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Is Kayaking or Paddle Boarding Easier? 21 Things You Need To Know

Paddle boarding and kayaking are popular ways to get outside and explore. What better way to spend a day than on the water, surrounded by nature? But which one is better? Is it easier to kayak or paddle board?

Kayaking and paddle boarding are a lot of fun and offer a unique experience. But there are some key differences between these two paddle sports.

Generally speaking, kayaking is easier to get started, but once you get used to paddle boarding, there is little difference.

So, is kayaking or paddle boarding better for you? It depends on what you want to get out of your experience. This article will break down the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is right for you.

History of Paddle Boarding and Kayaking

Paddle boarding is a relatively new sport compared to kayaking. It’s thought to have originated in Hawaii in the early 1900s. However, paddle boarding gained popularity in the United States in the 2000s and has continued to grow.

Kayaking, on the other hand, has a long history, originating in the Arctic region over 4,000 years ago. The Inuit people used kayaks for hunting and transportation. Kayaking became popular in the United States in the 1950s and has continued to grow in popularity since then.

Is It Easier To Paddle Board or Kayak?

You can quickly pick up a paddle and learn how to kayak or paddle board.

Kayaking is easier for beginners because you can just sit down and paddle.

The hardest part of paddle boarding is getting comfortable and confident standing up, and keeping your eyes on the horizon instead of staring at your feet.

Although kayaking involves your lower body, it’s more dominated by your shoulders than paddle boarding.

You still use your legs when paddling a kayak, bracing your legs against the side of the boat, but it’s much more shoulder intensive. It takes time to build up endurance in your shoulders paddling a kayak.

On the other hand, a stand-up paddle board (SUP) engages more of your entire body. If you are standing, you must maintain balance while paddling, which works your core, legs, and arms.

Paddle boarding also gives you a great workout because you constantly engage your stabilizer muscles (lower body and core) to keep yourself upright.

Frequently my feet (yes, my feet) get a good workout from balancing on the board.

So, with a kayak, you sit in one spot and paddle, which requires more shoulder work, but it’s relatively easy to get started.

With a paddle board, you can start sitting. Then, you can stand up and paddle as you get more comfortable and confident in your ability. So there is more of a learning curve for some folks with a paddle board.

If you paddle on calm water (all things being equal), it’s pretty easy to go straight in a kayak because you constantly alternate sides when you paddle.

A SUP can be more difficult to paddle straight because you are dealing with a single-blade paddle and have to be intentional about where you are paddling.

There are strokes you can learn to make paddling a SUP more efficient.

Kayak vs. SUP – What’s the Difference?

When deciding on a paddle board vs. kayak, it’s essential to understand the critical differences between these two sports. Here are some of the key differences.

Onboard Storage

Storage is a hot debate in the battle of paddle board vs. kayak. With kayaks and SUPs, storage is what you make of it.

Depending on the type of kayak, you will often have dedicated hatches for all kinds of gear. Fishing kayaks have all kinds of gear storage options to stash your stuff.

Some hatches are large enough to stow a kayak cart or camping gear. In contrast, others are suited to smaller items like your keys, wallet, and cell phone, not to mention potential front and rear bungee or shock cord storage.

Kayak storage hatch Pin

Built-in storage space on a kayak can be excellent, although somewhat limiting. For example, you can’t easily add another storage hatch. On the other hand, the nice thing about storage on a kayak is that it’s ready for you to use.

Storage on a SUP is another story. SUPs can carry a lot of gear. There are often front and rear bungees so you can take a cooler, fishing crate, your furry friend, camping gear, and more. Some SUPs have extra D-rings, so you can add more straps to tie down more gear.

You can design the storage with a paddle board to fit your needs. It’s like a blank canvas, but there is no dedicated storage space, like on a kayak.

Remember with a SUP that you must use waterproof dry bags or waterproof backpacks to keep your stuff from getting wet. And if you fall off the board, you better ensure your gear is secure.

