Paddle Board vs Kayak: Which is Better for You? – Maddleboards icon

Paddle Board vs Kayak: Which is Better for You?

Paddle Board vs Kayak: Which is Better For You?

Whether you are looking for a relaxing day in calm waters or wanting to get an outdoor workout, paddle boards and kayaks offer water lovers endless possibilities when spending the day floating offshore. Both are versatile and can be fun to use in a variety of situations, such as chilling with your friends at the beach or exploring a cool intertidal zone.

And while it would be nice to have both, there are certain things to consider if you’re looking to decide between purchasing a paddle board or a kayak for your next outdoor adventure on a lake, a river or the ocean.

Since paddle boards hit the market over a decade ago, paddle sports lovers have been debating whether stand up paddleboards or kayaks are better. With paddle boards rising in popularity year after year, paddle boards seem to be more prominent at beaches and lakes. And for good reason. They provide versatility for beginners and experts alike, can be more reasonably priced and easier to store. However, kayaks have been a long-time staple for the watersport community, as they excel in performance on the water, can be used for longer trips, and provide an  awesome upper body workout.

So if you’re trying to decide which is a better option because you don’t have the budget or storage for both, this article will outline the benefits of each and help you figure which one is the better choice for you.

inflatable Paddle Boards
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Paddle Board vs Kayak: What are the Differences?

Kayaks and paddle boards are very popular options for a number of reasons and while both offer versatility, there are different types of activities and lifestyles that each is suited for.  If you’re looking to buy either a paddle board or a kayak, here are some of the key differences you should consider before making your decision. 

Design

The most obvious difference between a kayak and paddle board is the hull design. Kayaks have displacement hulls, which force the water around it. This makes them more streamlined and in turn more efficient to paddle. There are some racing paddle boards which are designed with similar displacement hulls but they are usually solid, carbon fiber boards which cost $2000+!

Because of this hull design, kayaks are generally faster than a paddle board, so if speed is what you are looking for, you may be a kayak person. But speed isn’t everything.

Stability is what most people are seeking when on the water. Let’s face it. Unless it’s a hot summer day and you are wanting to cool off with a dip while out paddling, staying on the board or inside the kayak is key to having a good time. With kayaks, you are sitting with your bum close to the water which gives you a lower center of gravity. Kayaks can still be tippy if you lean too far to the left or right but for the most part they are quite stable. 

Standing on a paddle board means you have to focus a bit more on your balance, but you can also sit or kneel on your board, making it even more stable than a kayak due its design.

Paddle boards are designed with a planing hull, which means the board has a flat bottom that allows the board to glide across the water, albeit somewhat slower than a kayak. This type of design offers more stability while standing up and it's pretty much impossible to flip a paddle board in open water unless you are surfing waves or riding the rapids on your favorite river run. 

If you’re not a strong swimmer or have a fear of the water, it’s worth remembering that if your kayak flips over and gets water in the cockpit, it will sink just below the surface. This means that you will need a pump to remove the water once you get back in. Paddle boards, on the other hand, will continue to float when capsized and you can just flip it over, climb back on and get paddling quicker.

Looks will always be subjective, but kayaks generally stick to a few colour schemes and can look similar to one another. Paddle boards companies on the other hand started creating unique and cool looking designs which allow everyone to have a board that shows off their style. Maddle offers over 30 different paddle board designs in a myriad of colors for you to choose from based on your personality and favorite aesthetic.

Ease of Use

Standup paddle boards can seem daunting at first and you would be forgiven for thinking they’re difficult to use. But standup paddle boarding is not as difficult as it seems! There is an initial learning curve when getting on and standing up, but with a bit of practice it’s easy to get the hang of it and be on your way. Once you get the feel of the board by paddling around on your knees, taking the next step to standing up can seem daunting.  But paddle boards are fairly easy to keep your balance, as the board is wide enough for you to stand comfortably. And the soft to the touch, non-slip grip ensures your feet stay where they should, even when wet. 

