SUP vs Kayaks

Decisions are always hard to make and if the one troubling you is whether to get a kayak or a stand-up paddle board, this article will clear up some of your confusions. Let’s start with the basic one: a kayak is not the same as a canoe. Kayakers use double-bladed paddles and sit in a low seat with their legs stretched forward. Canoer's use single-bladed paddles and either kneel on the boat or sit on an elevated seat.

While on the other hand, is the hip and happening Standup Paddle Board that is rapidly growing in popularity, even though they are relatively new on the scene. It involves standing on a board and using a longer, single-bladed paddle to move.

Both SUP and Kayaking are easy to learn, i.e. you can learn the basic skills within the day, however, you’ll be needing time to prepare your body for them.

Especially for kayaking, one needs to increase upper body stamina and since you are stuck in the same position for the entire time inside a kayak, there is the risk of picking up repetitive strain injuries (RSI). And if you happen to fall into the water while kayaking, you need special instructions to learn how to get back into it.

SUPs by contrast are super intuitive and highly variable. The biggest challenge is usually balancing on the board, which takes some coordination and core strength. Once the basic balance is under control, then learning how to paddle board is relatively simple. And since you can move around freely on the SUP to change your paddling stroke, there is a much lower chance of picking up a RSI.

When it comes to speed, the kayak is faster than SUP in straight line speed. However, as both are available in different shapes and sizes in order to suit different purposes that is not always the case. For example, a downwind or race SUP (pictured below) is faster than a recreational or whitewater kayak. Kayaks are available in various designs; some are designed to let you sit on top of the vessel (sit-on-top) while others are meant for the paddler to inside (sit-in). Sit-in kayaks are for more casual days and are relatively slower than their sit-in counterparts that are designed with open water voyages in mind. But, if the time taken to get in and out of water is taken into account then SUPs are definitely faster due to their convenient storage and handling. This is especially true for inflatable SUPs.

4 Reasons as to why the SUPs are better than Kayaks

  • Better work-out regime:  SUP offers a fantastic full body workout. In fact, it’s such great exercise that it first rose to popularity because surfers were using it as a cross-training method. Balancing on a SUP requires engaging your core, so every moment you spend on the board is a moment spent getting stronger. Of course, SUP also works your arms and legs, so you’re utilizing a whole host of muscles at any given time while paddling. Your abs, triceps, biceps, quads, and back muscles (among others) will benefit from every SUP session. Kayaking, on the other hand, neglects your leg muscles altogether. You can certainly get an excellent arm and shoulder workout and will be utilizing your core, but it’s not a full body fitness exercise.
  • Easy for beginners: SUP basics are simple and adaptable, so that just about any interested paddler can pick up the skills quickly. Your paddle board skills evolve as you gain more experience, and you only need basic standing and balancing skills to enjoy a day out on your board.

Kayaking requires a level of strength and stamina that people don’t always have on their first try. You can learn the basics within a day, but get ready for some serious arm and shoulder aches. Your body will need some time to adapt to all the shoulder strength it requires. Beginners often find themselves exhausted at the end of their first few sessions. A little healthy tiredness after a great workout is fine, but nobody wants to risk injuring themselves with bad technique or RSIs!

  • Fishing is easier from SUPs: There’s little competition when it comes to kayak versus paddle board fishing. When fishing from a SUP, you get a more expansive range of sight and movement, so you can cast your line far and wide. Sitting down while fishing isn’t exactly the epitome of high intensity fitness, so when you choose to fish from a SUP, you create a dynamic alternative to all that sitting. You can work those muscles by standing up to fish on your SUP, and by paddling your way to your fishing spot.
  • Easy Inclusion of Friends and Pets:  Solo SUP is fun, but if you start to feel lonely, it takes zero effort to bring a friend along. Your best friend, boyfriend, daughter, or puppy can hop on your board at a moment's notice. No extra board or planning needed! Just make sure your SUP’s maximum weight capacity is enough for both of you! Find out the right size paddle board for you through your weight and intended use. With a kayak, the situation is more rigid. You either have a two-person kayak with two seats, or you don’t. If you’re a solo kayaker who decides you now want the option to bring friends, you’ll need to buy another boat with two seats.

Other than these, there is the cool factor. Some would tell you that you’ll be gliding the waters in style with the wind in your hair and glasses perched on the bridge of your nose! As cool as you look on your board, you’ll feel even more awesome. That’s because SUP is actually as fun as it seems, and not just for a select few - it’s enjoyable and adaptable for just about anyone. No matter your age, fitness level, or experience, you can hop on a stand up paddle board and have a memorable afternoon. You can bring along anyone - your kids, your grandparents, your college buddies, or just yourself - and have the time of your life.

