and fishing gear.

10. The Pros and Cons of Kayaking

Paddle Board vs Kayak - beach

There’s a reason kayaking has remained a pastime for centuries. It’s a fun, refreshing way to get outside! That said, the activity has its ups and downs.

Kayaking Pros

  • Kayaks are fast
  • Sitting down can be more comfortable for some people

Kayaking Cons

  • Hard to get in and out of them, especially from the water
  • Heavy to carry when on land
  • Requires lots of storage at home and in your vehicle

11. Why are Good Paddle Boards and Kayaks Expensive?

When it comes to buying a watercraft, it’s a smart move to buy a well constructed, reliable vessel. It will keep you safe and dry when you’re out in nature! But why are SUPs and kayaks so expensive?

While both these watercraft look relatively simple, there is a lot of research and development (R&D) that goes into their design and production. Kayaks have more complex shapes and designs, but they have also been around and popular for much longer than SUPs. That means the R&D costs have been spread out over a much longer period.

SUPs are relatively new and iSUPs are even newer than their rigid predecessors. Making a durable, high-performing iSUP requires the latest innovations in design and materials. Construction, materials, and technology all contribute to the price of a good Paddle Board.

12. Paddleboard vs. Kayak, Point By Point

There’s no denying that you can have a great time on a SUP or on a kayak, but there are certain categories where one simply outshines the other. Here are some perks and drawbacks when it comes to the debate over paddleboard vs kayak.

  • Stability - kayaks are initially more stable, but there is little difference after some practice on a SUP
  • Maneuverability - SUPs are better in tight spaces
  • Learning Curve - both are easy to learn, but kayaks require specific muscle group endurance that takes time to build
  • Portaging - SUPs, especially iSUPs, are far easier to carry
  • Durability - both are pretty durable, especially inflatables
  • Getting Back On - no contest: SUPs win
  • Kids & Pets / Friends On Board - only SUPs allow you to quickly add passengers
  • Onboard Storage - options on kayaks, but SUPs have quick, modular solutions
  • Long Distance Paddling - kayaks have the advantage
  • Sightseeing - both good, but wider field of view on a SUP
  • Fitness - kayak is great for arms, but SUPs offer full body workouts
  • Cool Factor - SUP

Stability

At first glance, kayaks are thought to have more stability than SUPs, but when you’re properly trained in SUP, you won’t find many stability issues. On a SUP, your center of gravity is farther from the water than it would be if you were sitting in a kayak. But if you have a good grasp of how to balance on your SUP, you won’t have much of a problem.

Paddle Board vs Kayak - capsize

Maneuverability

While both watercraft are relatively simple to maneuver, SUPs are more user friendly. They are so lightweight and agile that you can adapt them to just about any situation on the water, and they’re easier to maneuver out of narrow spaces and sharp corners.

Learning Curve

The learning process for both activities is speedy. The movements required to SUP properly as a beginner (using your core, slightly bending your knees, and extending your arms to paddle) often involve strengths you’ll already have and can slowly improve over time. Kayaking requires arm strength and arm movements that are easy to learn, but it can take quite a bit of time to build up the strength needed to carry those movements out at maximum capacity. When you’re first learning to kayak, you might find yourself with impossibly sore arms after your first few outings.

Portaging

Portaging is the act of carrying your vessel across land. For example, carrying your watercraft from one river to another, or taking it across a beach toward the water. SUPs are exquisitely easy in the portage department - especially inflatable SUPs - because you can lift them with relatively little effort. Most SUPs have grab handles, so even heavier boards can be lifted without the use of a carrying cart or other tool. In some cases, you can even attach a SUP carry strap to the D-rings on your SUP to make transport even easier.

Kayaks are larger than SUPs, and they’re made from heavier material. They are tough to lift on your own. Anyone who’s kayaked before knows the nails-on-a-chalkboard feeling of dragging a boat through heavy wet sand or ragged, scratchy stones. If you want to avoid that, you’ll need a kayak cart or someone else to help you double team the lift.

Paddle Board vs Kayak - marsh

Durability

Since kayaks are usually made of polyethylene, they’re very durable and ready to take a ding or two. With SUPs, you’ll see a variety of different construction options, but all of them are sturdy enough to get through just about anything. Inflatable SUPs, or iSUPs, are often assumed to be fragile by non paddlers. In reality, iSUPs are made with military strength PVC to and can thrive through rugged waters and bumpy transportation. Hard SUPs, which are usually made of epoxy and fiberglass, are faster than inflatables, but tend to be more fragile too.

