Kayaks and paddleboards are both great ways to get on the water and explore the great outdoors. From fishing to whitewater to flat water paddling, SUPs and kayaks are extremely versatile and can be a ton of fun in a wide variety of paddling conditions.
Also refer Inflatable Paddle Board (iSUP) vs. Hard SUP
Obviously, in an ideal world where money is no object, it’d be nice to have both a kayak and stand up paddleboard. Budget, space, time spent on the water, and other practical considerations add up. If you had to choose, which one is best for you? As with anything else there are pros and cons to each option, and in this article we’re going to cover the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Paddleboard vs. Kayak — Which Should You Buy?
When it comes to getting a workout, stand up paddleboarding is the clear winner. SUP delivers a low-impact, full body workout that tones the body, strengthens muscles, and burns calories. It’s a really fun way to get in shape, and it beats going to the gym any day in our opinion. It’s so much fun that you may not realize how much of a workout you’re getting until the next day.
Having said that, kayaking is also a viable way to get some exercise. While SUP engages your entire body from your legs and glutes, to your core, to your arms, chest and back, kayak paddling provides more of an isolated workout that hits your shoulders, back, arms, chest, and abdominals.
As far as stability goes, kayaks and paddleboards both offer a stable paddling platform that even beginners can quickly get accustomed to. Despite the fact that both score well in this category, kayaks do have an advantage since they offer a lower center of gravity. So, while kayaks are harder to tip the important part is…
3. Getting Back On
Whether you end up in the water by choice or accident, it’s important to consider how easy it’ll be to get back on your kayak or SUP. When it comes to a capsized kayak, you’ll first need to flip the kayak back over before crawling back onto a rocking boat. Once your kayak is right side up, climbing back on and getting into position might take a little practice to perfect.
SUPs are much easier to get on when you’re out in the water, thanks to the fact that they rarely capsize and are a lot easier to pull yourself up on.
Paddleboards are much easier to climb back onto than enclosed kayaks.
4. On-Board Storage
If extended-length paddling excursions are your thing, then available on-board storage is certainly an important consideration. This also comes into play for shorter paddles if you want to bring along camera gear, food, etc.
With a paddleboard, you essentially have a limited amount of deck space to secure your gear. Although there’s plenty of room, you need to be able to move up and down the length of your board to execute tight turns and maneuver. The more gear you stack on, the more challenging your board is to handle. Of course, anything that you tie down to the deck of your SUP is going to get wet, so you’ll definitely need to pack everything in waterproof dry bags. While it is possible to load quite a bit of gear onto a paddleboard, you won’t have quick and easy access to it while on the water.
A kayak gives you the benefit of increased on-board storage without any add-ons, and it’s also much easier to keep your gear dry when compared with a SUP (although it’s always good to use dry bags to be on the safe side). Accessing your gear while on the water can also be easier in a kayak if you’ve packed carefully. While loading your kayak with heavy gear will make it sluggish in the water, you can often pack more gear on without impacting performance as much as on a SUP. For that reason, we’ll give the edge to the kayak as the best option when it comes to storage out-of-the-box.
5. Transport and Portability (SUP)
When it comes to transport and portability, inflatable stand up paddleboards are the more convenient option due to the fact that they are typically lighter and easier to handle. Of course, if portability and ease of transport is high on your list of priorities, both kayaks and paddleboards are available in inflatable versions which deflate and pack down into a convenient carrying bag. But keep in mind that while inflatable stand up paddleboards are a close match in performance to hardboards for most applications, inflatable and collapsible kayaks lose more in performance versus their rigid cousins. Be sure to check out our article comparing inflatable SUPs and rigid boards for more on which is right for you.
6. Overall Fun Factor
While there is a certain amount of subjectivity that comes into play when comparing the overall fun factor of kayaks vs. paddleboards, we’d have to say that stand up paddleboards have an advantage in this category. For the majority of people, the SUP experience is far more enjoyable and offers the maximum amount of potential when it comes to fun.
Want to paddle with your kids? It’s a blast to bring children along on your SUP, and they can easily jump on and off the board for some swimming fun!
Paddleboarding with your dog is also enjoyable and something that has gotten extremely popular over the past few years. Your pup will love being out on the water with you, and there’s plenty of space on the deck of your SUP for them to move around.
If you’re into fitness or yoga, your paddleboard instantly transforms into an exercise platform or yoga mat on the water. This adds the element of balance to your workouts so you can challenge yourself and try difficult poses with only a splash rather than a hard gym floor as a consequence for falling. This versatility really can’t be matched by a kayak.
Paddleboards are more versatile than kayaks and that means more options for the whole family.