Portaging

There’s nothing quite like being out on the water, whether paddling a kayak or stand-up paddle board. But it’s different if you’re carrying your boat or board over land.

Trust me, portaging a kayak is a serious pain in the butt and is much harder than carrying a paddle board. Kayaks are larger, heavier, and just plain awkward to carry.

Even if you paddle a small kayak, you might need two people to carry that sucker over land. Sure, you can drag a kayak, but that’s not always the best option.

With many paddle boards, especially inflatables, you can pick them up by the handle and carry them like a suitcase.

Next time you have to carry your watercraft from one waterway to another, you will be happy if you choose a paddle board.

At Home Storage

Orange kayak on a storage rack in a garage Pin

Kayaks and paddle boards are great for exploring, but what do you do with them when you’re not using them?

Hard shell kayaks are a nightmare to store at home. They are heavy, awkward, and require a lot of space.

You can store them in a garage or storage shed, even outside, if you have a place to keep them out of the weather.

Many storage racks are available to help, but that can be expensive.

Hard SUPs are not as bad as a rigid kayak but still require a chunk of space to store correctly.

Inflatable kayaks and paddle boards are much easier to store since they deflate and fit nicely in a convenient carry bag or backpack. You can easily store an inflatable in a closet, under a bed, on a shelf in the garage, or shed.

Inflatables are especially handy for folks who don’t have a lot of extra space, like maybe in an apartment.

Durability

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. Hard kayaks are extremely durable but more susceptible to damage if you hit something hard.

Inflatable kayaks are made of strong PVC material and can take a beating, but you risk puncturing the kayak.

Rigid paddle boards are typically made from durable materials. Still, they can be damaged if you drop the board or hit something while paddling.

Inflatable paddle boards are made of strong PVC material, like inflatable kayaks. They can take a beating and are less likely to get damaged if you hit something or drop the SUP.

Inflatables have come a long way and are now just as durable (if not more so) than their rigid counterparts. So get an inflatable if you are worried about damaging your board or kayak.

Easier To Paddle

Paddling a kayak is pretty straightforward. Sit down and start paddling. Kayaks are stable, and it’s easy to get started. Once you learn a few basic strokes, you will be on your way in no time.

Kayaks have a blade on each end, so you paddle on alternating sides with each stroke.

SUPs are a bit more challenging to start and require more balance to paddle efficiently. But, with a paddle board, you can sit or kneel and learn to paddle until you have more confidence.

Paddle board paddles have one blade, so switching hand positions can be tricky when you alternate sides to paddle.

Paddling Long Distance

Hands down, paddling long distances is much easier in a kayak than on a SUP.

Sitting in a kayak seat is much more comfortable than standing or kneeling on a paddle board, and you can cover more ground with each stroke.

Paddle boards are not impossible to paddle long distances, but it takes more energy and effort.

When paddling long distances, a kayak is the way to go.

Transporting Your Boat or Board

Pelican kayak on a Yakima roof rack Pin

No matter which option you choose, transporting a hard kayak or SUP is not a simple task unless you have the right equipment. If you have a truck or a trailer, you are in luck, and it’s pretty easy to get your SUP or kayak to the water.

Otherwise, your car needs a roof rack system to transport a rigid kayak or SUP.

Luckily both SUPs and kayaks are available in inflatable models, which makes transporting them so much easier. All you need is a backpack, and you can bring your kayak or paddle board just about anywhere.

In some cases, you can throw an inflatable in a car’s trunk or back seat, even in the overhead compartment on an airplane.

SUP Fishing vs. Kayak Fishing

Woman paddle board fishing Pin

Fishing from a kayak has become increasingly popular in recent years.

However, many fishing enthusiasts now turn to paddle boarding to get closer to the action. Paddle board fishing has several advantages over kayak fishing, including standing up and casting.

Standing up to cast gives the angler a better vantage point and range of motion. However, casting is not always easy when sitting in a kayak.