Getting Back On

Hands down, a SUP is easier to get back onto than a kayak. When you fall off your SUP (or jump off for a dip in the water), all you have to do is hop right back onboard. When you fall off a kayak, you’ll need to partake in a oh-so-cringy dance of finding a decent grip on the boat from the water, pulling yourself up high enough to get back into the seat, lifting yourself back onboard, and managing to not flip the boat in the process. And if the boat flips, you’re in for an especially frustrating experience. Now you’ve got to get the boat back upright before you can even try again! Even after getting back into the boat, you’ll have to use a bilge pump to get the water out of the cockpit if you’re in a sit-in style kayak.

Kids & Pets / Friends On Board

Kayaks don’t have much extra space, so they don’t provide the opportunity to bring a friend along at the last minute. You’ll need to have a two-person boat for that, because a one-person kayak simply doesn’t have room for a buddy. On your SUP, however, your extra guest can simply hop right on board - no extra seat needed.

dog on paddle board

On-Board Storage

Kayaks have a decent chunk of built-in storage space, but the amount is set from the day you purchase the boat. No adding or removing storage to a boat that’s already been built! A SUP, on the other hand, can have as much or as little storage as you want. You can use bungees and other attachments to set up a dry bag, cooler, or other storage options. If you’d rather have more space to move around on your SUP (or practice an activity like SUP yoga), you can clear it all off for a blank slate and plenty of open space. Your SUP can shapeshift to suit whatever level of storage you need.

Storage On Land

Make no mistake: as much fun as kayaks are to use, they are a nightmare to store. These large, bulky boats will take up a fair chunk of space in your home, backyard, or garage, so prepare yourself. And don’t forget: when it’s time to transport your boat to the waterfront, you’ll need to manage to get it on top of your car or find another way to get it there.

SUP backpack storage

Both hard SUPs and inflatable SUPs are much easier to store than kayaks. An inflatable SUP will deflate and fold neatly into a SUP backpack so you can tuck it into your car trunk, stow it onboard a plane, or slide it tidily into a corner of your home. While hard SUPs don’t deflate, they have a more compact shape than a boat and take up less room in your home. You can use a SUP rack, lean it upright against a wall, or even display it.

Paddle Board vs Kayak - storage

Long-Distance Paddling

Kayaks tend to be more explicitly built for long-distance adventures, and they can move a bit more quickly. However, touring SUPs are perfectly built for tours or other long-distance SUP experiences. These nimble boards can take you into small, gem-like spaces on the water that you might not be able to otherwise access, and can easily keep you going for a full day before heading back to shore if you so choose.

Sightseeing

SUP provides a leg up over kayaks when it comes to sightseeing, because it literally provides a better view. When you SUP, you stand up high and have a 360-degree range of vision. Your vantage point when you stand simply goes farther, and if you want a close-up of what’s happening under the surface of the water, all you need to do is sit down on your SUP. It’s no coincidence that SUP travel tours have become so popular! On a kayak, you’re confined to sitting, whether you like it or not - and that view from your seat is the only glimpse of anything that you’ll be getting.

Fitness

Kayaking is a fun workout, but it primarily exercises your arms and core. SUP, on the other hand, utilizes your entire body. Your arms, core, legs, flexibility, and overall balance will benefit from your workout aboard your paddleboard. If you want a full body workout, SUP is simply the best option.

What’s Cooler? Kayak or SUP?

Is this really even up for debate? Let’s face it: if SUP were a person, it would be an It Girl, or That Cool Guy At The Bar. Imagine yourself casually paddling aboard your chic SUP, stylish swimwear on display, knowing you’re the envy of the entire beach. Admit it, it sounds really cool. Way, way cooler than being crunched up into a kayak with nowhere to stretch out, move, or show off your aesthetic.

Which is better: kayak or paddle boarding?

kayak versus paddle boarding - man and dog

At the end of the day, when it comes to kayaks vs SUPs, there’s just no denying that paddle boarding is better than kayaking in just about every way. Perhaps most importantly, paddle boarding is a total body workout that engages your entire body including your legs, glutes, core, in addition to your arms, chest, and back. Kayak paddling provides an isolated workout for your upper body only including your shoulders, back, arms, chest, and core.

We’re just speaking the truth! There’s nothing wrong with kayaking - in fact, it’s a delight - but it’s about time we all accept that it will always be second best. In fact, we’d even venture that some kayakers are feeling major SUP #FOMO right now. So get yourself a SUP and hop on board, knowing you’ve chosen a winning hobby.

Warren Tsoi
Warren Tsoi

Editor - Warren is an avid waterman and conservationist who will take any chance to be outdoors. He believes the best way to protect our environment is to get people outside to appreciate nature.


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