While Kayaks are usually used to get from one place to another, the possibilities on the SUPs are endless, especially when it comes to exploring and adventures. If you’re into boutique fitness or mindfulness, you can try SUP yoga or SUP Pilates. If you’re an adrenaline junkie at heart, there’s whitewater SUP and SUP racing. And of course, SUP touring is an excellent way to explore your surroundings with a group.

Can a stand-up paddle board double up as a Kayak?

It actually can. You can have the best of both worlds by attaching a kayak seat to the SUP and converting your SUP paddle to a kayak paddle with the help of a blade kit, when the mood strikes you. And then you can switch back just as easily!

SUP-Kayak Hybrids: There is a lot to know of this, however, the basic is that there are two main types of SUP kayak hybrids. The first, sometimes called SUP Yaks, are sold as 2-in-1 products, and are essentially SUPs that can be paddled like boats. They have their shortcomings, like weaker attachments, decreased storage, and decreased water protection.

SUP Yaks

  • Sold as a 2-in-1 product
  • No installation
  • Misses some of the perks of each craft
  • Not always the best quality
  • More portable than regular kayaks

SUP Kayak Chairs

  • Sold as an add-on to a regular SUP
  • Very easy to install - simply clip into the D-Rings on your SUP
  • More functional
  • Higher quality
  • More portable than kayaks and SUP yaks

Pros of Paddling a SUP/Kayak Hybrid

  • Offers some benefits of both a SUP and kayak
  • Buy one vessel instead of two
  • Good for sharing with family and friends

Cons of Paddling a SUP/Kayak Hybrid

  • Activities require different skill sets (core strength and balance vs. upper body strength
  • Kayak seats on SUPs limit the space available to stand
  • Less onboard storage space

Converting the SUP to a Kayak

A simple kayak kit transforms your paddle board into a kayak in minutes. The main two things you need are a paddle conversion kit and a kayak seat.

Setting up Your Kayak Paddle

To get started, you need to transform your SUP paddle into a kayak paddle. Some people prefer to purchase a separate kayak paddle, but you can just as easily make the switch with a blade kit. The kit helps you remove your SUP paddle’s t-handle and swap the blade.

Installing A SUP Kayak Seat

There are two popular types of kayak seats for your paddle board. The more sparse option is a lower back band. This provides some basic back support, and that’s about it - it’s not a full chair.

The more comfortable option is a full kayak seat. This offers more complete back support and more padding. You can set it up by clipping the seat’s attachments to the D-rings on your board. GILI boards come with extra D-rings, so you won’t have to bother installing extra ones to make the seat fit! To find out which section of the board your seat should be positioned in, experiment a bit. Don’t assume the seat belongs in the board’s direct center. Instead, take a seat on the board while it’s in the water, and ask a pal to watch the board’s movement. Try sitting close to the center first, and ask your friend to tell you whether the SUP is flat in the water or if it’s tilting. Adjust your spot on the board until the SUP is level with a slightly raised nose. That’s the ideal spot for your seat.

What burns more calories?

Kayaking can burn up to 500 calories per hour. As with any water activity, the number of calories burned depends on weather conditions, pace, and water currents.

On average, you’ll burn 330 to 460 calories per hour while recreational paddle boarding. There are a wide variety of activities you can perform on your SUP and they burn even more calories such as SUP surfing, yoga, fishing, touring, and racing. For SUP racing, you can burn up to an incredible 1130 calories per hour!

SUP Fishing vs. Kayak Fishing

Though both have their merits, Sup provides a wide range of perks you won’t find on a sit-down vessel. For starters, you’ll be working with a more effective vantage point while standing on a SUP than you would hunkered into a kayak seat. You can choose the perfect spot to cast your line with that view, and you’ll be able to actually reach it, because when you’re standing you’ve got a 360-degree range of motion.

There’s also the undeniable fact that SUP fishing is an improved workout. Sitting still all day isn’t the best calorie burner, but if you’re standing on your paddle board as you fish, you’re still activating your muscles. You also get a great full body exercise when you paddle out to your fishing spot before casting the line. SUPs offer a whole host of bungees, D-rings, and add-on storage capabilities for holding your tackle box, drinks, snacks, and fishing gear.

The Pros and Cons of Kayaking

Kayaking Pros

  • Kayaks are fast
  • Sitting down can be more comfortable for some people

Kayaking Cons

  • Hard to get in and out of them, especially from the water
  • Heavy to carry when on land
  • Requires lots of storage at home and in your vehicle

Why are good paddle boards and kayaks expensive?

