Can a SUP Keep Up With a Kayak?

Out of all different kinds of watersports, stand up paddle boarding (SUP) and kayaking are some of the most beloved. On a hot summer day, you would be hard-pressed to find someone without one of these water activities. While both serve similar purposes, they each have different strengths and weaknesses, such as speed.

Can a SUP keep up with a kayak? No. The kayak has added leverage and hydrodynamics because of the sitting position it requires, giving it an upper hand over the SUP. The SUP is paddled while standing, which decreases its speed because of the lack of balance and hydrodynamics.  

Although both of these water activities provide fun for a summer day, they both have different properties, which might alter your decision on which to do. Depending on what your intention is for the day will depend on what activity you might decide to do. If you want to travel far distances, the kayak is ideal. If you want to relax and move at a slower pace, the SUP is your best bet.  

How does an SUP Work?

SUP stands for Stand-Up Paddleboard. It is a surfboard-like object that you stand on to paddle around a body of water and propel yourself forward. The flat and wide design allows you to bring other people on it to create a fun experience with others involved. Some people even bring their dogs onto the board to share a day on the water with them.

The flat design of the paddleboard allows it to sit on top of the water, much like a surfboard and moves on top of the water. This makes the paddleboard a slow method of transportation as the large and flat shape of it does not allow it to move quickly over the water when being paddled.

What about a Kayak?

A Kayak is a canoe-like boat that one sits in order to traverse across the water. The kayak has a small hole on the top that allows one person to sit. The only way to make kayaking a multi-person event is to paddle with other people in kayaks. 

The pointed and condensed shape of the kayak allows it to cut quickly through the water. The sitting position of the paddler allows them to have more leverage and power when paddling, thus accelerating their speed. 

Kayak vs. SUP Differences

The kayak and SUP have their similarities, but they also have many different characteristics. Certain factors divide these two watersports such as speed, weather, ease, storage, stability, distance, and fitness. All of these factors make the kayak and SUP better for different tasks.  

Stability and Speed

The stability of a kayak is far greater than that of a SUP. A kayak is maneuvered by sitting within it and paddling. The center of gravity is far lower, meaning it’ll be easier to balance on. The kayak would require significant movement to tip over. This stability allows you to do more intense strokes to go fast.

The SUP requires you to stand in order to maneuver it, meaning the center of gravity is higher and thus harder to balance on. With this, you must paddle slower to maintain balance, keeping your speed low. 

Staying Upright

Some might say that a SUP is easier to maneuver and handle, but overall, I would say that kayak is.

The SUP is very easy to get frustrated with, as it’s very easy to fall off of. In order to master the paddleboard, you must find the balance on the board. While it is easy to start again when you fall off, it might happen so frequently that it will frustrate its user. This, in turn, also slows down a SUP. 

The kayak does not flip as often and thus is less prone to frustration. It is far easier to stay balanced in it, however, getting back on a fallen off kayak is a more laborious process. It’s sleek and hydrodynamic shape makes it difficult to slip back into without falling over again. So, once you get the hang of a kayak, you’ll be in it more, helping you go faster. 

Depending on your experience with water sports and particular preferences, the kayak might be a better choice.

Carrying Gear

The paddleboard is long and flat, so in theory, it does have “storage” space. Bags or other items could be placed on top of the board, but any wrong movement could send your items into the water. Another possibility could include taping or tying down your items, but the tape or tie could come undone due contact with the water. If you need to carry items during your paddle, your best bet is to carry some form of waterproof bag on you back.

A kayak is built to have storage, and many are made for long-distance rides. It has storage inside of the actual kayak, as it is hollow. This will allow you to be able to carry several things you may need. Putting these items in waterproof bags will further protect your items in the event you capsize. The increased carrying capacity within the kayak keeps air drag to a minimum, helping it again to go faster than the SUP.

Fitness Affects Speed

A kayak does not require as much work as a SUP. As mentioned earlier, the kayak requires you to sit within it in order to use it. Sitting means you use your arms and abs in order to propel yourself forward. This particular watersport mainly targets your core, arms, and cardio.

However, the SUP targets the muscles throughout the whole body. Your legs and core are used to stabilize yourself, while your arms are used to paddle to propel yourself forward.

Overall, the average-fitness user will be able to go much faster and further in a kayak versus a SUP. 

Paddling Strokes

In order to use either of these items, you must know how to paddle first. Paddling is the way that you propel yourself forward and backward. It also is how you turn yourself around.

The forward stroke is used to move the boat forward. It is achieved by putting your paddle in the water and completing a motion that looks like you’re pulling yourself forward. The paddle will be going towards you. Mastering this stroke is essential as, without it, you can’t even move forwards.

The backward stroke is used to move your boat backward if necessary. This stroke is achieved by putting your paddle in the water and “pushing the water away from you.” The paddle will be moving away from you.

Both of these strokes need to be completed on both the left and right sides of the water vehicle in order to move in your chosen direction evenly.

If you want to turn around, you will complete either of these strokes but only on one side of your chosen method of transport. Another way to turn that applies more specifically to the kayak is the J-stroke. The J-Stroke requires you to put the blade of the paddle parallel to the side of the boat. Once you place your blade parallel, you push outward in a “J” formation. This will achieve a smoother and wider turn to your kayak.

Mastery of these strokes in the specific vessel will greatly affect your speed as well. So, if you enjoy standup paddleboarding, make sure to practice these strokes to try and keep up with your kayak friends.

Related AquaSportsPlanet posts

How to hold a paddle board paddle. Covers paddle position, techniques and different strokes.

Are paddle boards faster than kayaks? Discusses the average speeds of both, along with design comparisons.

How to go faster on a paddle board. Learn strokes and body positioning to use for better speeds. Also discusses a few boards specifically designed for speed.

How to paddle board race. Additional information as a followup on how to go faster. Paddles and boards specifically created for racing are included.


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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