SUP VS Kayak: The Differences, Benefits And How To Choose

by Jason | Last Updated:   May 2nd, 2022
SUP VS Kayak: The Differences, Benefits And How To Choose


So, you’re trying to decide whether you should go for a SUP vs kayak. The problem is:

You don’t really understand the differences between them, and you don’t know which one will work best for you.  

Kayaks have been around for so long now that you’ve probably got a rough idea about what they offer you. But when it comes to SUP boards, things might be a bit different.

The thing is:

SUP boards are a relatively new addition to the world of watersports, but they’ve certainly started to gain in popularity.

And that’s why I wanted to introduce you to both styles so you can make an educated decision regarding which one will work best for you.

In this article, I will give you a complete guide to explain the differences, what you need to consider, their benefits, and so much more.

If this sounds like what you’ve been looking for, don’t go anywhere:

Paddle board Vs Kayak: What’s The Difference?

Okay, before I move on to the following sections, I think it’s essential to explain the differences between a kayak and a paddle board.

And yes, this might be obvious for some of you, but this is for the watersports beginners out there who don’t have a clue.

So, what are the differences?

Well, in my opinion, there are five main differences we should talk about:

  1. Design
  2. Gear
  3. Price
  4. Performance
  5. Features

And in this section, I’m going to break down these five differences to help you better understand the two products:

1. Their Design

I guess the most noticeable difference between the two crafts is their design. So let’s start with that.

Most paddle boards have a flat hull, which means the board is flat enough to skim across the water. Another good thing about this is that it increases the board’s stability, making it easier to stand up.

The design of a kayak hull is slightly different though. Their hull is designed to displace as much water as possible and provide better tracking abilities. Not only that, but you’ll find it more efficient when you’re traveling long distances.

Another difference with kayaks is that they come with a seat and footpegs. That being said, you can find a few hybrid paddle boards that have ergonomic seats and footpegs

And when it comes to the materials used to make either a paddle board or a kayak, you’ll also notice a difference. 

Kayaks are usually made with polyethylene, or if you go for the more advanced options, you might find a fiberglass model.

On the other hand, SUPs are usually constructed with EPS foam sandwiched between a plastic bottom and a soft fabric top.

2. The Gear You Use

One of the most significant differences you’ll find in regards to gear is the paddle you’ll use to get yourself around the lake. 

Most of the time, paddle boards will use a long single-bladed paddle. But this will change depending on if you’ve got a hybrid SUP board. But kayaks will always use double-bladed paddles no matter what. 

Another difference is how much gear you actually need to take on the activity. 

Most of the time, if you’re on a SUP, you won’t need anything else other than a paddle and PFD to get going.

But with kayaking, you usually need to bring a lot more things with you. This could include your PFD, tow ropes, rescue rope, sprayskirts, etc.

3. Price: How They Compare

The next difference you’ll notice is the price between the two. And of course, this can depend on the brand and model, but I want to give you a rough idea of what to expect.

For a brand new stand-up paddleboard, you could end up paying anywhere between $900 and $2,000, which will depend on the quality.

As for kayaks, they have a pretty good price range. You could spend anywhere between $300 and $2,500. This will depend on the quality of the kayak you’re looking at.

Another thing to mention is that if you’re doing advanced kayaking sports, like whitewater or touring, you could end up paying a lot more money. They have to be specially designed with precision construction.

4. Their Performance

Okay, so what about the performance qualities? At the fundamental level. People might find it easier to kayak.

They are faster to paddle, more stable, and some of the skills are easier to learn (learn how to kayak here) than a paddle board. You also have the advantage of storing gear in your kayak, which can be pretty beneficial.

Paddle boards tend to be a lot slower and can be harder to maneuver. Until you look at racing SUPs, they can move extremely quickly.

When it comes to paddling, people tend to find a SUP board a lot more challenging to pick up when compared to kayaks.

That being said, if you’re kayaking on whitewater, you’ll find picking up the paddling techniques extremely challenging.

5. The Features Broken Down

Before we move on to the next section, I wanted to break down the features of both a SUP and kayak. Hopefully, it will give you a better understanding of what to expect from each sport:

Paddle Board Features

Kayak Features

  • SUPs use long single-bladed paddles that are kind of similar to canoes.
  • Paddle boards have a flat deck that you stand on instead of a cockpit to sit inside.
  • You can find both inflatable and hard paddle boards, but there’s usually a price difference.
  • Paddle boards have a similar shape to surfboards.
  • There are no internal storage spots, so you must place all your equipment on top of the board.
  • They have a flat bottom that slightly curves out of the water at the nose.
  • Kayaks have sidewalls that can create space inside the hull so you can sit in or on the kayak.
  • You can store equipment both inside and outside of the kayak.
  • You have a few different styles of kayak; some you sit inside (Closed Cockpit), and some you sit on top (Open Cockpit).
  • Kayak paddles are double-bladed so that you can paddle both sides without changing hands.
  • Most kayaks are made with a hard shell, but you can also get inflatable kayaks.

