There is a logic in thinking that with speed comes balance and therefore faster is more stable and therefore easier. However, there are many different factors that need to be taken when you add water into the equation. Read on to find what the basic answer is, but also why that may not always be the case.
Paddle boarding is easier than surfing as paddle boarding can be done on calm flat water with no wind, where only a basic level of balance and reactive skills are needed. Surfing, on the other hand, requires more balance, coordination and reactive skills than SUP. As well as the knowledge of how to read the waves so they are properly positions to meet them.
Now I have tried both and found when trying surfing found catching the wave harder than riding it, and riding for any period of time even harder. Paddleboarding, I picked up straight away because it was on flat water on a calm day. All I really had to do was stand up, and slowly paddle and I was a paddle boarder. But on the other hand, riding your paddleboard down white-water rapids is going to be way harder than basic surfing. So, where does it end? What is the real answer? This article breaks down all the variables between the two sports and compares them so to give you a greater in-depth understanding of your question.
Surfing vs Paddling
Paddling and surfing are really not the same beasts at all. With a SUP you can do many different kinds of activities. For the surfboard, you can only do one activity, which of course has many different varieties.
Things to do on you Stand-Up Paddleboard
- Gentle paddling on calm seas, lakes, streams, and canals
- Medium paddling on rivers, big lakes, and calm seas
- Surfing smaller beach waves
- Hard paddling in rapids, windy conditions or the sea
- Navigating waterfalls and river white-waters
- Surfing big waves
- Paddle board racing
- SUP Air Guitaring (OK I made that last one up, or did I?)
This list is of course nowhere near complete. Some people exercise their dogs by getting on their paddleboard and let the dogs follow swimming. This is the main selling point for the stand-up paddleboard hobby, the board is just so incredibly versatile! You will be hard-pressed to make a complete list of SUP activities, just as I was.
Now the surfing hobby is not without its own variation. Some surfing activities can generally be considered to be quite easy. Riding broken waves with a big foam longboard being the most basic activity. Some other surfing activities, like riding gigantic offshore waves, incredibly difficult and only for the best of the best.
Naturally, easier surfing activities are easier than hard paddleboard activities. The same is true for the paddleboard. Easy paddleboard activities are a lot easier than riding a monstrous 40-foot wave several miles from shore!
Take a look at standing on your board and paddling on still waters in no-wind conditions. This is among the easiest activities you can do on your paddleboard. This is definitely easier than trying to get up on a foam longboard while learning to surf.
So if you accept this simple answer, paddle boarding is indeed easier than surfing.
A surfer will most assuredly protest here. Surfing is about catching an unbroken wave and barrelling down it. Maybe surfing is harder right in the beginning but it gets easier. Especially if you follow advice on where to surf and what equipment to use.
Even paddle boarders might protest! A gentle paddle in easy conditions is nice and a good core workout but there is no adrenaline in it. Also, nothing to catch on your Go-Pro and impress your friends with.
With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into the two hobbies and the difficulties they present.
Surfboard vs Paddleboard
To make a more complete comparison of the skill required between surfing and SUPing we can start with a look at the boards.
Stand up paddleboards come in many sizes and shapes. There are also different types of hulls.
Types of SUP hulls
- Rigid plastic
Some inflatable SUPs are ok for surfing but most are intended for calmer waters. For river paddling the inflatable is more common as it will take less damage in rapids and white-waters. Generally, the fibreglass SUP is faster in the waters than the other types.
Surfboards are generally smaller and narrower than paddleboards. Beginners will learn to surf on longboards up to 9′ in length. Beginner boards can be made of foam but most real surfboards are made from fibreglass. There are even surfboards made of wood. The classic 1960s longboard was made from wood but there are also some traditional Hawaiian boards made of wood, like the Alanya.
Apart from the hull and the size paddleboards can have other variations. Those made for Yoga might have a soft traction pad covering the whole board. Fishing paddleboard may have mesh-netting on the sides to protect against damage from hooks.
The surfboard has several different types. The key difference is how they behave in different waves.
Some surfboard types
- Fish (Looks like a fish)
- The Gun (For riding really big waves)
- Funboard (A beginner to an intermediate board)
All the parts of a surfboard have names. How the tail looks, how the nose looks and what the rails (the sides of the board) look. This leads to a wide variety of boards and board types for all sorts of waves.
The key differences between the two types of board
Buoyancy is how much weight the board can keep out of the water. A paddleboard will keep all of you out of the water all the time. So it needs to be big and relatively light. A surfboard will only keep all your weight up if it is going fast. When you are not going down all but the biggest surfboards will sink if you try and stand on them.
In shorter terms, a paddleboard is a stable and reliable craft. A surfboard is not. Check out this full explanation in our surfboard versus paddle board comparison post.
So, the inflatable 12’ stand-up paddleboard has very little in common with a 5’6″ performance surfing short-board. On the other hand, the shorter smaller fibreglass hulled paddleboards are very close to surfing longboards. In fact, they are not really that different at all. Stand-Up paddling was invented on a longboard in the surf at Hawaii after all.
If you have access to a smaller paddleboard, try going out without a paddle. If you do so where there are waves, make double sure you are comfortable paddling in the prone position. Same goes if you have a big old’ longboard that floats if you stand on it. Give it a go with a paddle in hand.
Surfboard surfing explained
To shine more light on the question at hand, let’s try and give a basic idea of what surfing on a surfboard entails. Then we can compare surfboard surfing with paddleboard surfing. This will be a short, but very incomplete guide to surfing.
One might think surfers surf all the time. Of course, this is what surfers try to do but in reality, they spend about 5% of the time actually riding waves.
