Wondering how to make the most out of your time on the water? If so, you may have thought to yourself: “what sort of watercraft should I invest in?”
Thankfully, there aren’t too many ways to go wrong when comparing A SUP vs a kayak . In this article, we’ll discuss the comparative benefits of kayaks and SUPs. And, no, when we say SUP, we aren’t referring to the hip greeting “Sup?” – we’re discussing the classic Stand Up Paddle Board.
When Should You Use a Kayak and When Should You Use a Sup?
The first thing you should know is that kayaks and SUPs aren’t meant for the same things. Stark differences affect both watercraft’s performance, durability, and appropriateness on different waterways. With a short, two-sided paddle, a kayak allows you to maneuver through tight corners, roaring whitewater rapids, and wade through dense algae. Believe it or not, the first kayaks were developed by the Arctic tribes of North American to sneak up behind prey.
Constructed from light driftwood and animal skins, these early kayaks were valued for their stealth and ability to crawl up close to the shoreline. Since then, kayaks found their way to Europe, where they were quickly adopted for recreation and later adopted by the Olympics.
Hawaiians invented the SUPs shortly thereafter in the ‘40s. However, it was only in the early 2000s when legendary surfers adopted the practice that it popularized worldwide. Riders stand astride a lightweight board that glides over the surface of the water, propelling themselves forward with a long single-sided paddle.
The Versatile SUP can traverse oceans, lakes, bays, and rivers. Different boards excel at distinct disciplines, like surfing, touring, racing, and even “SUP Yoga”. Of course, SUPs aren’t meant for everything – they work best on flat water. By contrast, kayaks can brave daunting rapids and hard-to-maneuver passages.
This should come as no surprise: kayaks are much more stable than any SUP. since you can ride any kayak model sitting down. While you can do the same with a paddleboard it is not built specifically for sitting.
Since your center of gravity sits closer to the edge of the water, you’re much less likely to fall out or capsize. Regaining your balance is as simple as pivoting your hips (and perhaps pushing the edge of the paddle against the water’s surface).
Generally, kayaks are slightly more wide and longer than a SUP, making them more stable and easier to track in a straight line. The hull typically sits a few inches below the waterline, meaning that you don’t need to engage your core to remain perpendicular to the water like with a SUP.
Of course, stability differs between distinct kayak models. For a more stable ride, we suggest a kayak with a flat-bottomed hull for calm water and a rounded bottom for secondary stability against rapids.
In most cases, kayaks will be speedier than the standard SUP. However, it depends on the models you’re comparing; for instance, a racing SUP may be faster than an inflatable or recreational kayak.
On average, a beginner paddles at 2 to 2.5 knots, while experienced paddlers can reach speeds up to 5 knots on a calm water passage. Standard SUPs are usually slower, with average speeds ranging from 1.5 to 3 knots.
This is partially due to the type of paddle used. A single-singled SUP paddle dips into the water and must be flipped quickly to the other side of the board. On the other hand, a dual-bladed kayak paddle dips in and out of the water on both sides of the craft with little effort.
That said, specialized racing SUP boards used on the surf can reach speeds up to 8 knots fast. Speeds differ vastly depending on how and when your watercraft is used.
Winner: Kayak (In Most Cases)
At a casual pace, SUP riders burn twice as many calories as they’d burn on a brisk walk (3 mph). In just an hour of leisurely paddling, you can expect to burn anywhere between 305 to 430 calories depending on your metabolism and body size.
Kayaking is also great for weight loss, burning up to 250 calories on a moderately-paced ride with consistent paddling.
Why do SUP riders tend to burn more calories? Riding a SUP requires constant attention to balance, requiring riders to engage key core and stabilizer muscles throughout the entire body. It’s a fantastic way to shed off pounds while spending time surrounded by water.
Keep in mind that calorie-burning depends greatly on weather conditions, speed, and currents. If you’re letting rapids do all the work for you, expect a less impactful workout.
Best for Beginners
Riding a SUP isn’t exactly easy. Most beginners require at least a day of focused attention to learn the basic techniques – the biggest barrier to entry is just standing on the board!
Even once you start gliding, it only requires one well-timed wave to get you knocked off your feet and into the water.
Kayaking, on the other handle, only requires a few basic skills. You just need basic guidance to enter the water, forward stroke, and sweep stroke for turning. Most modern models make it down-right difficult to accidentally capsize.
That’s not to say you’ll master the practice in a day, but any beginner can start wading at a moderate pace on a calm current almost immediately.
