Stand Up Paddle Board Vs. Kayak

Stand Up Paddle Board Vs. Kayak

Both contenders please enter the ring...

In this corner, wearing flashy colors and sporting the triple-fin under-bottom we have… The Stand Up Paddle Board! (Crowd cheers.)

And in the other corner, we have the sit-down extraordinaire.

It’s curvature will disprove any flat earth theories out there. The one, the only, the kayak! (Crowd cheers again.)

It’s the great debate, the grand challenge, the argument that’s been going on for centuries, NO, millenia: Which reigns supreme, the stand up paddle board or the kayak?

Okay, so maybe we’re exaggerating a little.

Both activities are a ton of fun and both offer their share of advantages and disadvantages.

As to which one better… well… all we can do is lay out the facts and let you decide for yourself.

So let’s get to it!

As a workout / exercise activity

Both options have a good argument when it comes to exercise. The paddle board is a full-body workout, hitting nearly every muscle group from shoulders and arms to thighs and stabilizer muscles. Because you’re always standing and balancing, you’re always flexing in some capacity to stay upright. And as a final addition, it is possible to do yoga on a paddle board.

Kayaking, on the other side of the paddle, also provides a tremendous workout. Your upper body and core muscles will thank you later for the extreme toning they’re getting. However, because in kayaks you are sitting down, they just don’t have the same level of lower body stimulation. One argument suggests this is only true for calm to relatively calm waters. If you’re kayaking down rushing rivers it is a full body workout, but not many people go to these extremes.

With all this in mind, our vote goes to the stand up paddle board for the better workout. The fact that you can do yoga tipped the scale on this one.

Versatility of terrain

Whether you’re surfing waves, or riding down a rushing river, both the stand up paddle board and kayak will provide a unique experience. For the paddle boarders, it’s a smoother ride to go from paddling to surfing since you’re already standing up and riding it. All you’ll feel from the paddle board is a sudden boost in speed. For a kayak, however, unless you’re well adapted to turning and maintaining control of the kayak, you’ll probably start to turn and eventually flip. So when it comes to basic ocean dwelling, a lot of people prefer the stand up paddle board.

In stormy or choppy weather, a paddle board becomes significantly harder to manage as your center of mass is so much higher above the water. (I seem to recall something about torque and pivot radius from high school physics.) Either way, anything above a moderate chop and you’ll be forced to crouch as low as possible to maintain control. It’s possible you’ll even have to sit down or lay down if conditions worsen. With a kayak this is no problem, you’re already in a low, seated position. That’s why kayaks are great for rushing rivers. If you’re strapped in, you can go down small waterfalls and still come out upright and cruising. For this reason, because of the versatility of the kayak, our vote on this category goes to the kayak.

For a versatile list of our favorite kayaks on the market, make sure to view our Fin Bin guide on best kayaks. 

For a list of our favorite paddle boards, make sure to visit our paddle board main page.

White water SUP
White water Kayaking


This one is an easy win for kayakers as it’s hard to store anything on a paddleboard unless you’ve had a good amount of practice. It’s possible to tie down certain items but activities like scuba diving or snorkeling are all significantly easier on a kayak where there’s specific storage for all your equipment.

When it comes to fishing, most people prefer the kayak. However, there’s a growing wave of stand up paddle board fishers who say otherwise. Just make sure you keep an eye on your equipment! Don’t want to get all the way out there before realizing you’ve already fed all the fishies three waves ago.

Beginner friendly

If you’ve never tried either kayaking or paddle boarding, which one is easier to get the hang of? Well it depends on a few different factors like your physical condition and access to still waters. In general people commonly associate a stand up paddle board with a beginner friendly sport. Even though you might fall off a lot, it’s not hard to get back up and keep trying. By the end of the day, most people get the hang of it. This is, of course, predicated upon the fact that you have access to some still waters like a bay or a calm ocean day or a lake. Any rough waters and you might find it difficult to really get a good rhythm going.

The same is true for kayaks. Kayaks are not too difficult to get the hang of. A lot of people who find the idea of standing and balancing the entire trip exhausting, will prefer the fact that you can sit down and use your low center of gravity to keep yourself upright. Not that they’re particularly hard to get the hang of, but some people have described paddling on a kayak is a little more awkward than on a paddle board.

Balancing on SUP
SUP vs Kayak comparison

Cold waters

To be perfectly honest, you’re probably going to fall more on a stand up paddle board than tip over on a kayak. With this in mind, if you are in severely cold waters, kayaks are preferable. Even with dry suits and the thickest of wetsuits, any surfer will admit that diving into ice cold water is never enjoyable. Sure, getting to enjoy good waves always makes it worth it, but it’s still never fun.

Long-distance traveling

Both stand up paddle boards and kayaks have been used to travel great distances and sightsee. Some kayaks can be packed up into a small carryable suitcase and then inflated once you arrive at the water. This could make the difference on a week long camping kayaking excursion. Kayaks will be able to generate more speed and have less drag than stand up paddle boards, so if you’re really trying to go for distance, a kayak is your best bet.

Ding, ding ding! In conclusion

We’ve tallied up the votes. We’ve heard what the fans had to say. The winner of the great challenge is…



A TIE!?!?

Well, sorry for the anticlimactic finish there, folks. But it looks like these two foes are at a standstill. If you disagree be sure to let us know, otherwise when it comes to getting out in the water it really comes down to the specific activity and who’s doing it. Which is kind of the case for anything, don’t you think? Anyway, I suppose the argument will continue for the next few millennia until we know once and for all.

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