Things You Have To Consider When Choosing A SUP Board VS Kayak

sup vs kayak

Hopefully, you understand the differences between the two by now, but I don’t think that’s enough information for you to decide between a SUP and a kayak.

So now, I want to explain some of the things you should consider before making a decision.

Let’s take a look:

Where You’re Going To Be Paddling

One of the first things you need to think about when choosing between a SUP or kayak is where you’re going to paddle. 

And, you’re probably going to have an idea of where you’re going to be paddling. But I want to break it down for you, so you know what works best for different locations:

Whitewater Rivers

If you’re experienced enough or going with a guide, you might be eyeing up whitewater paddling. And the most commonly used craft is a kayak, which in my opinion, works better for whitewater.

That being said:

People are still learning how far they can take paddle boarding, and this has led to people taking on whitewater on a SUP, as you can see here:

River Expeditions 

Okay, if you’re not planning on taking on whitewater, but you want to paddle on the river, then you can actually use both. But for me, using a kayak is the better choice, and here’s why:

Kayaks have better storage solutions, and they feel more comfortable for long journeys. 

Paddle boards do have a lot of space for gear, but you can’t secure it very well, and if you fall in the water, you might lose some of your equipment.

Open Sea Expeditions 

When it comes to paddling on the open sea, I’d recommend using a sea kayak. They’re easier to paddle, have a closed cockpit, and you can store plenty of equipment in a dry space.

You can get touring paddle boards designed to carry some gear, but I still recommend using a sea kayak.

Paddling The Coastline

If you plan to paddle on the coast, you can use whichever method suits you the best. Just make sure you stay close to land.

Playing Around On Lakes

Again, if you just plan to play around on the lake, you can use whichever method of paddling suits you. A paddle board and kayak work perfectly well on calm waters, so you won’t have any issues.

Comfort

So, when it comes to comfort, it’s a pretty personal choice; but there are a few things you need to consider. 

Some people prefer sitting back in their kayak for long distances, but others can find it pretty uncomfortable, especially if you have bad knees or joints.

And this is when paddle boards can be more appealing. They are designed to be paddled standing up, but you can also kneel or sit down. 

And when things get tough, you even have the option of lying down for a bit if you’re on calm, open waters.

And it’s these varied paddling positions that can make SUPs more appealing if you get uncomfortable sitting in one place for hours.

Versatility 

Another thing you might want to consider is the versatility of a SUP or a kayak. If you already know what water you’re going to paddle in and the weather conditions, you probably won’t care about versatility.

But, if you’re not sure where you’ll be going or when, you’ll have to think about getting some that’s more versatile. 

And when it comes to versatility, it doesn’t get any better than a kayak. Kayaks are suitable for paddling in any water type and weather conditions.

How Easy Is It To Set Up

If you’re getting a hardshell kayak or SUP board, you’re not going to have an issue with the setup time. At most, you might have to adjust the seat on your kayak, but that’s it. 

You only have to think about the setup if you’re going with the inflatable version (Learn the difference between inflatable vs hardshell kayaks). They take around 10 minutes to inflate, and you’ll have to attach things like the fins or seats.

When it comes to the setup, paddle boards are usually slightly quicker.

Where/How You’re Going To Store It

One of the most important things to think about is how you will store your kayak or paddle board. If you’re using the hardshell versions, you’ll need plenty of space to store them.

Most people like storing their kayak or paddle board in their garage (learn how to store your kayak in a garage), but if you haven’t got the space, there are ways of storing it outside safely.

If you’re using the inflatable versions, you shouldn’t have too many issues with space; it’s just about storing them in a dry spot and out of direct sunlight.

Gear Storage

If you’re planning to go on a long journey, there’s a good chance you will be carrying lots of gear. And for that, you’re going to need a vessel capable of doing that.

One of your best options is to look for a sea/touring kayak; they offer water-tight storage to keep valuables safe and have places to store dry bags.

And while you might be able to store some equipment on your paddle board, it doesn’t quite cut it for me. And this is why I’d always choose a kayak if I’m planning a camping trip along a river.