Kayaks on the other hand offer quite a lot of stability while seated but can be prone to rolling if you lean out too far. And getting into a kayak can be an exercise unto its own. Especially if you have fallen out and need to get back in from the water. The tricky part is pulling yourself back into the seat. A kayak will want to roll so good balance and patience is key. On a paddle board, you can simply climb onto the board on your hands and knees and be up and paddling right away. 

With a kayak, many people find the seated position to be more comfortable for longer distances and less of a full body workout as you only need to use your upper body for kayaking. But each watercraft can be as hard or as easy as you like, depending on how much effort you put into it.

When it comes to the paddles, a kayak double bladed paddle can feel more intimidating to use than a single bladed SUP paddle. It can call for a bit of practice before you can confidently cruise through the waters. A kayak paddle is more efficient as you can get two strokes in for every single blade paddle stroke and you do not need to switch sides to paddle in a straight line. But kayak paddles can increase stress on your forearm and hand tendons. Paddle board paddles allow you to move your bottom hand up or down the shaft to work different muscles and tendons but you do have to switch sides often to paddle straight. This can be a benefit as both sides of your body get toned and fit.

Overall, both kayaks and paddle boards take some practice in the beginning, but can quickly become easy to use with experience.



Interested in learning how to paddleboard? Check out our guide on how to standup paddle board.

Transportation and Storage

Inflatable SUPs are super easy to transport and store compared to plastic or fiberglass kayaks. Once deflated, inflatable boards take up very little space and can easily be stowed in a convenient carrying bag, along with the paddle, pump, and any other accessories you might need such as sunscreen, hat and personal floatation device. However, there are inflatable kayaks on the market that can also be rolled up and stored away in a compact space when deflated. It is worth noting that inflatable kayaks do lose much of their performance and speed compared to their solid counterparts, while inflatable paddle boards are hard to distinguish from fiberglass ones.

If you’re looking for something that's easy to transport and store, either inflatable option will work for you.



Versatility / Fun Factor

Kayaks and paddle boards are both super versatile and fun! You can do a number of activities with either, including paddle board fishing, kayak fishing and exploring places bigger boats can’t.

So what’s better? Paddle boards definitely allow you to do more cool things than a kayak. You can sit, stand, move around, or even suntan on a paddle board. In a kayak you will definitely have an uneven tan! On an inflatable paddle board it is easy to get in and out of the water when you need to cool down on a hot day. Using a paddle board as a personal dock is a great way to enjoy the solitude of the open water. Especially when paired with a paddleboard anchor.

With a kayak, you are always sitting, which doesn’t offer as much freedom of movement. However, being seated can be more comfortable for longer expeditions to your favourite secret spot. Although maneuvering a paddle board does require you to engage your entire body, making it somewhat more tiring over long distances, the freedom to move more can alleviate any issues that come from sitting for long periods of time.

Paddle boards and kayaks both also offer space to bring  gear, such as your drybag, food, water, a bluetooth speaker. But it all depends on the type of kayak you have. On a paddle board there is plenty of room to strap down your gear and even bring a furry companion. There is plenty of space for both you and your pup to move around while on a standup paddle board. As long as your dog doesn’t like to walk around too much.

SUP yoga which has become super popular over the last few years isn’t possible on a kayak. Paddle boards are very stable and doing your poses such as a downward dog or child's pose are difficult at first. But that’s the challenge yoga enthusiasts strive for. Positioning your body while improving your balance will build your core strength and get you looking fit and healthy.

Another advantage of paddle boarding is the view. There isn’t really any bad view when out on the water but with a kayak you sit closer to the surface so your view of what is below you is limited. Especially if you are exploring an ocean intertidal zone, when the name of the game is checking out all the cool ocean creatures such as anemones and sea-stars. With a stand up paddle board, you can get a high level view of the natural beauty you are paddling over.

If you want to have the best of both worlds, the comforts of sitting and also being able to stand up at any point, a kayak conversion kit, which features a kayak seat for your paddle board as well as a double bladed paddle is an awesome add-on. Experience kayaking without losing out on the versatility of a standup paddle board is a game changer.


