SUP vs Kayaking: Key Differences

SUP and Kayak, which should you pick this weekend?

Of course, all that planning requires knowledge of the specific water activity you’re going to be doing. If you haven’t been as out and about as much as I have, chances are you have some trouble knowing the finer details of some watersports. Maybe you’ve asked yourself “How’s water polo different from water basketball?” or “What’s the difference between a surfing paddleboard and a surfboard?”

I’ve got all the time in the world to talk about that. But lately, I’ve been on the hunch writing about SUPing and kayaking. So I guess it’s only natural for me to talk about the differences between paddleboarding and kayaking. To fill you in, I’ll cover the history of each sport, the array of types, and the much-waited breakdown of each sport.

Let’s hop on board, shall we? 

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Tell Me About these Watersports!

Wondering why these two sports are making a real splash in the watersport community? There are a lot of reasons why. But, let’s start with the basic descriptions and how these sports came to be.

Okay, Let’s Start with Paddleboarding

sup woman

Here’s the thing. SUP was born from surfing in Hawaii. How do people do it? Basically, you stand on boards that float on water while using paddles to steer it. And you can do so much with your SUP: fishing, yoga, surfing… you name it! 

What’s cool is that the sport didn’t just start in Hawaii, and it wasn’t entirely for recreation, too. 

Actually, it all began way back in 3000 B.C. The Peruvians used the reeds-woven Caballitos de Totora and bamboo “paddle” to fish. (Yes, I know that SUP fishing exists now, but I’ll get to that later.) 

Hundreds of years later, the British explorer Captain James Cook discovered one of the cores of Hawaiian Polynesian culture, surfing. Back then, their Chief owned the best board and paddle, as he was the best wave rider of all the land.  Pretty cool, right? 

Fast forward to the 1950s, the practice bloomed in Waikiki. Duke Kahanamoku, Leroy, and Bobby Ah Choy were just looking for a way to take photographs of their surf students. It was thanks to John “ Pops” Ah Choy chilling on an oversized surfboard and a paddle that the instructors found their solution. 

The big boom then boomed during the first few years of the 21st century. We all have to thank the photographs of Dave Kalama and Laird Hamilton surfing in Maui for this. What were they surfing on, you ask? Surfboards and paddles, of course!

Since then, SUP has branched out into a lot of types you can choose from: all-around, inflatable, fishing, touring, surfing, and racing. What do I recommend, you ask? I highly recommend you try ALL OF THEM. You definitely won’t regret it!

How about Kayaking?

sup kayak

Ah, kayaking. Another fun watersport for sure! Now, this one’s a fun sport that involves skimming the water in a small water vessel through the use of a double-bladed paddle. The kayak paddler then sits with their legs straight and under a closed deck. Much of the work is left to the exposed upper body. 

Now, where did it come from? I can tell you that kayaks were originally developed by the Inuit, Yup’ik, and Aleut. These boats were used for hunting in nearby waters of water. These vessels were made from stitched animal skins stretched over wood or whalebone. 

Fun fact: kayaking was actually created thousands of years ago! Yes, it’s been around for that long! With the word “kayak” meaning “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat”, these vessels were customized by each man and his wife. When brought into the water, the boats were used for fishing, hunting, and transporting passengers and goods. 

Fast forward to the 1740s, Russian explorers led by Vitus Bering exploited and kidnap Aleutians to work and hunt. They took both their kayak concept for hunting and transportation and the indigenous people’s freedom. It was quite a dark time, my friend.

Almost two centuries later, Adolf Anderie became the first person to kayak down  Salzachöfen Gorge, now known to be the birthplace of modern whitewater kayaking. A few years later, kayak traces were introduced in the Berlin Olympic Games. And by the 1970s, it became the mainstream sport we know today. 

Now, you’ve got several kayaking types to choose from recreational, sport, and sea kayaking! Try all of them out when you can! Each type is a unique experience you definitely shouldn’t miss out on!

Now, you’ve got several kayaking types to choose from recreational, sport, and sea kayaking! Try all of them out when you can! Each type is a unique experience you definitely shouldn’t miss out on!