7. Perspective for Sightseeing
When it comes to sightseeing, there’s no better way to take in the sights and sounds of nature than standing on the deck of a SUP. In a kayak, you’re seated low and very close to the water which limits your view substantially. On a paddleboard, you’ll have a much better view of the surrounding scenery as you’ll be experiencing everything from an elevated vantage point. Not only will you be able to see your surroundings better above water, but you’ll also have a better vantage on what’s below the waves too for spotting fish, sea turtles and other marine wildlife.
8. Cold Weather Paddling
If you’re planning to paddle in cold weather, a kayak will definitely be your best option as it’ll keep you much drier than a stand up paddleboard. Also, the kayak’s seated paddling position will help to shield you from strong winds which can be brutal on cold days.
9. Warm Weather Paddling
While kayaks are the best choice for paddling in colder temperatures, SUPs have an edge in warmer climates. It’s really refreshing to feel water splashing on your feet as you paddle along, and when things get a bit too hot, you can always just jump off your board for a quick dip. Also, paddling from a standing position exposes you to cool ocean breezes — a wonderful thing to experience during a warm afternoon on the water!
Leonardo Vanella enjoying the summer heat on the water off of Spiaggia Tre Fontane, Italy
10. Paddling Long Distances
Since kayak paddling is done from a seated position, it makes things much easier when it comes to paddling long distances. Standing for very long periods of time on a paddleboard (especially when conditions are less than ideal) is much more challenging than kayaking due to cramping and fatigue.
When it comes to the question of affordability, there’s really no clear winner. Paddleboards and kayaks can be purchased at nearly all price points, making both of these a good option regardless of one’s budget. From a few hundred dollars to several thousand, there’s something for everyone in each category.
Depending on the construction and materials used, both kayaks and paddleboards can sustain damage by rocks and knocks. Having said that, SUPs have fins that can easily be damaged or broken in shallow waters. Although interchangable fins are affordable and easy to replace, we’re going to award this round to kayaks.
Kristine and Robert of Hikes Near Vancouver put their boards to the test on their mountain adventures in Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
Kayaks and paddleboards both come in a wide variety of shapes and lengths, and their maneuverability changes greatly based on the particular model and its dimensions. Shorter boards and kayaks are much more nimble than longer models, while additional length is desirable when it comes to speed and straight line tracking.
While there are long, sleek racing SUPs that cut through the water with ease, kayaks are a much better choice if speed is high on your priority list. Paddleboard design really limits you when it comes to speed, while a kayak’s low center of gravity, narrower profile, and double-bladed paddle allow it to achieve greater speeds.
Unless you have an injury that makes sitting painful or difficult, a kayak’s seated paddling position will provide more comfort than a SUP. Over longer distances, the single fixed position you’re locked into on a kayak can become confining but in general, because you’re seated, paddling a kayak is less taxing than paddling a SUP.
A seated paddle is one thing, but paddleboards are made for kicking back in comfort and maybe a pre-paddle siesta.
–Photo by @isupworld.
16. Paddling in Windy Conditions
When conditions are windy, paddleboarding becomes much more challenging as you’re fighting the strong winds from an elevated and exposed standing position. While you can combat this by taking a kneeling position or adding a kayak seat to your board, Kayaks, naturally, have a much lower profile that makes it far easier to paddle in high winds.
17. Freedom of Movement
If you truly want to feel free on the water without any restrictions, stand up paddleboarding is definitely the way to go. Sit, stand, kneel, lay down, move around — SUPs are extremely flexible and allow for a wide variety of movement. While kayaks are designed with fixed position seating for one or two people, a SUP is only limited by the weight of the riders. That means there’s plenty of room for you, your partner, your kids, and even a dog on deck!
While kayak angling is extremely popular, SUP fishing is a fairly new phenomenon that is catching on like wildfire. Fishing on a paddleboard gives you a huge advantage when it comes to visibility, thanks to the fact that you’re standing vs. sitting. With a set of D-rings and some tie downs you can outfit your SUP as an incredibly stable fishing platform with a cooler for a seat, rod holders, your deck bag and tons of other accessories.
Sadie Elizabeth outfitted for a day on the water at Chicot State Park, Louisiana.
As you can see, there’s no clear winner when it comes to the SUP vs. kayak debate. Both have distinct pros and cons, and what’s best for one paddler may not necessarily be the right choice for another.
Before purchasing a kayak or SUP, it’s vital to have a solid understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each. It’s equally important to identify and prioritize what’s important to you, so that you can make an informed buying decision. The last thing that you want to do is make an uneducated, impulse purchase that ultimately leads to disappointment. This happens often, and it’s an expensive mistake that can easily be avoided by taking the time to do a little bit of research.
We hope that this article has been informative and helpful in determining what’s the best choice for you. At THURSO SURF, we’re obviously big SUP fans, but despite our partiality to paddleboards, we’re big fans of all of the different ways that you can get out on the water. Regardless of what you ultimately decide to buy, we hope that you enjoy many years of memorable paddling adventures from your purchase.