- Paddling out (often through breaking waves)
- Waiting for waves (talking to other surfers in the waves)
- Choosing waves
- Catching and getting up on a wave
- Riding a wave
Of all of these, only waiting for waves is skill and experience free. Talking to other surfers requires social skills but if you have those, no problem.
The first thing surfers need to learn is to not hurt others with themselves or their surfboards. As this is not a complete guide I will skip this for now.
The second thing is getting up from laying on the surfboard to standing, pop-up in surf terminology. As paddling for a wave, catching a wave and popping up is more or less done at the same time, beginners’ practice on broken waves. Broken waves are waves that are all churning white-water. The energy of the wave has been spent and only foam and bubbles remain. Beginners spend a lot of time learning to catch these waves and popping up.
Once a beginner surfer knows how to pop and catch a broken wave they go out looking to catch an unbroken wave. That is a wave that has all its energy left. To get to where these waves are a surfer needs to pass the already broken waves between the beach and the unbroken waves. There are many techniques to do this but the most important one is “duck diving” under waves. It is a move where you push yourself and the board down just before a wave and passes under it. Just like a duck.
The last part of surfing is learning to read and choose which waves to try and surf. This takes both knowledge and experience. It is arguably the hardest part of surfing and it takes many years, many decades even, to perfect it.
After all this, well surfing is a lot of fun. By the time you are choosing waves, you are already hooked enough.
Paddleboard surfing explained
Surfing on a paddleboard has all of the same elements that surfing with surfboard have. Some things are different but the process is mostly the same.
Surfing on a paddleboarding
- Get outside the breaking waves
- Spot and choose a wave
- Catch the wave
- Ride the wave
As you are already standing all there is no need to learn popping-up so you can move right on out in the waves. Do not go for too big waves, in the beginning, stay with small waves a bit out from the beach. Waves in the 1-2 foot range are ideal for this.
Getting out where you can surf the waves can be a challenge. You need to paddle out through the breaking waves and get outback, that is where there is no white-water on the waves. If you are unsure you can start with trying to surf the broken waves. Just like previously described for the beginner surfers.
When you are waiting for a wave to catch you will want to be in a hybrid stance. That is, between a side by side stance like while paddling and a surf stance, one foot back and at a right angle to the board. You want to keep your board parallel to the incoming waves, toes facing out to sea. Your paddle goes on the outside as well.
When you see a wave you want to try and surf, turn your board in towards the beach and paddle hard. When the wave catches up to you and you feel the board lifting in the back, lean forward. This will let you start riding the wave downwards.
After you have caught the wave, you want to turn so that you ride the wave parallel to it. That way you won’t run out of wave so fast.
While you can do simpler surfing on any paddleboard more advanced stuff and bigger waves really do need a paddleboard specialized for surfing. Some inflatables work but you really want a fibreglass SUP for an optimal surf experience.
Surfing on a surfboard vs a paddleboard
Having looked closer at the paddleboard and the surfboard. Which one is harder to surf on?
Both boards require quite a bit of skill to perform all the steps well.
The paddleboard has two main advantages. The first one is that you are standing upon a stable platform. You have good vantage and can see the waves coming in really well. A big SUP is about as stable as anything human-powered that can surf will be.
The second one is that with your paddle and your very buoyant board, it is quite a bit easier to catch waves. Even to easy some say.
In the surfboards, favour lies generally what you can do with it once you know how to surf. Learning is probably more difficult. That being said, laying in the water waiting for a wave while talking to fellow surfers is something you will indeed miss out on. The ease of being able you duck-dive while going out against the wave is another thing that makes surfing with a surfboard easier.
As you progress there are some things you can do on a paddleboard that you can’t on a surfboard. Some turns are only possible to do with a paddle. Naturally, there are a lot of turns and particularly jumping that you can do with a surfboard but not with a paddleboard.
A SUP can be dangerous in bigger surf. You really need to know your board and the waves. When the board flies around it can be a real danger to others. Remember on an 11’ SUP you have an 11’ leash. This means your board is a danger a full 22 feet away from you. A bigger board is also more dangerous simply because it weighs more. There is also a risk that you can get pulled along by your leash. This has led to some serious ankle injuries.
SUP vs Surfing – What is Actually Easier
Overall, stand-up paddleboarding is probably easier. This is mainly because even if you want to surf or ride rapids, you can start by paddling a calm lake or canal. The surfboard is not so forgiving and you need to go out in the waves from the start.
All the things needed to learn how to do the really hard stuff on your stand-up paddleboard can be learned in your own pace. Start slow with canals and lakes. Move on to slow-flowing rivers or gentler ocean water. When comfortable you can head to where waves are breaking or start learning how to navigate white-waters.
There is, of course, a lot of practice and training you can do for surfing in your home, at the gym or even in the pool. The same is true for the paddleboard as well.
For a surfboard, you can do balance and core exercises. You can practice your pop-up and learn proper stance and so one in front of a mirror. Duck-diving can be learned in a pool.
For your paddleboard, you will indeed get all this, except the duck-dive, for free. That is, all of paddling a SUP is a workout. A great core and balance workout even. While this appeals very much to some, others prefer chilling out and not doing all that paddling.
The paddleboard is easier simply because it is more accessible. It is a different type of hobby than surfing that enables a lot more activities. But of course, when you surf you will focus more and perhaps learn faster. This immersion in focus will appeal more to some people.
Don’t forget to practice hand pumping if your electric pump fails! It’s a good workout too! Inflated SUP is better than no SUP.
All in all, both a stand-up paddleboard and a surfboard are accessible pleasures on the water. For a motivated rider, both the surfboard and the paddleboard have a lot to offer. Maybe the true answer is to learn them both, start with paddle boarding.
Regardless, enjoy the water and the waves!
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