Just as SUPs come as both inflatable and stable versions, kayaks have also evolved and it’s possible to get strong and durable inflatable kayaks today. If you want to try inflatable kayaks you can find a great guide on

Let’s Break It Down Some More

paddle boarding led lights

Now that we’ve discussed the history of each watersport, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. You’re probably wondering how sightseeing works on a board versus a kayak. Which can give a more impactful work? What’s it like kayaking in the cold? Under the sun? Are they fun to do? I got you! I’ve taken the liberty to differentiate the two according to category. So, let’s get to it!

How Stable Is It?

Actually, both offer stable paddling platforms for the eager watersports enthusiast. However, it’s worth noting that kayaks have a lower center of gravity, meaning more stability. Simply put, the higher you are from the ground, the less stable you are. If you have any problems with balancing and/or stability, you should keep this in mind. 

Getting Back on 

At this point, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fallen to the water. Whether it may be my paddleboard or my kayak, falling is inevitable! But, the experience of getting back on is different for each sport. 

With your SUP, it doesn’t flip as easily as a kayak. You have no lip to climb over, just an open, wide, and accessible platform you can hop onto with ease. There’s not much trouble in pulling yourself up. The next thing you know you’re kneeling, standing up, then paddling on again. Plus, you have the bonus of an ankle leash. It won’t float that far away when you wipe out!

With kayaks, you need a little more finesse and practice. Due to its narrow body, it is more prone to capsizing. So, you will need to flip the kayak back over before crawling back in. It’s not that easy, but with sufficient knowledge and many tries, you’ll get it. I know you’ll perfect it eventually!

Lugging It around

SUP vs Kayaking: Key Differences 1
Young attractive woman sitting on paddle board, SUP. Active life, sport, leisure activity concept. Caucasian woman on travel board in summers evening time. Vacation, resort, enjoyment.

Worried about transport and portability? I got you covered. With SUPs, these paddling platforms are more convenient to carry as they are much lighter and easier to handle. Plus, if you can always both for the inflatable type of board. With that, you can deflate it into a small size and squeeze it into a handy carrying bag. Neat, right?

The good news is that kayaks also have inflatable options! Of course, I know that solves your transportation and portability woes. But, there’s this one thing. Inflatable and collapsible kayaks usually suffer in performance compared to rigid ones. So better do much research on that to get the best of your kayaking experience!

Gotta Be Sturdy

Troubled by the potential dents, scratches, and bumps your small vessel or board has to endure? I’ve been there. The good news is that both of these paddling platforms have quite an amount of damage from rocks and all.

Although, the fins of your SUP can be easily damaged and/or broken in shallow waters. These are easily replaceable, sure, but it still means extra costs and more hassle. 

That being said, keep in mind that both kayaks and paddleboards are made from different kinds of materials. The materials vary in durability, so you can do some research on which best suits you.

How about Storage?

Best inflatable paddle board

This is one of my major concerns when I’m out in the water. Whether or not I’m up for a long relaxing trip or a short excursion, I need a lot of space for my gear, snacks, and emergency supplies. And I know it’s weighing on your mind, too. 

With your SUP, expect a limited amount of deck space. It may look like a lot of real estate, but piling all of that gear there means a harder time in executing tight turns. Plus, you need to pack everything essential waterproof dry bags. 

It’s a different story with the kayak. You’ve got the perk of in-board storage. So, you also have an easier time storing and extracting your gear when needed. The best part? Careful packing of your gear doesn’t have much of an impact on your kayaking! Neat! 

We Need Speed

If speed ranks high in your list of watersport priorities, then I’m betting kayaking is gonna get you hooked! Again, its low center of gravity, narrow profile, and the double-bladed paddle isn’t just for your increased stability. It’s also gonna allow you to shred those waters at your desired pace. Full speed ahead to the horizon! 

How’s the Weather Up/Down There?

sup weather

Ah, yes, you’re bound to face the elements once you’re out there in the water. May that be the cold, the beating sun, or the choppy winds. Well, I’ve faced all of these conditions before, so I’m here to tell you what to expect once you’re paddling or kayaking out there in the open!

The Cold

SUP in cold conditions is very much doable. But, you gotta dress properly for the low temperatures. It’s just a matter of your cold tolerance and how prepared you are for the long trip.