The Weather Conditions

If you’re paddling in areas where you might encounter strong winds, you’ll struggle on a paddle board. 

SUPs are far more likely to get blown off course. To make it worse:

Heavy winds usually result in choppy waters. And it can be pretty hard to balance on rough waters compared to a kayak.

But that doesn’t mean a paddle board is all bad. In fact, many people prefer them in the summer because they are easy to jump off and into the water.

Unless you have a sit-on-top kayak, you’ll struggle to get in and out of the kayak from the water.

How Easy Are They To Transport

One problem people have to consider is how they will transport the SUP/kayak. If you have an inflatable paddle board or inflatable kayak, you won’t have a problem; you can just stick it in the trunk and be done with it.

You’ll have to transport your kayak with a roof rack if you have the hard shell version, which makes things a little bit more tricky. Or you can just make a DIY roof rack by following the article’s tips and tricks.

How Easy Are They To Paddle 

The last thing you probably want to know is how easy are they to paddle? Most people will find paddling a recreational kayak easier straight off the bat. Okay, you’ll probably be spinning round in circles for a little bit, but you’ll be flying once you’re past that.

As you start advancing, then things will get a little bit more difficult, especially if you’re trying to learn the kayak roll.

But with paddle boarding, you might find things as easy unless you have a bit of canoe experience. The problem is:

Paddling a paddle board requires balance and confidence, and some people just don’t have that instantly. 

And while you might not find yourself turning in circles, you’ll do a fair amount of zigzagging, which can be equally exhausting. Again, if you’re good at canoeing and have outstanding balance, you probably won’t have any issues.

Paddle Board Vs Kayak: Benefits And Which is Best for You

sup vs kayak

Before we get into which one is “better,” I wanted to spend some time breaking down the benefits of both styles. 

So, in this section, I will give you a few benefits so you can decide which one is best for you.

Sound good?

Four Benefits Of Kayaking

1. Provides Some Shelter From Colder Weather 

One of the great things about kayaking is that you can do it all year round, which you can’t say with paddle boarding. You are going to be cold standing on the board, but if you fall in, it’s going to be even worse.

And that’s using a sit-inside kayak is excellent during colder months. The cockpit helps keep the wind and water off the lower half of your body. And if you got a spray skirt attached, it will help you stay warmer.

And of course, with any recreational paddling sport, there’s a chance of your going to get splashed by the water, but it doesn’t feel as bad in the kayak.

Another great thing about paddling on cold water in a kayak is you feel less likely to fall in the water. Kayaks feel more stable to beginners, making them a great option if you’re new to the sport.

2. You Have More On-Board Storage Options

One of the most apparent benefits of using a kayak is the storage space it provides you. In particular, we’re talking about the dry storage they offer.

Paddle boards do provide some storage options, but there’s nowhere to stop things from getting wet, which means you have to rely on dry bags and other methods.

To make it worse:

If you haven’t tied down the gear correctly, you could lose it all if you capsize the paddle board.

But with kayaks, you find storage compartments built into the kayak. And this means if you capsize, your belongings will still be safe and, in some cases, dry. 

3. They Can Be More Comfortable During Long Distances (Personal Preference)

If you’re planning to paddle long distances, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a kayak more comfortable than standing on a paddle board. 

A kayak seat is usually very well padded and can be adjusted to suit your needs, which really increases the comfort.

You won’t find it very comfortable if you’re not good at sitting in one position for an extended period of time.

4. You Can Paddle So Much Faster

One of the most significant benefits is how fast you can go in a kayak compared to a paddle board. One of the reasons for this is you have a double-bladed kayak paddle (how to choose a kayak paddle). You don’t have to switch the paddle from one side to another.

With a paddle board, if you don’t know the proper techniques, you’ll have to keep switching the sides you paddle on, which means you can’t go as fast.

Another thing that makes you go faster is you’re more aerodynamic, which means the wind doesn’t affect you as much.

Three Benefits Of Paddle Boarding 

1. You Can Become Very Good, Very Quickly!  

One of the great things about paddle boarding is that you can become pretty good quickly once you find your balance, and that just takes a bit of practice.

Another thing you’ll notice is it doesn’t require any special skills that you need to know before getting out on the water. 

2. An Excellent Full Body Workout

Because you’re standing up on the paddle board, you’ll find that it provides an excellent entire body workout. You have to use your whole body to propel yourself across the water, which is slightly different when comparing it to kayaking.