This one’s tricky: Both kayaks and SUPs are very maneuverable, responding well to micro-adjustments you make in position and paddling.
In general, kayaks and SUPs are evenly matched in terms of maneuverability; however, kayaks with a rudder are the most maneuverable of all. Rudders are flat boards attached to the back of the kayak that dips farther below the water’s surface.
With a rudder, kayakers can “crab” to the wind, meaning that the rudder can be turned to counter the influence of wind against the boat. Essentially, you can paddle with a normal stroke versus the multiple strokes it would take to correct for changes in the wind.
Winner: Kayaks (with Rudders)
Both SUP boards and kayaks differ in terms of size and weight, yet SUPs are, on the whole, more portable than kayaks. The average SUP weighs around 30 pounds depending on its size and style, yet can be as light as 15 pounds.
A standard kayak can weigh 35 or more pounds, while a tandem can weigh up to 100 pounds. Most adult kayaks are 14’ or greater in length, while a SUP is usually 10’. It’s easier to hoist a SUP onto your roof rack or on your back than a kayak.
Again, your comfort depends on how, when, and where a particular watercraft is used. Typically, cheaper recreational kayaks are more uncomfortable than SUPs, since they may not feature adjustable seating and you are seated on one place for an extended period of time. While on a SUP you can adjust but sitting, kneeling or standing on the board.
When paddling long distances, a more expensive sea-faring kayak is comparatively more comfortable than a SUP.
If both comfort and budget are important to you, opt for a SUP over a kayak.
Winner: In the Expensive Price Class: Kayaks, in the Budget class: SUP’s
Getting in and out of the Water
Once you’re more experienced, it’s easy to hop on and off a SUP in the water. If you’ve fallen in the water, it’s as simple as treading alongside your board, gripping the carry handle with one hand, and hoisting yourself back on until you reach the opposite side. Just kick hard and pull yourself on until you’re standing straight up.
Kayaks are slightly more difficult to board, especially if you suffer from mobility issues. Most beginners rely on an expert to help keep the craft steady until they’re comfortably in and out. Kayaks can either be boarded on the land or in the water from a port. From a dock, you’ll need to keep the craft steady and carefully climb in one sweeping motion until you’re seated.
Best for Families
SUPs are super fun and thrilling to ride, yet may not be the best for a family with varying levels of physical ability. For longer trips, a ride where everyone sits down and paddles with little chance of capsizing is ideal.
Moreover, many kayaks come with water-resistant internal storage space for storing snacks, gear, or other entertainment items. You won’t have to wade to the beach just to get everyone comfortable again.
By design, SUPs have no internal storage space where you can throw in extra gear, snacks, or keys. By contrast, most kayaks come with water-resistant internal storage placed either ahead of or behind the seat. Modern kayaks often come with bungee cords near the tip of the craft that’s appropriate for storing items you don’t mind getting sprayed. For extra storage possibilities, we recommend investing in high-quality dry bags to tow your stuff alongside your kayak on the surface of the water.
Cold Water Paddling
If you live near perpetually cold currents, you may want to reconsider investing in a SUP unless you are very experienced. Aboard a SUP, you have to be alright with occasionally flopping straight into the water (even if you’re super experienced).
SUPing in cold water can even be dangerous if you’re not wearing the right gear. You’ll need to invest in a drysuit to keep warm in cold water, or else you risk hypothermia or even cold-water drowning.
Kayaking carries a lower risk of accidental water entry and capsizing. Moreover, it’s easier to breach through chunky layers of ice on local lakes and rivers with a kayak.
Warm Weather Paddling
SUPs perform excellently for warm weather paddling. If you want to feel the sunshine on your whole body and enjoy dipping into the water for a cool-down, a SUP is the right choice for you.
Of course, kayaks are also suitable for warm weather paddling, yet may not allow you to jump in and out of the water as easily.
Best for a Budget
As always, the cost of your watercraft will depend on its materials, durability, and special features. Generally, even a low-level SUP will cost you more than the cheapest inflatable kayak.
High-end epoxy SUPs are the most expensive type of board, ranging in price from $700 to $2000. Epoxy boards are constructed from a lightweight yet durable foam core with multiple layers of fiberglass saturated with epoxy resin. As a result, they’re the most rigid boards and provide optimal performance in any water condition.
Best for Fishing
Fishing requires both a high degree of maneuverability and plenty of space to stow gear. For anglers, the best choice will invariably be a kayak.
Fishing kayaks are made with specific features to help out anglers of all sizes, including extra storage hatches, spacious seating, high maximum capacities, and flat-bottomed hulls for better stability on calm water.