In order to be safe on water it is always advised to get the best available, especially if you are just starting out and that might burn a tiny little hole in your pocket. While both these watercraft look relatively simple, there is a lot of research and development (R&D) that goes into their design and production. Kayaks have more complex shapes and designs, but they have also been around and popular for much longer than SUPs.

That means the R&D costs have been spread out over a much longer period. SUPs are relatively new and iSUPs are even newer than their rigid predecessors. Making a durable, high-performing iSUP requires the latest innovations in design and materials. Construction, materials, and technology all contribute to the price of a good Paddle Board. And thus, they are expensive, a tad bit!

Paddle boards vs. Kayaks: Point by point!

  1. Stability - kayaks are initially more stable, but there is little difference after some practice on a SUP. On a SUP, your center of gravity is farther from the water than it would be if you were sitting in a kayak. But if you have a good grasp of how to balance on your SUP, you won’t have much of a problem.
  2. Maneuverability - SUPs are better in tight spaces. They are so lightweight and agile that you can adapt them to just about any situation on the water.
  3. Learning Curve - both are easy to learn, but kayaks require specific muscle group endurance that takes time to build. The movements required to SUP properly as a beginner (using your core, slightly bending your knees, and extending your arms to paddle) often involve strengths you’ll already have and can slowly improve over time.
  4. Portaging - SUPs, especially iSUPs, are far easier to carry. Most SUPs have grab handles, so even heavier boards can be lifted without the use of a carrying cart or other tool. In some cases, you can even attach a SUP carry strap to the D-rings on your SUP to make transport even easier.

Kayaks are larger than SUPs, and they’re made from heavier material. They are tough to lift on your own. Anyone who’s kayaked before knows the nails-on-a-chalkboard feeling of dragging a boat through heavy wet sand or ragged, scratchy stones. If you want to avoid that, you’ll need a kayak cart or someone else to help you double team the lift.

  1. Getting back on - no contest: SUPs win. When you fall off your SUP (or jump off for a dip in the water), all you have to do is hop right back onboard. When you fall off a kayak, you’ll need to partake in an oh-so-cringy dance of finding a decent grip on the boat from the water, pulling yourself up high enough to get back into the seat, lifting yourself back onboard, and managing to not flip the boat in the process. And if the boat flips, you’re in for an especially frustrating experience.
  2. Kids & Pets / Friends On Board - only SUPs allow you to quickly add passengers. However, Kayaks don’t have much extra space, so they don’t provide the opportunity to bring a friend along at the last minute. You’ll need to have a two-person boat for that, because a one-person kayak simply doesn’t have room for a buddy.
  3. Onboard Storage - options on kayaks, but SUPs have quick, modular solutions.

On board storage: Kayaks have a decent chunk of built-in storage space, but the amount is set from the day you purchase the boat. A SUP, on the other hand, can have as much or as little storage as you want. You can use bungees and other attachments to set up a dry bag, cooler, or other storage options.

On Land storage: Kayaks can be a nightmare to store. These large, bulky boats will take up a fair chunk of space in your home, backyard, or garage, so prepare yourself. And don’t forget: when it’s time to transport your boat to the waterfront, you’ll need to manage to get it on top of your car or find another way to get it there.

Both hard SUPs and inflatable SUPs are much easier to store than kayaks. An inflatable SUP will deflate and fold neatly into a SUP backpack so you can tuck it into your car trunk, stow it onboard a plane, or slide it tidily into a corner of your home. While hard SUPs don’t deflate, they have a more compact shape than a boat and take up less room in your home.

  1. Long Distance Paddling - kayaks have the advantage. Kayaks tend to be more explicitly built for long-distance adventures, and they can move a bit more quickly. However, touring SUPs are perfectly built for tours or other long-distance SUP experiences. These nimble boards can take you into small, gem-like spaces on the water that you might not be able to otherwise access, and can easily keep you going for a full day before heading back to shore if you so choose.
  2. Sightseeing - both good, but wider field of view on a SUP. On a kayak, you’re confined to sitting, whether you like it or not - and that view from your seat is the only glimpse of anything that you’ll be getting.
  3. Fitness - kayak is great for arms, but SUPs offer full body workouts. Your arms, core, legs, flexibility, and overall balance will benefit from your workout aboard your paddle board.
  4. Cool Factor – SUP. Way, way cooler than being crunched up into a kayak with nowhere to stretch out, move, or show off your aesthetic.

There is nothing wrong in kayaking, however, SUP is the new kid on the block, the new step, the new thing on the pathway of aquatic adventure and it should definitely be given a chance!

Written by William Lester