Even if you’re brand new to water sports, you probably know what a kayak is. The oblong boats, tapered at both ends, have largely replaced canoes and other small boats for recreational activities on the water, including whitewater paddling, fishing, and touring.
The stand-up paddleboard is the new kid on the block when it comes to paddle sports. It allows you do do many of the same activities from a flat board (they look more-or-less like large surfboards) on which you stand up to paddle.
If you’re looking to get out on the water, it can be hard to know which one would be best. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out which one to try first.
How much experience do I have paddling?
Most people can jump in a kayak, grab a paddle, and take off immediately. These same folks may feel more tentative about standing up on a board in the middle of the water.
If you need to be able to go right away, a kayak might be for you. If you have an hour or so to get comfortable, though, the paddleboard is still an option. Even children as young as 5 or 6 can learn to paddleboard in an afternoon.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Stability—The stability of various kayaks and paddleboards will depend on the individual craft and what it’s designed to do. In general, kayaks are more stable than boards. If you really want to paddleboard, though, wider boards offer more stability.
- Maneuverability—Experienced paddlers can achieve similar maneuverability with both a a kayak and a paddleboard. Newer paddlers, though, usually find kayaks easier to turn, aim, and get into and out of small spaces.
- Durability—Inexperienced paddlers are more likely to run into rocks, run the boat aground, and have accidents. When you have a paddleboard, you always have to watch out for the external fins. These can get damaged relatively easily. Kayaks are generally more durable.
How far am I going?
Both paddleboards and kayaks allow you to go for long distances. Most people will say that kayaks are more comfortable, especially for long distance, because they keep you seated instead of standing.
Kayaks generally have more built-in storage than paddleboards, though the wide variety of deck bags and drag bags (bags that you attach to the back of the board and drag behind you through the water) has given them storage options comparable to those available in kayaks. The farther you are going, the more storage you will need.
Paddleboards are known for giving you a good, full-body workout. You use your whole body when you paddle, so it works your legs and core in addition to your shoulders and arms. If you are paddling for a distance, this may tire you out.
Think, too, about whether you are going to have to portage, or carry, your craft for any distance. Most paddleboards have handles right in the middle of the board, which allow for easier carrying. Kayaks often require two people to transport them over land.
What are my paddling conditions?
Paddleboards do not do well in the wind, and they offer nothing at all to keep you warm. In fact, you’re almost guaranteed to get water on the board’s deck at some time during your paddle. If you know you’re going out in cold or windy conditions, choose a kayak.
On the other hand, kayaks can be quite warm when the sun is out. Because the lower half of your body is in an enclosed space, heat can’t escape and you can get hot easily. Paddleboards expose your whole body to the air and allow you easy access to the water, so it’s easy to cool off. You can also anchor your board, lie down, and catch some rays.
What do I want to do while I’m out on the water?
Think about the purpose of your paddle before you choose a vehicle. Do you want to take a tour? Go fishing? Get some sun? Spend a day out in nature by yourself? The purpose of your outing may determine your craft.
- Fishing—You can fish from both a kayak and a paddleboard. There’s not a distinct advantage or disadvantage of one over the other.
- Touring—You will need to be in better shape to tour with a paddleboard, but you may also see more from your upright vantage point.
- Swimming—It’s a lot easier to access the water from a paddleboard.
- Sunbathing—Paddleboards allow you to stretch out and enjoy the sun.
- Surfing—Kayaks tend to slice through surf, while many paddleboards allow you to ride the waves. Make sure you get one designed for this purpose, though, or you will struggle.
- Yoga—You can do yoga on a paddleboard, but not so much in a kayak.
- Time with your family—As long as any non-swimmers wear life jackets, you can have fun with both. Paddleboard decks have more space for kids and animals than kayaks do.
- Whitewater—Use a kayak unless you’re an expert paddleboarder with the right kind of board. Practice your paddling before you go, though, no matter which craft you choose.
If you’re still not sure which is best for you, try renting one of each. Many lakes have rental offices where you can try them out and see which one works better for you. Then you can feel confident when you invest your own money. Happy paddling!