Overall, paddle boards offer greater versatility and fun, whether you’d like to explore coastlines, get a workout on a board, or simply relax on the water. If you can only buy one of the two, a paddle board is a great purchase that gives you the freedom to do whatever and go wherever. 

Fitness

If you’re looking to mix up your exercise routine and take your workout to the water, kayaks and paddle boards are both great choices. 

Kayaking is a super fun way to get intense exercise for your upper body. It works the back, shoulder, arms, and core muscles and can help improve your stamina and endurance. Kayaks also move faster and can be quite a thrill, especially if you have someone to race with or take it in some rapids or waves.

Paddle boards have a reputation as being ‘chill’, but stand up paddle boarding can be even better for your physical fitness than kayaking. While kayaking focuses primarily on the arms and back, stand up paddleboarding engages the lower body as well for a low-impact, full-body workout that also improves your balance. Paddle boards are also great for doing meditation and yoga on calm waters, which is arguably the best way to relax and find your state of calm. 

Both paddle boards and kayaks can be great choices, depending on your fitness goals. If you prefer more intense exercise focusing on the upper body, a kayak is a great way to get an isolated workout. If you’re looking for a full-body workout with the option to have post workout meditation and stretch sessions on the board, a stand up paddle board is the better choice for you.


By the way, if stretch sessions and yoga on your paddle board sounds like fun to you but you're not sure where to start, check out this list of 6 essential yoga poses to try, complete with instructions on how to master them.

Weather

If you’re looking for a new water toy to enjoy year round, a kayak might be the better option for those colder months. Although being out on the water might not be your first choice in cold weather, kayaks keep your lower body sheltered from the wind, unless it is a sit-on-top.

If it’s windy out and you are paddling into it, standup paddling can be more difficult than kayaking. As you face the wind standing up, you get pushed around more and trying to paddle in a straight line can be frustrating. This is when most people will lose ground, get tired and then fall off. If you are planning on paddling on a windy day, start by going into the wind and then when you get tired turn around and have the wind at your back. This ‘downwinder’ style of paddling can be super fun and ensures you don’t have to battle the wind to get back to the beach.

Choosing a Kayak or Paddle Board: So what should you buy?

Kayaking and paddle boarding are both great options for experienced paddling enthusiasts and beginners alike looking to get into a new water activity. 

If you’re deciding between an inflatable SUP or a kayak as your next purchase, consider the type of activity you plan on doing, the amount of storage you have, how you get your craft to the water, and how much you want to move around while out there. Also think about your fitness goals and what type of weather you’ll be paddling in. Ultimately either will be a great option as these both will allow you to enjoy the water wherever you live.

Kayaks are a better choice if you’re looking to go faster in the water, get an intense upper body workout, and are considering paddling for extended periods of time. Inflatable paddle boards provide more versatility, are easier to transport and store, and provide greater freedom of movement which makes them a great choice for anyone.

But why choose when you could have the best of both? Check out the 30+ Maddleboard designs and find the perfect inflatable paddle board for you. Then, grab a kayak conversion kit and you’ll have it all!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use a paddle board like a kayak?

With a kayak conversion kit, you can absolutely use a paddle board like a kayak. The conversion kit includes a kayak seat and an extra paddle, which transforms your paddle board into a fully functioning sit-on kayak. 

What burns more calories kayaking or paddle boarding?

According to Harvard Health Publication, kayaking burns 300 to 420 calories per hour while paddle boarding burns 330 to 460 calories per hour at a recreational pace. As with all exercises, greater intensity uses more energy, which burns more calories.  

Which is better: an inflatable kayak or inflatable paddle board?

An inflatable paddle board performs nearly as well as a solid paddle board but is less prone to damage much easier to transport. An inflatable kayak loses much more of its speed and performance compared to its solid counterpart, which is normally a big selling feature  for kayaks. For that reason, an inflatable paddle board is a better buy compared to an inflatable kayak.