Are Paddle Boards as Fast as Kayaks?

Our latest article in the paddle board vs kayak competition focuses on which vessel is faster: the paddle board or the kayak?


inflatable kayak paddle for an eskimo roll and stand up paddleboard

In previous articles on the subject of the paddle board vs kayak, we have discussed how much more versatile and fun the stand up paddle board is compared to the kayak. However, we have never really tackled the subject of which is faster: the kayak or the paddle board? In this article, we'll discuss when one might be faster than the other and in what conditions one paddle modality may be quicker than the other.

How paddle boarding and kayaking differ

standup paddle board trying kayak fishing for gear storage options

With a stand up paddle board - as the name implies - you will be paddling your board while standing. With a kayak you will be sitting while you paddle.

The paddle that goes along with a paddle board, is similar to a long canoe paddle. It has a handle on the top of the paddle shaft and is a single bladed paddle. Kayak paddles are a double bladed paddle without any handle on top.

Paddle boarding requires that the paddler has to have better balance than a kayaker because standing on a vessel is far more challenging than sitting on one. This is especially true in choppy conditions which is why it's quite a bit easier to learn to paddle a kayak.

What paddle board and kayak paddlers have in common

kayaks offer a spray skirt and rod holders to store gear

Both paddling modalities offer the paddler a full body workout because if your paddling technique is correct for both you will be working your entire body. Most people don't realize that workout even includes the lower body. With kayak paddling, you use your legs to brace against the foot-pegs inside of the kayak to give your paddle stroke more power.

Paddle boarders also use their leg muscles to balance on the board as well as to brace against their board to power their stroke. Because the legs are used to brace and balance, the paddle board tends to give a better full body workout than the kayak.

So which is faster: the kayak or the SUP board?

average kayak prices are higher than a sup fishing board

There are a few factors that need to be considered before we deem a true winner in this latest "paddle board vs kayak" competition. We will examine these below.

Let's consider weather conditions

windy conditions with a sit inside kayak or a stand up paddle board with waterproof dry bags

If we are racing a kayak and a paddle board in windy conditions things get interesting. Since the kayak paddler is closer to the water than the SUP paddle boarder, the kayak would have a distinct advantage over the paddle board heading into the wind.

The calculus changes dramatically as both vessels turn around and have the wind at their back. Because the paddle boarder is upright, they essentially become a sail for the SUP board and they barely need to paddle to stay ahead of the kayak. The cold weather paddling experience definitely makes it difficult to determine a clear winner in this kayak versus paddle board challenge!

Let's examine long distance paddling

kayaking gives upper body workout in recreational kayaks

So let's say that we're on a flat water lake with no breeze and we want to do some long distance touring. So basically recreational paddling over long distances rather than a race in a sit inside kayak and a touring paddle board of similar length with some camping gear on both vessels.

In this case, since the kayak paddler is sitting, they will be more rested than the paddle boarder over long distances, since they aren't using their legs to balance but only use the leg muscles to give paddling leverage.

The double bladed paddles that are used for kayak paddling give the kayaker a distinct advantage over the paddling technique that a paddle board requires. With the paddle board paddle, the paddle boarder needs to paddle on one side for several strokes and then they must switch hands on the paddle shaft as they put the paddle blade on the other side of the paddle board. Even though every paddle stroke that is made with a kayak paddle is less forceful than a paddle board stroke, because you constantly have one end of the double bladed paddle in the water, it keeps the kayak speed consistent.

We're going to give the advantage to the kayak here.

What about inflatable paddle boards vs inflatable kayaks

kayak paddle and kayak seat give an advantage over paddle boards

Ok, we're going to fudge a bit in this paddle board vs kayak test but please indulge us. Let's see how inflatable kayaks do against inflatable paddle boards but we're going to start the competition with deflated kayaks and paddle boards, since both inflatable options work well for those with limited storage space.

Because an inflatable paddle board requires less air than most inflatable kayaks, the paddle boarder will be in the water quicker than the kayak paddler. With inflatables, both kayaks and paddle boards will paddle slightly slower than their rigid counterparts so since both variations paddle slower, it's unlikely that the kayak will catch up to the paddle board.

We're going to give this round to the inflatable SUP, mainly to make ourselves feel better.

What about other paddle board and kayak designs?

Get your feet wet kayaking and with a little practice you can paddle hard

For recreational kayaking and paddle boarding there are some interesting options that most people don't consider in the paddle board vs kayak competition.

Let's start with a sit on top kayak as opposed to a sit inside kayak. With this kayak, the kayak operator is in a less stable position than they are in kayaks with a cockpit because they have to balance a bit more.

Now let's put these kayaks up against paddle boards with a kayak conversion kit. These inflatable SUP boards come with a kayak seat and a paddle conversion kit that adds a paddle blade to the SUP paddle which essentially turns it into a kayak paddle. With the kayak seat, the paddle boarder is basically sitting in the same position as kayak paddler who sits on top of their kayak.

So now the paddle boarder is essentially kayaking, so who has the advantage? Unfortunately, we have to give it to the kayak again because paddle boarders will mainly be using their upper body to paddle their paddle boards since there is no foot-peg to push their legs off of like kayaks offer. The foot-pegs allow the kayak paddler to paddle faster than the paddle boarders are able to by giving them extra paddling leverage.

That's all well and good but what about a straight line race between kayaks and paddle boards?

paddle boarding with bungee cords on the front of paddle boards

Ok, we've clearly had so much fun with this article that we almost forgot that the main reason you are reading it was to determine which vessel in the paddle board vs kayak competition has the most straight line speed in a head to head match of a faster kayak and a race paddle board. Since both kayaks and paddle boards have race versions, let's go with those models as our example.

Most kayaks and paddle boards that are built for racing offer excellent hydrodynamics which lets them glide through the water quickly with each paddle stroke. However most kayaks have an edge in speed due to the more efficient paddling technique that kayaks offer. This combined with the fact that kayaks face less wind resistance - even on a windless day - than paddle boards face due to the paddle boarder standing, means that kayak paddling is faster than paddle boarding in most cases.

We reluctantly call is race for the kayak.


paddling kayaks is called kayaking

Most paddlers would agree that the kayak offers a slight speed edge over paddle boards. However, because paddle boards are so much more versatile than kayaks, the speed factor should be discounted heavily when considering a kayak over a paddle board. With a paddle board, you can surf, down-wind, do yoga, fish, tour, tackle whitewater and ferry your dog or child around on the nose. Think you can do all that on a kayak?