As a result, paddle board fishing is often the more exciting and challenging option. However, the downside to SUP fishing is the lack of stability on the water that a fishing kayak gives you.

Another benefit of SUP fishing is that you can sit, kneel or stand whenever you want. Neither sitting nor standing for hours on end is easy, so it’s nice to be able to mix it up from time to time.

Some fishing kayaks are designed for the angler to stand up while fishing. However, the problem with some fishing kayaks is that they are extremely heavy and expensive, and transporting them is not easy.

Unless you want to invest in a heavy fishing kayak, most of the lightweight models are not stable enough to stand up in.

However, kayak fishing has its own merits. You can add a fish finder to a kayak, and there are often gear tracks, rod holders, and other accessories built-in that SUPs don’t have.

Some high-end fishing kayaks also have pedal drive systems that take the paddle out of your hands so you can focus on casting and reeling fish in.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference as to which type of fishing is more enjoyable.

SUP vs. Kayak – Fitness

Woman doing SUP yoga Pin

Paddle boarding and kayaking are two great ways to get a workout while enjoying the outdoors. Depending on your fitness level, you can paddle as fast or slow as you want.

Both watersports can give you a workout, but paddle boarding is more challenging because you work on core strength to maintain balance on the board. Paddle boarding works your upper and lower body. Standing up on a paddle board provides a more intense cardio workout than sitting in a kayak. In addition, paddling boarding is a fun, low-impact sport.

Kayaking is still a great workout, and you can certainly burn some calories paddling around. However, paddle boarding is the way to go if you want a more challenging workout.

Also, paddle board yoga has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to get a great workout while enjoying the beauty of nature. Paddle boarding gives you a wide variety of fitness options.

Maneuverability

There’s a reason kayaks and SUPs are some of the most popular watercraft – they’re incredibly maneuverable. Whether paddling through calm waters or braving waves and whitewater, kayaks and SUPs can quickly and easily change direction.

This maneuverability is thanks to their design. Both kayaks and SUPs have a narrow, streamlined shape that helps them cut through the water, making them ideal for exploring narrow rivers and paddling through surf and whitewater.

Get Back On When You End Up in the Water

Without a doubt, getting back on a SUP is easier if you end up in the water on accident or you go for a swim.

With a paddle board, you can easily slide back onto the SUP. However, that is not an easy task with a kayak, especially a sit-inside kayak.

Even with a sit-on-top kayak, getting back on can be difficult and requires some upper body strength.

If your kayak flips over, you have to flip it back and wrangle your way onto the kayak. If we are talking about a sit-inside kayak, you need a bilge pump to get all the water out. A sit-on-top kayak usually has scupper holes for the water to drain out.

So, if you end up in the water on accident (or on purpose), a SUP is much easier to get back on.

Water Conditions

Wind can be pretty gnarly out on the water. It can make things choppy and difficult to paddle through if you’re on a kayak or a SUP. A lot of motorboat traffic can turn a lake or river into a choppy mess in no time.

Kayaks are generally better equipped to handle choppy waters since they are more stable and less likely to tip over. SUPs are more difficult to paddle in choppy conditions and will test your stability as a paddler.

Another consideration is white water. Some folks use a whitewater SUP, but most stick to flat water paddling. Typically you will find more kayaks on rapids than SUPs, and white water rapids require serious paddling skills.

Weather Conditions

Along with water conditions, weather conditions can also affect how enjoyable your time on the water is.

You don’t want to be out in thunderstorms or high winds, but if the weather is mild, both kayaking and paddle boarding can be great.

However, a paddle board is the way to go if it’s a hot day. You can quickly go for a swim, get back on the board, and stand up and enjoy the weather while you paddle.

You can also sit or lie down on your board, catch some rays and relax.

A sit-inside kayak is better if it’s a cold day since your lower body is partially protected from the elements.

Whether paddling a kayak or SUP, cold-weather paddling means you must dress appropriately. But you are more exposed on a SUP and have to consider your cold-weather tolerance.