The only limit to the ways you can use a SUP is your imagination. Though SUPs are most often used standing up, you can also lie down, kneel, and sit on a SUP.
In this way, SUPs are extremely versatile. You can always adjust your position to something more stable when entering a wave, or lie down if you need a rest.
Kayaks generally allow for only one position: sitting down. However, some sit-on-top style kayaks, which lack an interior cockpit, are comfortable to lie down on fully.
Best for Multi-Day Trips
When it comes to action-packed, multi-day adventures, kayaks are the way to go. With extra storage area and the ability to traverse long distances with less effort, mult-day kayaks make for a good companion on long trips.
For long trips, kayakers will need to plan far in advance, making sure to pick gear that’s compact and lightweight. Make sure to bring key safety items, like extra water, food, a sleeping bag, and a secure dry bag for anything that can’t get wet.
Paddling in Chop and Wind
You have to be a special kind of person to enjoy paddling in chop or heavy winds. Though it’s not ideal, sometimes it’s not avoidable to encounter rough conditions out on the water.
For unpredictable water and weather conditions, kayaks take the cake. In the cool season, it’s not uncommon for chop to occur on the water, which refers to many small waves that cause ocean and sea surfaces to be rough.
With a SUP, it takes experience and good fitness to ride expertly through chop and wind. One of the biggest dangers is off-shore winds, which blow out towards the sea and can land new paddlers in dire straights.
By contrast, kayaks fit for ocean-faring are designed to handle extreme weather. A rudder can be used to prevent kayaker fatigue while the dual-bladed paddle helps you to make corrections much more quickly.
Best for the Beach
For a day out on the beach, we absolutely recommend a SUP. While sit-in kayaks can easily get flooded by waves, water is designed to glide off the surface of the buoyant SUP board.
On a SUP, you’ll never have to worry about a tricky capsizing correction procedure – simply flip the board over and hoist yourself back onto it. SUPs make it fun to attempt big waves and paddle out far from the shore. You can also use SUP’s to surf on!
Best for the Lake
Kayaks and SUPs are both designed to perform well on calm bodies of water with little current. Ultimately, it just depends on your preference: Would you rather get a full-body workout on a paddleboard or glide seated through the lake?
Both kayaks and SUPs are much easier to ride on a lake rather than the ocean or sea. On a SUP, flatwater paddling is highly predictable and you’re unlikely to be taken off course.
One potential caveat is if there is a strong wind on the lake. In that case, a kayak would be easier to steer on a windy day.
Best for Coastal Conditions
Rugged coastlines are undoubtedly beautiful yet just as hard to access and successfully navigate. When in doubt, a kayak is both a safer and easier choice on the coast.
One of the biggest dangers of SUP paddling is when you’re hit with strong, unexpected waves that send you tumbling towards rocky shorelines. When you’re thrown off the board, you must steer clear of the board so that it doesn’t hit you. One wrong move and you could get seriously injured.
By contrast, professional specialized kayaks are built to withstand rugged conditions like coastal paddling. We recommend long, wide kayaks with sturdy rudders to help correct against the wind and choppy waves.
Paddling with Dogs
SUPs are super roomy, which makes them perfect for bringing along a pet. On a SUP, you virtually expect to get wet at some point during the ride.
If your dog is confident in the water, SUPs provide them an easy way to jump into the water and back on the board for rest. At the end of the day, simply paddle back to the shore with your pup positioned at the front or rear of the board.
Of course, if you want to pack dog treats, you’ll have to think carefully about storage on a SUP. It may be helpful to bring along a small dry bag affixed to your paddle or SUP board carry handle.
Uses for Vessel
Generally, you can do more things on a SUP than in a kayak. In recent years, “SUP Yoga” has risen to tremendous popularity.
Practices like SUP Yoga and touring/racing are more practical on calm bodies of water at the dawn or tail-end of the day when there’s less ambient wind. In particular, SUP Yoga can boost your routine’s efficacy, since the practice forces you to engage key muscles in balance.
The SUP works out your legs, back, core, shoulders, and arms, which makes it immensely beneficial for stretches and other exercises. The practice can increase your flexibility, strengthen new muscles, and refine your on-land technique.
In this way, kayaking is somewhat more limited. Kayaking primarily targets your upper body, back muscles, chest, and core.
Hopefully, we’ve helped relieve a few of your concerns. Depending on the waterway, SUPs and kayaks both have their benefits.
While kayaking is great for multi-day trips on hard-to-maneuver waterways, SUPs are highly versatile for warm weather paddling and beach visits.