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Are Paddle Boards Faster than Kayaks?

Paddle boarding and kayaking are great sports. And both can pick up pretty good speed with some effort. It’s awesome when you feel the movement of the water beneath you and a connection to it.

Paddleboards are generally faster than Kayaks (Under certain conditions). Paddle boards can achieve approximately 5 to 9 mph whereas a kayak can only reach 3 mph.

There are variances between the two devices and an examination can explain how each can affect your aquatic pleasure.

Why Paddle Boards are Faster than Kayaks

Paddle boarding is a fantastic sport allowing a special experience on oceans, lakes, and rivers. The workout to one’s full body core is tremendous and can help riders remain physically active and fit.

There are three main advantages that make paddle boarding faster than using a kayak:

  1. The experience of the rider
  2. The type of paddle board
  3. Weather conditions

Let’s cover each in a little more detail.

  1. The experience of the rider: This is a contributing fact as it would be with any device that sails across the water. In fact, the experience of the paddle boarder is paramount when talking about speed. With a lot of practice, a paddle boarder can hope to reach speeds of up to 5 mph. However, very physically fit, and highly experienced individuals can achieve upwards of 8-9 mph.
  • Type of Paddle Board: There are three basic kinds of paddle boards:
  • Surf
  • Allround
  • Flatwater/race  

Surf specific paddle boards are shorter and have a narrower nose and tail with more curve than the other two types of boards. As the name implies, boarders use this type of board in the surf on the ocean.

Allround boards are adaptable, multi-purpose products that are wonderful for first-time users. Allround boards are wider for stability and are useful for either lake or ocean touring. This type of paddle board is the one that can go at speeds of 4 to 5 mph.

Flatwater and race boards are not recommended for beginner paddle boarders as the board is much thinner at the tip and smaller. The size of the board makes it more difficult to stabilize and beginners would find it beyond challenging to pilot this paddle board that is made for speed.

Race boards are so fast that they can go 7 miles at speeds up to 9 mph under the right weather conditions and with an extremely physically fit rider.

  • Weather conditions can very quickly turn an adventure on the water into a dangerous situation. The coldness of the water during the winter season can greatly shorten the length of time the rider can remain in it. Water temperatures, even in warmer waters such as off California, can be deadly as hypothermia can set in without the boarder knowing what is happening. Wearing a wet suit can greatly mitigate this danger.

Although the day may be sunny and warm when beginning a tour on a paddle board, watching for the signs a storm is blowing up is vital. Lightning is a dangerous variable when on the water and a paddler needs to pay attention and return to shore and seek shelter immediately if a storm approaches.

The weather also affects the speed of a paddle board in that choppy waves and wind greatly slow the efficiency of the paddler. Wind resistance is the worst enemy of a boarder.

Wind speed is also a factor in how fast a paddle board can go as the rider is forced to paddle against it thus slowing speed and progress.

The Kayak: Why They are Slower

Many consider kayaking the ultimate in water travel and sport as they are intimately in contact with the water as you paddle through it.

Although a kayak only goes around 3 mph, there are two distinct advantages a kayak has over a paddle board that more than make up for the difference in speed.

These differences are:

  1. The distance one can travel
  2. The bodies of water that can be explored
  3. Weather conditions

Let’s dive a little deeper into each one.

  1. The distance you can travel. While paddle boards are great recreational devices for short distances and limited amounts of time, kayaks are far more versatile. Paddle boards only allow for a few hours or day trip because the paddler becomes fatigued from standing up and trying to maintain their balance. Kayaks, on the other hand, allow for the explorer to sit in comfort and paddle at their own pace no matter the weather or type of water they are cutting through.

Moderately experienced kayakers can travel 9 to 16 miles and experienced explorers in one day 19 miles in one day without straining. However, physically fit, and experienced paddlers may travel 31 miles to distances as much as 50 miles.  

  • The bodies of water a kayak can explore is far more varied than a paddle board. Kayaks are shaped for stability with the kayaker riding inside the shell. This allows a kayaker to explore waters that are frigid and choppy. Whereas paddle boards can function well in vertical surf on the ocean, kayaks can take on rough river rapids.
  • Weather conditions are not a major contributor to the speed a kayak can travel as they are designed to keep the rider warm and dry despite the water conditions.

What kayaks lack in speed they make up for distance and versatility. An explorer can travel through frigid arctic waters or plunge into the rapids on the Snake and Colorado rivers all the while keeping the rider safe inside the shell of the kayak.     

Unlike the paddle board, wind speed has little effect on a kayak. This is because the rider is sitting inside a low sitting vehicle and therefore wind resistance isn’t a factor.

Like the paddle board, kayakers should remain alert to potential storms sporting lightning as it is more likely to strike an object on the water than land.

The Health Benefits of Paddle Boarding and Kayaking

Paddle boarding is a wonderful way to increase the upper body strength as one cut through the water for speed. Because rides stand up, they can greatly improve balance and increase core body strength.

Another benefit of paddle boarding is it increases balance and won’t harm knees or ankles as jogging can. It is a low-impact way to enjoy nature while gaining a cardiovascular workout. Especially paddle board yoga.

Usually, paddle boarding isn’t done alone as there is plenty of room on the back of the board for a friend of a dog. Being in the company of others while enjoying a sport is known to increase mood and stabilize a person’s mental health.

Kayaking, like paddle boarding, offers a multitude of health benefits.

One such benefit is the fantastic upper body workout received while stroking the paddle through the water. To go 3 mph, one must do at least 1,500 strokes that are low-impact and incorporate the entire body’s muscles.

Weight loss is another advantage to kayaking. Paddling through the water can burn around 400 calories per hour so five hours on the water will burn 2,000 causing the paddler to lose weight. 

Paddling a kayak through nature in search of adventure is also a great stress reliever and has wonderful effects on mental health. Exercise is known to trigger the release of brain chemicals combats depression and brings on relaxation.

What is Better? A Paddle Board or a Kayak?

Comparing a paddle board to a kayak is a little bit like comparing apples to oranges as each device gives pleasure to its rider but in diverse ways.

A paddle board allows for short excursions on an ocean, lake, or river where the kayak offers the opportunity to do some slow exploration.

Read this in a deep Jeremy Clarkson voice, “there’s only one way to prove which is faster. We need a race.” See the fun little races in the videos above and below between a Kayak and a stand-up paddle board.

As you can see, both are a lot of fun, as well as have marvellous health benefits. So the choice between a paddle board or a kayak relies on the personal preference of the rider (read Is paddleboarding harder than kayaking?“)   

And on that bombshell

It’s time to end this article. Hopefully there are a few Top Gear and/or Grand Tour fans who get those references. But either way, get out there, stay safe and have fun!


If you want to go faster, choose a specialty board designed for speed. Read our post on how to go faster on a Paddleboard.