Stability

Kayaks and SUPs have unique benefits, but stability is one key difference. Kayaks are generally more stable than paddle boards, making them a better option for beginners or those who want to spend more time fishing or exploring.

Initially, SUPs are less stable for newbies than a kayak. However, paddle boards can be more maneuverable and offer a different experience on the water. Once you are well-schooled in paddle boarding, you won’t see much difference in stability.

Ultimately, the best choice for you will depend on your personal preferences and goals. But a kayak is likely the more stable option if you’re just starting.

Kayak vs. Paddle Board: Speed

There’s no denying that paddle boarding is a great workout. But a kayak is generally the way to go if you’re looking to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Yes, much of this depends on the vessel you paddle. A run-of-the-mill inflatable kayak won’t be able to keep up with a racing SUP, but please stay with me here.

Paddle board speeds vary depending on the board’s size and shape and the paddler’s strength and skill. Whereas a kayak will typically be able to move through the water more quickly.

Their slim design and sleek hulls allow kayaks to easily cut through the water, achieving higher speeds.

So a kayak is usually the best bet if you’re looking to get somewhere fast.

Comfort and Freedom To Move

Paddle boarding is an incredibly versatile form of water transportation. You can sit, kneel, or stand on your board, making it easy to find a comfortable position. In addition, some SUPs have D-rings, so you can add a seat for back support if needed.

I love the ability to sit, stand, kneel or lay down on a SUP.

In contrast, kayaks are designed for seated paddlers only. As a result, kayaks can be uncomfortable and restrictive, leaving many paddlers feeling sore and cramped. Not exactly the experience you want on the water.

Some kayaks are designed so the paddler can stand up. Still, your average recreational kayak is pretty much a sit-down option.

Paddle boarding is also a great whole body workout. While kayaking primarily uses your arms, paddle boarding engages your entire body. This full-body workout is not only great for your health, but it also makes paddling more enjoyable.

So, give paddle boarding a try if you want to add a little variety to your paddling life.

Paddling With Your Pooch

Man kayaking with a dog Pin

Paddling with your dog is one of the best ways to bond with your furry friend. There is nothing quite like paddling with your pooch, and there’s no better way to do it than on a kayak or paddle board.

The discussion about paddling with your dog has a lot of variables, like how big the dog is, how big your kayak or SUP is, and how much gear you have with you.

Each vessel has unique benefits that make paddling with your pup a truly special experience.

As we mentioned earlier, SUPs have a lot of open space, and you can use that space to your liking. There is a lot of flat, usable deck space on a SUP, plenty of room for your gear and your pup.

Sit-on-top kayaks have a lot of open space too, and many folks take their dog with them when they go kayak fishing or just out for a leisurely paddle.

Overall, there is more open deck space on a SUP than on a kayak, but not in all cases. Either way, ensure you have all the necessary accessories for paddling with your dog.

Versatility

Kayaks and SUPs are both very versatile. You can use either of them for leisure paddling, fishing, etc.

I think where a paddle board is more versatile is all the things you can do with a SUP. Think about it, you can do yoga, go for a swim, and get a good workout on a paddleboard.

SUPs also have an expansive open deck that lets you configure how you want to pack your gear. So, for example, you can strap a cooler down and use that as a seat and still have plenty of room in the front and back for more gear.

It’s tough to determine which is more versatile, but it comes down to personal preference and how you want to use your vessel.

Windy Conditions

Let me tell you something, paddling a kayak or a SUP in the wind SUCKS. There are no two ways about it. You’re out on the water, struggling to keep your balance, and the wind pushes you around. It’s frustrating, and it can be dangerous if you’re not careful. 

Paddling a SUP in the wind is more demanding than a kayak since standing up is not the most aerodynamic position.

With a kayak, you are sitting down with a double-blade paddle which makes for efficient strokes. Even in a sit-on-top kayak, you have a lower profile than standing on a paddle board.