With kayaking, you’ll be much drier and relatively warmer than when you’re on a SUP. The closed cockpit and seated paddling position offer much more protection from the harsh, brutal winds on especially cold days. Of course, it’s best to be clothed properly and adequately prepared for your journey. 

The Warmth

SUP vs Kayaking: Key Differences 2
Woman surfing in the ocean

With hot temperatures and the sun beating down, the SUP offers more fun and refreshing experience. Think about the water splashing along your feet. That ease of jumping into the water when it gets a bit too hot or a little too tiring. Plus, you get to feel the cool sea breeze much when you’re standing up. 

Kayaking’s quite different during sunny days. It’s more cramped, and you don’t have the luxury of getting on and off your boat easily. If you’re looking to maximize a refreshing trip on a hot day, perhaps take a pass on kayaking. 

The Winds

Lastly, you’ve got those choppy winds to consider. It’s no secret that it’s a lot more challenging when you’re on your paddleboard. Mostly because of its higher center of gravity, combating strong winds and wild waves is much harder compared to kayaking. 

Of course, kayaking’s low profile makes it much easier to face those harsh winds. Couple that with a sturdy cockpit and your sitting position, you’re much more protected from all elements brought by windy days. 

Gotta Workout!


Let’s move past the elements and the paddling platforms. Let’s focus on you! When it comes to getting a workout, SUP offers a low-impact, full-body workout that tones and strengthens all your muscles. You burn a lot of calories and build up endurance because you’ll be paddling on and on the fun waters! So, if you’re looking for a more intense exercise and some cardio, SUP’s got game for that.

Kayaking, on the other hand, provides a more isolated workout of your upper body. Your shoulders, back, arms, chest, and abdominals will have the bulk of work needed for those alternating paddle strokes.

Ultimately, it all depends on your fitness goals. If you aim to tone and focus on those stabilizer muscles, go for SUP! But, if you’re planning on bulking up that upper body, kayaking is definitely the way to go! 

Paddling on And on And on 

SUP vs Kayaking: Key Differences 3
a man on the lake ride a sup board. high quality photo

When it comes to paddling for long distances, kayaking definitely has the advantage. With SUP, you’ll be standing for long periods on a paddleboard. You might have to face cramping and fatigue along with other harsh elements. 

With kayaking, the seated paddling position is definitely more comfortable than the prolonged standing SUP requires. You can expect less work on your stabilizer and leg muscles, but tons of it weighing on your upper body. 

In the end, you should also think about what you want to get from each sport. Look back on Gotta Workout! section. Reevaluate your fitness goals and your comfort levels. It might help you out on this one. 

Moving Freely

SUP vs Kayaking: Key Differences 4

It’s no question that with SUP, you can move in any way you wish while onboard. Feel like sitting and enjoying the landscapes? How about laying down and gazing at the sky? Hey, you can even take a dip for a minute or two! The only limit is the weight capacity. So, you can even bring your kids or your furry pal on deck without worrying about moving around. 

The Fun Factor of SUP

Last but not least, your enjoyment! Honestly, this is all up to you as a watersports enthusiast! Do you want company? Are you okay with seeing all the sights while standing or sitting? Up for some yoga even? Then, SUP’s the clear winner for you.

With SUP, you definitely have the edge in taking in all the sights while standing on its deck. You can say hi to the sea creatures under the waves while you’re at it! If that’s not enough, you can even fish or do some yoga!

Another thing is that you can either enjoy paddleboarding or with someone else! Want your kids to experience the waves for the first time? Or maybe take a man’s best friend with you? There’s no dull moment to it!

You’ve reached the end of this chunky post! You finally know the differences between SUP and kayaking, starting with the basics and its history. I’ve also broken down everyone’s unique experiences in each sport through different categories. Of course, you need to have a hand in both to know for sure if they apply to you. So what are you waiting for? Dip your feet in those waters and have fun! 

Still giddy about kayaking and/or SUP? Well, I’ve got a community of watersports enthusiasts back on Facebook and Instagram ready to answer all of your questions! Come and chat with us when you’re ready.

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