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Paddleboarding vs Kayaking

If you’ve spent any time on the water in the last few years, you have probably seen a growing number of people standing and paddling. So, what is this phenomenon? Standup Paddleboarding, or SUP, is a water sport that has become quite popular throughout the country.

What is the difference between Paddle Boarding and Kayaking?


Paddleboarding: While standing up and paddling on a large platform has roots back to antiquity the origins of modern-day paddleboards are much closer to home. Today’s paddleboards began in Hawaii and California as an off-shoot of the surfing community. They were used sporadically during the 1900s, but it really took off around the turn of the century. 

Kayaking: Kayaks have their roots in Aleutian and Inuit communities in North America as well as Greenland and other arctic areas. While kayaks were “working vessels” (actively used for fishing and transportation) for much of their history, they gained prominence in the 1800s for recreational use.  


Paddleboarding: Paddleboards help surfers during the off-season or injury rehabilitation as they provide a stable platform for practicing and improving balance.  They have also gained popularity as a recreational sport.

Kayaking: Kayaks serve many purposes. Harkening back to their roots, kayaks are still a great way to fish, transport goods, and brave rough waters. Today’s kayaks can zip along a coastline or maneuver through white water rapids. 


Paddleboarding: Paddleboards have a pretty simple design - a flat, stable platform suitable for standing and paddling. They bear a striking resemblance to their cousin the surfboard, just an oversized version. They have no cockpit or internal storage. They have a flat bottom but may have a slight curve out of the water at the nose. BKC offers a couple of unique paddle board design options that include a seat, and an inflatable SUP with a seat and pedal drive.

BKC SUP AIR 13-foot Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board w/Pedal Drive, Seat, Paddle

Kayaking: Kayaks have more variation in design depending on what you are using it for - fishing, touring, whitewater, recreation. They are small, enclosed boats which means they can have internal storage. Their hulls are v-shaped, displacement, etc for better tracking and speed. You can get sit-in kayaks (traditional kayaks with a cockpit that the paddler slips into so they are mostly surrounded by the boat) and sit-on-top kayaks (newer designs that allow for easy on-off, less bailing, and lighter weight). 


Paddle Boarding: Standup Paddle Boarding (SUP) is done on a large stable platform which you propel by the use of a long, single-bladed paddle. Like a canoe, you move the paddle blade from one side of the vessel to the other in an alternating motion. 

Kayaking: While kayaking may look a lot like canoeing, there are a few notable differences. The shape of the boat is one and the other is the paddle. Kayakers sit low to the water and propel the craft by the use of a double-bladed paddle. Just reach and pull with one side and then with the other, without having to cross the plane of the kayak.  

Considerations for Paddleboarding vs. Kayaking

Both of these growing sports are a wonderful way to get out on the water. In fact, you can love both of them. So, there isn’t one that comes out “on top”, it just depends on what you want for your water excursion.

  • Comfort: Kayaks are generally considered more comfortable for the long haul. You are in a seated position and can invest in a quality seat with the necessary support. However, SUPs provide a better opportunity to move around, shift position, and even lay flat.  
  • Speed: Kayaks are usually able to move faster than SUPs but there are racing SUPs that can keep up with a kayak. Some of this is also dependent on the user (the engine) of the craft. 
  • Fitness: Both SUPs and kayaks provide an excellent workout. However, SUPs do provide a more rigorous whole-body workout. Kayaks can also get your heart rate up and work out your muscles, but SUPs do it better.
  • Onboard Storage: For deck space, a SUP can’t be beaten. It generally has more space for bungee-ing down your stuff (as long as you don’t mind it getting wet). For dry storage, kayaks are the winner. They usually have a bulkhead or two that provides internal (and relatively dry) storage.
  • Storage & Transportation: What do you do with your craft when you aren’t on the water? Well, storage and transporting your SUP is usually easier than a kayak. Inflatable SUPs, in particular, are handy to deflate, store in a backpack, and transport easily. Traditionally kayaks are harder to transport and more difficult to store. However, newer technologies with folded and inflatable yaks are improving options in this realm.  
  • Durability: Kayaks may have a bit of a lead here. Most kayaks can last for years and years; however, inflatable SUPs can begin to lose their integrity after a few years. 
  • Extreme Conditions: Kayaks are the winner in windy and inclement conditions. Consider their origins and you can quickly ascertain that they are excellent in cold weather conditions. Paddleboards, however, are much preferred as a warm-weather option. In cold, wind, and waves, you can bundle up in your kayak under a sprayskirt, cut through the current with your hull, and avoid getting wet. Paddleboards get blown about by the wind and stay on top of waves rather than cutting through them, so they are best on calm, warm days when a dip in the water is a delight, not a death sentence. 
  • Initial Learning Curve: If you are just going to jump on something and go for a ride, a kayak is probably a better bet than a paddle board. You can have a successful outing on a kayak with little to no experience, but the first time on a paddleboard requires balance and time to master. As with everything your mileage may vary (YMMV) and you might take to paddleboarding like a duck takes to water. This also doesn’t mean that you are an expert after your first outing. Diligent practice and honing your skills can make you more efficient at both activities. 

At a Glance: Paddle Boarding



  • Wonderful sights from a standing position
  • Position change possible (standing to kneeling to sitting)
  • Easier to transport and store and portage (especially the extremely popular inflatables)
  • Lots of deck space for storage (bungee down coolers, dry bags, etc)
  • You can lay flat on a SUP
  • Easy to add additional passengers (pets & kids can climb on)
  • Difficult to capsize (and fairly easy to get back on if you fall off)
  • Full body workout
  • Burns lots of calories
  • Easy to fall off (especially as a beginner)
  • Tough to operate in inclement conditions
  • Harder to learn initially 
  • Not great in cold weather as you get much wetter than in a kayak

At a Glance: Kayaking



  • Easier to handle than a SUP in most conditions
  • Generally faster than a paddleboard
  • Perform well in more varied conditions (wind, whitewater, open seas)
  • Generally easier to manage
  • More protection from the elements (spray skirts/sit-ins cover your lower body)
  • Initially easier to pick up than SUPs
  • More comfortable for long-distance as you are in a seated position
  • Good workout (but not as good as a SUP)
  • More internal/dry storage options
  • Good for long distances
  • Kayaks can capsize and it can be difficult to get back in/on
  • Might need bailing to keep kayak afloat
  • Difficult to store, transport, and portage (unless you get an inflatable or foldable kayak) 
  • Might be uncomfortable to stay in one position for long periods

Paddleboard vs Kayak? Why not both? Whatever way you choose to get on the water, do it! There are so many fun and challenging activities just waiting to be had. Find the one that is right for you - or try your hand at both - and happy paddling!

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