Yes, you can sit or kneel on a SUP while paddling in the wind, but it’s not as efficient as paddling a kayak.

Launching Kayaks and Paddle Boards

Launching a paddle board is pretty darn easy. You can get on the board on your knees and start paddling if you are deep enough water to clear the fin.

With a sit-inside kayak, you must get inside the cockpit first, which generally means you are in reasonably shallow water. Then you have to push off the bottom with your paddle to get going. Although it’s not a huge deal, launching a SUP is easier than a kayak.

Price

Look, a kayak or a SUP is a huge purchase. But if you’re gonna buy one, you might as well get a good one. You don’t want to be out on the water struggling because your equipment isn’t up to par. Trust me. It’s not worth it. Yes, good kayaks and SUPs are expensive.

But they’re also built to last. So if you take care of your vessel, it will take care of you.

A high-quality kayak or SUP will last you for years with proper care. So when deciding whether to invest in a quality kayak or SUP, remember that you’re not just paying for the initial purchase price – you’re also investing in years of fun on the water.

So, don’t cheap out if you’re considering buying a kayak or SUP. It’s not worth it in the long run. Trust me on this one.

How To Get in and Out of a Kayak

Getting in and out of a kayak can be tricky, especially if you’re new to the sport. Sit-inside kayaks are more difficult to get in and out of than sit-on-top kayaks, so practicing before you head out on the water is essential.

It’s easiest to get into a kayak from shore, preferably with a gentle slope, but that’s not always available. 

Some people straddle the cockpit and lower themselves. Others will step one foot inside the cockpit and hold onto the kayak for support while swinging the other leg in.

If you are paddling with a partner, you can sit on the edge of the cockpit and have your buddy hold down the other side while you swing your legs in.

A sit-on-top kayak is much easier to board. Often you can sit on the seat from the side and swing your legs around.

It can be difficult to board a kayak from a dock. It’s usually easier to do it from shallow water.

Click here for more information about boarding a kayak.

How To Get on and off a SUP

Before you can paddle, you must know how to get on and off your SUP.

The first thing you need to do is find a good spot to launch from. Next, you want to ensure that the water is deep enough for your board and that there are no obstacles.

Once you’ve found a good spot, it’s time to get on your board. Start by kneeling down in the center of the board. Then, stand up slowly, using your hands for balance if necessary.

Once you’re standing, adjust your feet, so they’re shoulder-width apart and parallel to the board’s rails. Finally, grab your paddle and start paddling.

Getting off of your paddle board is similar to getting on. Start by kneeling down in the center of the board. Then you can step off the board into shallow water.

Kayak Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Easier to paddle in windy conditions
  • Better for cold-weather paddling
  • Easier to learn how to paddle for beginners
  • It doesn’t require as much balance as a SUP
  • Built-in storage hatches

Cons:

  • In most cases, you are sitting for long periods, which can be uncomfortable
  • Not as easy to get back in if you are in the water, especially the kayak flips
  • Heavier to transport
  • It fills up with water if the kayak flips over

SUP Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Better for warm weather paddling
  • Lightweight and easy to transport
  • Easier to get back on if you end up in the water
  • Flat open deck for storage
  • Easier to take a dog with you (depending on the dog)

Cons:

  • Requires more balance than kayaking
  • Not as good for cold-weather paddling
  • No built-in storage
  • Harder to learn to paddle

Conclusion

To SUP or to kayak, that is the question. While both watersports have pros and cons, it boils down to personal preference. You really can’t go wrong with either option.

A SUP is the way to go if you want a good workout, whether paddling or yoga. A kayak is better if you paddle in choppy water or don’t want to worry about keeping your balance.

Whichever you choose, enjoy yourself and get out there and explore.

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About the author
Steve
Steve is the owner of Paddle About, a blog that's all about helping people get out and enjoy nature. He loves to kayak, camp, hike and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not out exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.