Using SUP board can:

  • Improve your balance
  • Strengthen your leg muscles,
  • Strengthen your core muscles
  • Improve your cardio
  • Release stress

And you can do all this without the risk of severe injury thanks to the low-impact nature of the exercise.

3. You Can Do Yoga On A SUP For An Added Workout

It might sound crazy, but paddle boarding and yoga have become seriously popular. And there’s a reason for this:

  • You can be out on the water, which makes it more relaxing. 
  • Having to balance on the board adds an extra element to the exercise.

Adding an extra challenge to your yoga routine and a tranquil environment can really enhance your experience, and that’s why I think it’s a huge benefit.

Paddle board VS Kayak: Which Is Better?

sup vs kayak

Okay, so I’ve given a lot of insight into kayaking and paddle boarding to help you decide which one is best for you. 

They both have their benefits, making it a tough decision to choose between them. And if I’m honest, it’s a personal choice which one you should go for.

Personally, I love kayaking, and the fact that you can do it in any weather on any body of water appeals to me.

But, I’ve also really enjoyed paddling a SUP board across the ocean in the sun. So, I don’t know which one I should choose.

And for this reason, I’m going to give you some pros and cons of both:

SUP Pros
  • You can vary your paddling positions
  • You can store things on the paddle board
  • You can sunbathe on the paddle board
  • It provides a full-body workout
  • It burns a lot of calories
  • Standing up gives you a better view of the surrounding 
  • They are easier to get on if you fall in the water
SUP Cons
  • Paddle boards can be affected by the wind
  • They can be challenging to paddle in choppy conditions
  • It’s easier to fall into the water
Kayak Pros
  • Kayaks are easier to paddle
  • Kayaks perform better in whitewater
  • Your bottom half stays dry and warm if you’re wearing a spray deck
  • A beginner picks up paddling quicker
  • Kayaks tend to be less affected by the wind
  • They are easier to maneuver than SUPs
Kayak Cons
  • They are easy to capsize
  • Can become uncomfortable over long journeys
  • They can be tricky to carry and transport

What Burns More Calories A Kayak Or Paddle board?

It’s pretty hard to estimate how many calories you’re going to burn when you’re paddling because it depends on how you’re paddling.

But…

On average, you can burn around 500 calories per hour when you’re kayaking. And when you’re paddle boarding, you can burn about 330 to 500 calories per hour.

And if you’re racing either of them, you could burn more than 1,000 calories per hour. So, as you can see, both kayaks and SUP boards, and I don’t think you could say one is better than the other.

Sup Fishing VS Kayak Fishing: The Pros & Cons

If you’re planning to go fishing on one of these vessels, but you’re not sure which one is going to work best for you, then this section might help:

SUP Fishing Pros
  • You have a better range of movement when paddle board fishing
  • They are perfect for fly fishing
  • Easier to cast from
SUP Fishing Cons
  • Harder to store equipment 
  • Harder to paddle
  • Less stable
Kayak Fishing Pros
  • Fishing kayaks have more stability 
  • You can store more gear on your fishing kayak
  • You have plenty of rod holders
  • Easier to paddle
Kayak Fishing Cons
  • Less movement 
  • Harder to stand up
  • Not great for fly fishing

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

I hope this article has helped you understand the differences between the two vessels and some of the benefits they provide.

In my opinion, kayaks have more versatility, you can use them in different water types, and the weather conditions don’t really come into it.

That being said…

SUP boards certainly have their benefits. You have a greater range of movement, and on a sunny day, they feel fantastic.

But, which one you should choose really comes down to you. So make sure you read the article carefully to ensure you find the right one for you.

If you want to learn how to choose a kayak, you can click the link and check out our complete guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is SUP Easier Than A Kayak?

Once you’ve got the basics down, SUP boarding is easier because there isn’t as much technique. That being said, people tend to find kayaking easier to get their heads around straight off the bat.

Which Is Better, Paddle Boat Or Kayak?

With kayaks, you have more versatility in where you can use them. And for that reason, I feel that kayaks have the edge over paddle boats, but it really comes down to personal preference. It’s tough to say which one is better.

Can You Use A SUP As A Kayak?

In theory, yes. You can get a hybrid SUP board that doubles as a standup paddle board and a kayak. And this can be a massive benefit if you’re on the fence regarding which style of water vessel you want to go for.

Can A SUP Board Keep Up With A Kayak?

If you have a racing SUP board, you have a chance of keeping up with a kayak. But in general, a kayak is the faster vessel, which is mainly down to you being able to paddle on either side without switching.

Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.