Paddle Board vs Kayak – Who Wins?
Whether you’re an experienced paddler or looking to start out, you only have to do your Google searches and you’ll quickly pick up on the Paddle Board vs Kayak debates. Which one is better? Which one is faster, or more fun, or easier to start out on? What’s cheaper, more versatile and of course, which one looks the coolest?
Having owned and used kayaks and paddle boards over the years, I’ll sit on the fence here, but lets take a look at a bunch of things that you might want to consider.
Before we start, lets make it clear that there are a whole host of variations of both ‘vessels’. These range from the more recreational or novice flat water kayaks and Stand Up Paddle Boards or SUPs through to the specialised crafts targeted at specific water conditions (surfing, whitewater, deep sea etc.). For the purposes of this Post though we will focus our comments on recreational paddling for the sake of ease.
Stability – given the seated position when kayaking, paddling is typically more stable when compared to a SUP as your centre of gravity is lower so closer to the water. Standing up on a board by contrast heightens your centre of gravity making it easier to lose your balance. It also becomes more challenging in windy or rougher waters which places a greater emphasis again on maintaining your balance.
While it is reasonably easy to get back on to a paddle board if you fall off, kayaking on the other hand is more challenging so its important that you learn this technique and practice in shallow waters so you can safely manage to right the kayak if needed.
Manoeuvrability – there is no obvious front runner here and there are arguments for both. With a greater level of skill there will be a greater ability to manoeuvre both although with an appropriate fin system, paddle boards do have their advantages. Longer and sleeker vessels normally track better and go faster where shorter body versions offer a greater level of manoeuvrability and ease of turning.
Transportation & Storage – when comparing rigid or hard paddle boards with your typical kayak, there are not a great deal of differences when it comes to transporting and storing either vessel. There are variations of course but as a middle ground they are typically similar in length and width. Kayaks are deeper in height so not as streamlined as boards but they will both require roof racks for your vehicle or storage racks when they are packed away. Boards can also be stored standing up so will take up less room if not elevated on a storage rack. Both can be cumbersome to carry around although a kayak is more challenging as it needs to be carried over your shoulder or with the aid of a trolley whereas a board can easily be tucked under your arm as you hold on to the grab handles.
The big advantage of inflatable paddle boards or iSUP’s which continue to grow in popularity, is the fact that they can be easily inflated and deflated. The board as well as all of the accessories can easily be packed into a purpose made backpack or trolley bag making them an ideal choice for storing in smaller spaces. They are also far easier to carry or transport by car or even when flying making the iSUPs somewhat of a no-brainer in this regard.
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Exercise & Fitness – paddling in general is a great way to elevate your heart rate albeit in a low impact way so as an exercise it’s a great choice. If you are looking for more of a full body workout where you engage your upper, lower and core muscles then paddle boarding is a clear front runner. As you are standing up, you need to not only maintain your balance but also paddle so you are activating a greater range of muscles. Sitting in a kayak by contrast uses your upper muscles and core but not the lower body.
Cost / Affordability – a bit of a 50 – 50 here as is typically the case with many sports. There are low water entry points for a couple of hundred dollars on both as well as second hand options if you are looking to just dip your toe in and get a feel for one or the other. The better the quality or the more specialised the vessel becomes then the greater the cost. If you are to include quality accessories, you can comfortably extend your spend to $2,000 and beyond if you have deep enough pockets.
Durability – this is heavily dependent on the materials that are being used. Kayaks are normally either composite / fibreglass or molded plastic. You can get inflatable kayaks albeit they are not as common. The molded plastic kayaks are the most durable particularly when you consider that they get used in whitewater paddling conditions where they are frequently bounced into rocks and underwater obstacles and debris or launched off a waterfall !!
By contract paddle boards are made from an EPS foam core wrapped with fibreglass and epoxy or if an iSUP, a heavy-duty drop stitch with outer PVC skin. The fibreglass boards are similar in durability to their kayaking cousins so can be susceptible to scraps, chips or holes if they suffer a solid impact. iSUPs given their inflatable nature can puncture although with the advances in construction techniques and materials, they too can be quite durable given their soft edges so are able to withstand non-severe impacts on solid objects.
Speed – kayaks are by far the king of speed when compared to a SUP. There are paddle boards that are designed for straight line tracking and speed but if put up against a racing K1 kayak for instance which has a narrow and sleek profile, low centre of gravity, dual bladed paddle and paddler, then there is no contest.
Gear Stowage – kayaks (closed deck) are far better able to cater for a greater level of storage as they have closed in storage spaces, both waterproof and open as well as hatches. Touring kayaks can store a considerable amount of kit including camping gear, fishing rods and supplies for multi-day excursions.
Paddle boards by contrast will normally have a bungee system so you can store small items as well as d-rings for attaching accessories. You can get different storage attachments that fix to the decks of paddle boards although this can compromise rider comfort, weight and stability. Kayaks are therefore a far better call for all things storage.
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Versatility – this is definitely the domain of the SUP. While both have specialist boards that can cater for different water conditions i.e. recreational flat water, fishing or whitewater paddling, a Stand Up Paddle Board offers so much more.
By virtue of its flat deck, paddle boards can be used as a great platform for sunbathing, child’s play and swimming. They are becoming increasingly popular for yoga boarding or outings with your kids or even the dog. There are specialist boards for surfing as well as ones that come with conversion kits that change the board configuration into a windsurfer or even a kayak with an attachable seat accessory. They are by far the more versatile of the two vessels which no doubt speaks to their surge in popularity over recent years.
Weather Conditions – in calm water and sunny conditions, paddle boarding offers a more relaxed, cooler and enjoyable water sport experience. In conditions that are not as pleasant though, kayaks are a definite winner. In rough and windy water conditions, they offer a greater level of stability and balance given the lower centre of gravity in a seated position. The paddler is also better protected from the elements as they are sitting within the kayaks hull and with a spray skirt attached, the lower body is fully protected so staying dry can be a big plus particularly when paddling over longer distances.
Connecting with Nature – getting out on the water in any form is a great way to decompress and reconnect with nature. Whilst kayaking certainly achieves this, the vantage point offered by standing up on a board with an ability to easily manoeuvre and turn your body allows for far greater visibility and can make for a more enjoyable experience.
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The Fun Factor – another personal presence one here but by its sheer level of versatility alone, paddle boarding has a little something for everyone.
If we really want to be honest, SUPing is a hell of a lot cooler as well. If you jump online and look at your social media feeds there will always be the sun drenched paddlers floating around on some exotic waterway. It’s simply a pretty cool look, man woman or child – or dog.
The Verdict – as I said above, connecting with nature and getting out on the water is a win-win so whatever your preference, as long as you’re out there then that’s a pretty good outcome. Kayaks are perhaps a little more purpose specific while paddle boards add in that extra level of versatility and fun factor.
I did say that I’d sit on the fence, but if you pushed me its paddle boarding every day of the week. The versatility and attachment to the water, just unbeatable. But hey, that’s just me.
As always we would love to hear from you so please feel free to leave your comments below and we will get back to you.
Until then, stay safe and get wet.